ESPNcricinfo picks the best Test teams of all time

Fast bowlers

Speed, swerve, smarts

Nine contenders for the fast-bowling slots. Which of these greats will make it to the team?

Andrew Miller

August 17, 2009

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Harold Larwood in action
Larwood: a great who became an outcast. Will he be in the XI? © Getty Images

What, exactly, do you look for in a fast bowler? Do you judge him by his ability to jag the ball through the air or zip it off the pitch? Is it stamina and accuracy in long and sapping spells that you seek? Or does everything come down to his stomach-churning pace and hostility? Perhaps it's a man who can supply all three that you want, although such characters come along once in a lifetime. Catch them when you can.

Below are nine names that have made the shortlist for England's all-time XI, and it's a cast of characters that cuts across all eras, and innumerable disciplines. Some, like Frank Tyson, could bowl as fast as the wind when the mood caught them, yet lacked occasionally in other areas of the fast-bowling game; others, notably Alec Bedser and Brian Statham, traded express hostility for canny accuracy - with a hint of variation in Bedser's case, and unwavering discipline in Statham's.

And then there's the Yorkshire duo of Fred Trueman and Darren Gough - short in stature but stout in heart, with pace aplenty backed up by skiddy aggression. John Snow belongs in a similar category, lacking as he did the extreme splice-jamming height that men such as Bob Willis could bring to their bowling.

This is perhaps the hardest category of all to pinpoint. How does one begin to define the bag of tricks that was SF Barnes, the greatest bowler of his era bar none, and where does that most misunderstood of pacemen, Harold Larwood, belong in the pantheon? On two post-war tours of Australia, England's dressing room door was shut in his face when he went to greet the players, but he deserves to be judged more kindly by posterity. After all, not many players had the speed and skill to make Bradman look mortal.

SF Barnes A seamer, a swing bowler, a devious spinner, all rolled into one unfathomable package. In 27 Tests he claimed a staggering 189 wickets, including 17 in a single match against South Africa in 1913-14

Harold Larwood A name synonymous with the Bodyline furore of 1932-33, but a bowler who deserved better than a curtailed 21-Test career. Possessed the extreme pace and unwavering accuracy to carry out Douglas Jardine's masterplan.

Alec Bedser England's post-war stalwart, and arguably the finest bowler of his medium-fast type that England has ever produced. His nagging, swinging accuracy claimed Bradman's wicket six times in 10 Tests, which tells a tale.

Fred Trueman T'greatest bloody fast bowler that ever drew breath, and that assessment wasn't one that he alone held. A magnificent sight in full flow, and unrelentingly hostile, he was often too forthright for the selectors' sensibilities.

Brian Statham Trueman's straight man, and arguably the straightest England have ever produced. The top of off stump was his target, "If they miss, I hit" was his motto. The tactic produced 2260 first-class wickets in a career that spanned more than 100,000 balls.

Frank Tyson Nicknamed the Typhoon, and with good reason. He appeared dramatically on the scene, causing unfathomable havoc during England's legendary Ashes victory of 1954-55, then blew out with equal haste. But for the time he was at the top of his game, there was no resisting him.

John Snow A poet in his spare time, and improbably deep and thoughtful for a fast bowler. But he was rapid all right, and served as Ray Illingworth's enforcer when the Ashes were reclaimed in 1970-71. His omission for the return series four years later was selectorial folly of the highest order.

Bob Willis He flapped to the crease like a goose with a broken wing, and had knees as dodgy as anything Andrew Flintoff has endured. But he kept up his pace for 90 Tests and 14 years, and as the footage of Headingley '81 will testify, he was seriously sharp.

Darren Gough Short, stocky and indomitable. England's finest one-day bowler, and in a stronger team, he could have been a Test champion as well. Instead, he carried the attack throughout the barren years of the 1990s, and had to make do with personal moments of glory, such as his Ashes hat-trick in 1998-99.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo

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Andrew Miller Andrew Miller was saved from a life of drudgery in the City when his car caught fire on the way to an interview. He took this as a sign and fled to Pakistan where he witnessed England's historic victory in the twilight at Karachi (or thought he did, at any rate - it was too dark to tell). He then joined Wisden Online in 2001, and soon graduated from put-upon photocopier to a writer with a penchant for comment and cricket on the subcontinent. In addition to Pakistan, he has covered England tours in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, as well as the World Cup in the Caribbean in 2007

England jury

Scyld Berry
Scyld Berry
Wisden editor, Sunday Telegraph correspondent; author of Cricket Wallah among other books
XI: Sutcliffe, Hutton, Stewart, Hammond, Pietersen, Gower, Botham, Rhodes, Trueman, Snow, Barnes
Lawrence Booth
Lawrence Booth
Guardian cricket writer, author of the weekly email newsletter The Spin, and Cricinfo columnist
XI: Hobbs, Sutcliffe, Hutton, Barrington, Hammond, Pietersen, Botham, Knott, Underwood, Barnes, Willis
Stephen Brenkley
Cricket correspondent of the Independent
XI: Hobbs, Sutcliffe, Hammond, Gower, Barrington, Jackson, Botham, Knott, Larwood, Barnes, Rhodes
David Frith
David Frith
Cricket historian, writer and archivist. Author of the definitive history of Bodyline
XI: Hobbs, Hutton, Hammond, Compton, Barrington, Botham, Knott, Laker, Verity, Larwood, Barnes
Tim de Lisle
Tim de Lisle
Former editor of Wisden and Wisden Cricket Monthly; editor of Intelligent Life magazine
XI: Hobbs, Brearley, Hammond, Pietersen, Barrington, Greig, Botham, Knott, Trueman, Underwood, Barnes
Steven Lynch
Steven Lynch
Deputy editor of Wisden, editor of the Cricinfo Guide to International Cricket, and writer of the Ask Steven column on Cricinfo
XI: Hobbs, Sutcliffe, Hammond, Compton, Pietersen, Botham, Knott, Barnes, Larwood, Laker, Trueman
Christopher Martin-Jenkins
Christopher Martin-Jenkins
Former cricket correspondent for the Times the BBC and the Daily Telegraph; Test Match Special commentator
XI: Hutton, Hammond, Compton, May, Botham, Knott, Rhodes, Laker, Trueman, Barnes
Peter Roebuck
Peter Roebuck
Former captain of Somerset; author of It Never Rains and Sometimes I Forgot to Laugh among other books.
XI: Hobbs, Hutton, May, Hammond, Compton, Barrington, Knott, Larwood, Tyson, Barnes, Underwood
Mike Selvey
Mike Selvey
Former England fast bowler; cricket correspondent of the Guardian
XI: Hobbs, Hutton, Sutcliffe, Hammond, Barrington, Botham, Knott, Larwood, Tyson, Snow, Barnes
John Stern
John Stern
Editor, The Wisden Cricketer
XI: Hobbs, Hutton, Hammond, Gower, Barrington, Botham, Knott, Larwood, Bedser, Underwood, Snow

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