West Indies XI
ESPNcricinfo picks the best Test teams of all time

Fast bowlers

Lean, mean pace machines

West Indies' fast-bowling reservoir was so deep, they could have had an XI full of quick men and still have to leave some out

Tony Becca

July 12, 2010

Comments: 188 | Text size: A | A

Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Colin Croft and Joel Garner, Trinidad, February 1981
Roberts, Holding, Croft and Garner: striking fear in the hearts of batsmen through the 70s and 80s Adrian Murrell / © Getty Images

West Indies cricket and fast bowling go together like a horse and a carriage. Like their exciting middle-order batsmen, West Indies fast bowlers - and definitely so up to 20 or so years ago - seemed to pop up day after day. Most were fast enough to make batsmen tremble in their boots, and the majority of them are numbered among the best of their time - a few among the best of all time.

From the days of Learie Constantine, George Francis and Herman Griffith, through the likes of Manny Martindale, Leslie Hylton, Hines Johnson, Roy Gilchrist, Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith, to the fearsome quartet of Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Joel Garner and Colin Croft, and later on to the likes of Malcolm Marshall, Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose, fast bowlers have been the bread and butter of West Indies cricket.

Constantine, it is written, was as fast as any bowler of his time; Herman Griffith, the man who became a household name in the Caribbean after bowling Don Bradman for 0 in the fifth Test of 1930-31, was all quality. The Indians of the 1958-59 series will confirm that Gilchrist was undoubtedly one of the fastest of his time. The pair of Hall and Charlie Griffith was one of the great ones in the history of the game, and no batsman who had the misfortune of facing them in the 1970s going into the 80s, doubted the quality, the skill and the class of Roberts, Holding, Garner and Croft. They were four big men, all standing over six feet, one at 6ft 7in, and another at 6ft 8in. They were all fast but brought different skills to the combination, and batting against them was a nightmare.

So rich is the history of fast bowling in West Indies cricket that selecting the three quicks on the all-time West Indies team is no easy task. In fact, even if the job was to select an all-time West Indies team of fast bowlers, batting from No. 1 to No. 11, there would still be some great ones left behind.

The contenders

Wes Hall
A big man with an intimidating approach and follow-through, Hall was the first of the modern West Indies fast bowlers. He formed a deadly duo, first with Roy Gilchrist and then with Charlie Griffith; he and Griffith are numbered among the world's greatest fast-bowling pairs. In 48 Test matches, Hall took 192 wickets at an average of 26.38.

Charlie Griffith
The same height but much bigger than Hall, Griffith was accurate and deadly, especially so with his yorkers, which usually knocked over stumps, and his bouncers, which normally knocked down batsmen. In 28 Test matches, Griffith took 94 wickets at an average of 28.54.

Andy Roberts
If Hall was the first of the modern West Indies fast bowlers, Roberts was certainly the big brother of the breed that conquered the world - the set that included Holding, Croft and Garner. Known for his well-disguised bouncer, Roberts took 202 wickets in 47 Test matches at an average of 25.61.

Michael Holding
The Rolls Royce of fast bowlers, Holding was smooth from run-up to delivery. He was fast - as fast if not faster than any of his colleagues - he was fiery, and yet he had the look of a choir boy, even at The Oval in 1976 while destroying England with 14 wickets for 149 runs. In 60 Test matches, Holding took 249 wickets at an average of 23.68.

Colin Croft
One of the most underrated fast bowlers of his time, Croft was a perfect match for the other three members of the quartet that propelled West Indies to the top of world cricket. Roberts was the wise one, Holding the quiet destroyer who delivered some nasty yorkers, Garner the man who got the ball to jump off a fairly good length, and Croft, with his awkward action that so often got the ball to leave right-hand batsmen when it should have been coming in to them, moved the ball off the seam prodigiously. In 27 Test matches, he took 125 wickets at an average of 23.30.

Joel Garner
Standing at 6ft 8in, Garner was a batsman's nightmare. At the point of delivery, as Geoffrey Boycott once said, the ball seemed to be coming out of the sky, and it was almost impossible to pick its length. Because of that, batsmen the world over spent most of their time trying to survive rather than to score runs. In 58 Test matches, Garner took 259 wickets at the amazing average of 20.97.

Malcolm Marshall
Unlike the other great West Indies fast bowlers, Marshall was a little man. In fact, to look at, he seemed more a batsman or a slow bowler. But he was fast, moved the ball both ways, in and out, and possessed a nasty bouncer. In 81 Test matches, Marshall took 376 wickets at an average of 20.94.

Courtney Walsh
A gentle giant, Walsh was Mr Consistency. He generally bowled just short of a good length. He was dependable, was the "work horse" of the great West Indies team of his time, and astonishingly, in terms of wickets taken he seemed to have gotten better the older he got. In 132 Test matches, he took 519 wickets at an average of 24.44.

Curtly Ambrose
Standing at 6ft 7in, Ambrose was one of the tallest of the great West Indies fast bowlers, and it was only natural that he got the ball to bounce awkwardly from an almost perfect length. He dropped it on the same spot delivery after delivery and batsmen found it nearly impossible to play him, forget score against him, as was the case in Perth in the 1992-93 series, when he smashed Australia with seven wickets for one run in 32 deliveries. In 98 Test matches, Ambrose took 405 wickets at an average of 20.99.

Ian Bishop
If ever a bowler appeared destined for greatness, it was Bishop. Coming in off a lovely run-up, he had a beautiful side-on action, good pace, and got the ball to mostly leave the right-hander. However, after a promising start, injury cut him down on two occasions, and he was forced to change his action. Although he remained good enough to compete and deliver, he never achieved what he seemed destined to do. In 43 Test matches, Bishop took 161 wickets at an average of 24.27.

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

Former sports editor of the Jamaica Gleaner and the Daily News, Tony Becca has covered West Indies cricket for 30 years

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Posted by Yagga175 on (July 15, 2010, 18:15 GMT)

Sylvester Clarke, Roy Gilchrist, Colin Croft and Charlie Griffith cos I want to scare the opposition out!!

Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Malcolm Marshall and Joel Garner cos I want to bowl them out.

If we HAVE to have a "balanced" attack then Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Malcolm Marshall and Lance Gibbs. Possibly substitute Clarke for Holding - same pace but more aggro!

Posted by RealWI on (July 15, 2010, 15:55 GMT)

The selection panel use the bowlers with the best strike/rate, average, economy/rate, etc to help separate the great bowlers from the good once. Now the problem is selecting just 3 bowlers. One must remember that Marshall, Ambrose, Walsh, Garner, Bishop and Croft had the luxury of playing with great pace bowling support. Garner and Croft came into the team in1977 at that time we had 2 great bowlers operating, in Roberts and Holding, which made their transition much easier. That tradition of 4 great pace continued for the next 20 years. I'm going to use a bowler average in the Asia sub-continent, bowlers lock of support, quality of the opponent and the roll a bowler play in winning. As a result, I have to pick Roberts and Holding simple because they laid the foundation of our great pace attack. Final pick is Marshall because I think he was the greatest of them all and he played against better opponent than Ambrose.

Posted by emmwill on (July 14, 2010, 21:04 GMT)

A very difficult decision to make. Subjectively, I would go with Marshall, Ambrose, and Golding. Objectively, based on averages and strike rates, I would go with Marshall, Garner, and Ambrose. Y all-time WI 11: Greenidge, Worrel (c), Lara, Headley, Richards, Sobers, Dujon (wk), Gibbs, Marshall, Ambrose, Garner.

Posted by Veblen on (July 14, 2010, 19:15 GMT)

I don't need averages or strike rates for this one...I saw England beaten out of sight in 1984! Holding, Marshall, Garner and throw in Ambrose. I don't care how good Gibbs was, most opposition won't see an old ball anyway and Sobers could always bowl a few spinners....pick the best 4 bowlers

Posted by Metman on (July 14, 2010, 19:10 GMT)

@Battled !All of the pace machines put forward by the panel HAD pace,control of line and length,swing,seam and bounce etc.and were successful at them,that is why they were chosen by the panel!That is why I said previously that the panel made it easier for me ,when they asked for 3.If I had to pick a 4th,I would have gone for Walsh,simply because ,that he maintained his average/strike rate/economy rate etc,for a longer time , and within striking distance of Holding,Croft,and Bishop .Also the fact that he took 519 wickets,which is over 4 times that of Croft,over 3 and a half that of Bishop,and twice that of Holding.That is why you cannot separate Marshall,Garner,Ambrose.You talked about pace,have you ever seen Wes Hall in FULL FLIGHT?This is not a criticism of you in choosing Holding in your line up you know!but as I said before,a team that I would get off my sick bed to see must include an opening pace attack of Hall and Holding.

Posted by Silverstar on (July 14, 2010, 17:40 GMT)

y no mention of tino best? since we r discussing the "best" three bowlers? ... NO? ok lol

Posted by Battled on (July 14, 2010, 13:59 GMT)

Guys......... I have read every post on this topic and found talks about averages, strikerates, economy rates etc etc etc......... Let me say one thing......... when one has to select bowlers in an all-time 11 rather than looking only at stats (it helps...... to an extent) its also a better option to look into the variety each bowler can offer. In pace bowlers the options to look in are pace, control of line & length, swing, seam, bounce, etc............ imagine a pace attack having 3 fast bowlers doing just one or two of the above????? It would be monotonous and become easy for the batsmen to adapt against the entire team!!!!! In this scenario I would opt a WI all time 11 with their 3 pace bowlers with variety; Holding (pace and strike ability), Marshall (swing, seam, and pace) and coin toss for Garner or Ambrose (control, bounce)........... i guess this is... as one says... VARIED attack...

Posted by Metman on (July 14, 2010, 13:53 GMT)

@Alonsoe,if I had done like YOU and many others,I would have gone ahead and pick my all time great WI XI,and included all Bajans,and I wont have been that far off either!that is why I came up with the BajanXI.Dont get confused!I said I didnt pick the Bajan CONTENDERS that the panel put forward.Sylvester Clarke"s name was mentioned since the topic was about great fast bowlers.knowledgeable cricket followers and past cricketers who have played against him have said that he was probably the most fearsome of the lot!I have seen him in action and I know that he be quite dangerous!All that foolish talk about, Chanderpaul,and Richards opening.and Greenidge failing in Australia and all that jargon about Warne and Murli is RUBBISH!and I am telling you the same thing!THEY ARE NOT IN THE DISCUSSION!As I said before,Stats include a lot more than av/strike rates/economy rates etc.,but I will get back to that topic if Harper is included in the spinners list.

Posted by trepuR on (July 14, 2010, 13:50 GMT)

For me, I automaticaly went with Malcolm Marshal for my first pick, and after some research, I went with Joel Garner to join him. However, Roberts, Holding and Ambrose are so close. I will probably go with Holding for variety, (with Garner and Ambrose simmilar in their height). This was incredibly hard though, only choosing three from this list of champions, but it must be said that a spinner as good as Lance Gibbs is simply to good to leave out of the side.

Posted by   on (July 14, 2010, 12:33 GMT)

The list is significantly incomplete. Where are Martindale and Herman Griffith? What about Sylvester Clarke and Wayne Daniel? Similarly the failure to include Franklyn Stevenson in the all rounder category is an oversight which hurts the quality of the discussion. My 3 fast bowlers... Marshall, Garner vs Ambrose (I refuse to decide), young Ian Bishop (before the injury), with Sobers of course as the all rounder.

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West Indies Jury

Jimmy Adams
Jimmy Adams
Played 54 Tests for West Indies between 1992 and 2001, and captained them in 15. Has served as manager of the Under-19 side, as president of the Federation of International Cricketers' Associations, and technical director of Jamaica's cricket development programme.
XI: Greenidge, Hunte, Headley, Richards, Weekes, Sobers, Hendriks (wk), Marshall, Garner, Ambrose, Gibbs
Tony Becca
Tony Becca
Former sports editor of the Jamaica Gleaner and the Daily News. Former president of the Caribbean and Jamaican sportswriters associations. Award-winning writer who covered West Indies cricket around the world for 30 years.
XI: Greenidge, Hunte, Headley, Lara, Richards, Sobers, Hendriks, Marshall, Holding, Roberts, Gibbs
Hilary Beckles
Hilary Beckles
Professor of History at the University of West Indies, and Director of the Centre for Cricket Research. Author of The Development of West Indies Cricket and Liberation Cricket; West Indies Cricket Culture among other books.
XI: Worrell, Greenidge, Headley, Weekes, Richards, Sobers, Walcott, Marshall, Hall, Holding, Gibbs
Frank Birbalsingh
Frank Birbalsingh
Cricket writer and author and editor of several books, among them The Rise of West Indian Cricket: From Colony to Nation. Professor of English at York University in Toronto.
XI: Greenidge, Haynes, Headley, Richards, Worrell, Walcott, Sobers, Dujon, Holding, Roberts, Gibbs
Imran Khan
Imran Khan
West Indies team sponsor Digicel's media manager. Former West Indies team media manager and communications manager of the Stanford 20/20. Has been writing on West Indies cricket for 10 years.
XI: Kanhai, Hunte, Headley, Richards, Lara, Sobers, Murray, Marshall, Holding, Ambrose, Gibbs
Ian McDonald
Ian McDonald
Novelist, poet and cricket writer in Guyana. Delivered the inaugural Sir Frank Worrell lecture in 2005. Sat on a panel set up by the WICB in 2007 to make recommendations on the governance of West Indies cricket.
XI: Greenidge, Kanhai, Headley, Lara, Richards, Sobers, Worrell, Dujon, Holding, Ambrose, Gibbs
Fazeer Mohammed
Fazeer Mohammed
Journalist and broadcaster from Trinidad and Tobago who has been covering West Indies cricket, at home and abroad, for over 20 years.
XI: Greenidge, Hunte, Headley, Lara, Richards, Sobers, Walcott, Marshall, Holding, Ambrose, Gibbs
Joseph Perreira
Joseph Perreira
Veteran radio commentator; has covered 145 Test matches over 30 years for the Caribbean Broadcasting Union, and all the World Cups save for one.
XI: Greenidge, Fredericks, Richards, Lara, Headley, Sobers, Walcott, Marshall, Holding, Ambrose, Gibbs
Garth Wattley
Garth Wattley
Chief cricket writer and assistant sports editor at the Trinidad Express. Has been writing on sport in general and West Indies cricket in particular for the last 17 years.
XI: Hunte, Greenidge, Richards, Headley, Lara, Sobers, Worrell, Hendriks, Marshall, Roberts, Ambrose
Rudi Webster
Rudi Webster
Played first-class cricket for Warwickshire, Otago and Scotland in the sixties. A scholar, medical doctor and a pioneer in performance enhancement in sport, he has worked with many of Australia's best athletes and sports teams.
XI: Greenidge, Haynes, Headley, Richards, Weekes, Sobers, Worrell, Hendriks, Marshall, Roberts, Gibbs

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