Fast bowlers March 18, 2010

A slinger and some swingers

Five to pick from, among them the country's most successful quick, one who broke teeth and one who took four in four

Sri Lanka's cricket history is replete with fast bowlers, both in the pre-Test era and after, but they have never produced anyone of genuine pace, although many believe DS Jayasundera, a right-arm fast bowler in the 1930s and 40s, was genuinely sharp, and there have been none faster since.

In the post-war years Sri Lanka was blessed with fast-medium bowlers like Tita Nathanielsz; Tikiri Banda Kehelgamuwa, who claims to have bowled Geoff Boycott with a brute of a delivery that the batsman hardly spotted; Darrell Lieversz and Norton Fredrick, who played in Sri Lanka's first unofficial "Test" victory over India, in Ahmedabad in 1965; Tony Opatha, who played in the first two World Cups; and Mevan Pieris, who played in the 1975 World Cup and was referred to as the "king of swing" because of his ability to move the ball both ways. These fast bowlers mastered the art of swing and cut down on pace to get their wickets on the flat pitches of Sri Lanka.

Among those unlucky to miss out on selection are Graeme Labrooy, a quality swing bowler, whose career was sporadic due to the political climate in the country at the time; Pramodya Wickramasinghe, a bowler of gentle but accurate pace, who once took all 10 in a first-class match in 1992 and played in 40 Tests; and Nuwan Zoysa, a tall, promising lanky left-arm seam bowler, who is one of the few players in history to take a hat-trick in his first over in a Test, but whose career has been plagued by injury.

The contenders

Ravi Ratnayeke
A tall right-arm medium-fast bowler who could bowl at a lively pace and move the ball under favourable conditions. He took 8 for 83 in Sialkot in 1985 and 5 for 37 in Sri Lanka's second Test victory, in 1986 against Pakistan in Colombo. Ratnayeke was highly rated by Sir Garfield Sobers, Sri Lanka's one-time coach.

Chaminda Vaas
Regarded as the best fast bowler produced by Sri Lanka in the post-Test era. An accurate left-arm swing bowler, Vaas was Sri Lanka's flag-bearer for many years, operating alone from one end on unresponsive subcontinental pitches. He had an indipper and a well-disguised offcutter in his arsenal, to which he later added reverse-swing, which made him a consistent wicket-taker even on dead pitches. With spinner Muttiah Muralitharan, Vaas led Sri Lanka to several memorable Test and ODI victories. He is the country's second most successful bowler after Murali, with 355 Test and 400 ODI wickets.

Rumesh Ratnayake
A wiry right-arm fast-medium bowler who could generate a lot of pace with a slinging action similar to Jeff Thomson. Ratnayake's proudest moment was taking nine wickets in Sri Lanka's maiden Test victory, over India in 1985. In helpful conditions he could swing the ball and bowl at a lively pace, as he proved against New Zealand, when he broke John Wright's nose with a bouncer, and against West Indies, when he hit Larry Gomes in the face and broke his teeth during a match in Australia.

Ashantha de Mel
De Mel was the best Sri Lankan fast bowler of his generation. He was fast-medium rather than genuinely quick and he made his mark in the country's inaugural Test, against England in 1982, by taking 4 for 70 in the first innings. De Mel had a good high-arm action and an effective outswinger. He had a successful 1983 World Cup, where he finished with 17 wickets, one fewer than the leading wicket-taker, India's Roger Binny. A knee injury cut de Mel's career short in 1987.

Lasith Malinga
Malinga has developed into Sri Lanka's fastest Test bowler, with am unorthodox technique: he delivers the ball with a side-arm action learnt from playing softball cricket during his childhood. The coaches, thankfully, did not try to alter his unorthodoxy and he continued to confuse batsmen with his slinging deliveries. He took six wickets on his debut, against Australia in Darwin in 2004. Malinga has a reputation for troubling batsmen with his lively pace, well-directed bouncers and toe-crushing yorkers bowled at speeds of 140-150kph. He became the first bowler to take four in four consecutive balls, against South Africa in a 2007 World Cup match.

We'll be publishing an all-time Sri Lanka XI based on readers' votes to go with our jury's XI. To pick your fast bowlers click here