Fast bowlers August 17, 2009

Speed, swerve, smarts

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