Ed Smith
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Former England, Kent and Middlesex batsman; writer for the New Statesman

Were things really better back in the day?

While nostalgia can skew anyone's judgement, it's just as much a fallacy to think that all aspects of a sport are always improving

Ed Smith

June 20, 2012

Comments: 80 | Text size: A | A

Colin Croft, Joel Garner, Gordon Greenidge and Michael Holding pose ahead of the 'Fire in Babylon' premiere, The Oval, May 9, 2011
With the likes of Colin Croft, Joel Garner and Michael Holding, the 1980s were a golden age of fast bowling the likes of which we may conceivably never see again © AFP
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Series/Tournaments: West Indies tour of England
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It's an Olympic summer and West Indies are touring England. What's the connection? The parallel stories of those two sporting tournaments will reignite one of the oldest debates in sport: Are today's sportsmen better than they used to be? Has sport improved? Or do individual sports have genuine golden ages that cannot be sustained indefinitely?

The biggest name at the London Olympics, of course, will be Usain Bolt, the joyful Jamaican genius. Bolt confirms a trend that exists across all "stopwatch" sports (such as athletics and swimming). When sport can be accurately measured, the trajectory is nearly always the same: mankind continues to get better. Though we are improving at a slower rate than during the early, heady days of professionalism - women have knocked an hour off the marathon world record in just 45 years - the evidence remains clear: we continue to inch towards what Stephen Jay Gould called the outer wall of human endeavour. If an old, retired athlete said that his generation was better than Usain Bolt's, fans of the modern Jamaican hero could just point to the improving times in the record book.

But in sports (such as cricket) where craft and skill make at least as great a contribution as physical speed or strength, the argument becomes more complicated. I recently chatted to a Test cricketer from the 1960s who bridled at a conversation he'd had in which a modern player said that Jacques Kallis was better than Garry Sobers.

Resolving such arguments is very hard because the evidence is so sketchy. By definition, the great players from different eras never share the same pitch. Even the component elements of greatness are hard to compare across generations. Speed guns have only been commonplace in recent years. Jeff Thomson recorded a ball at 99mph but most of his fastest spells weren't clocked. No wonder why, when asked to adjudicate between two fabulous players from different eras, many leading pundits retreat behind the defence that such comparisons are impossible to make.

It may be impossible, but it's still great fun. And this summer, with West Indies in England, provides another irresistible opportunity. For many of us who fell in love with cricket in the 1980s, Test cricket was dominated by the fearsome quartet of West Indian fast bowlers. Indeed, there were many more than four. The West Indies omitted a team of fast bowlers who, taken together, would probably have been one of the best bowling attacks in history.

It was a question I put to Sir Vivian Richards, who I've been sharing a commentary box with during this England v West Indies ODI series. He said that playing in county games against West Indian fast bowlers who couldn't even get into the West Indies team could be a seriously challenging experience.

Surely, looking around at the quick bowling talent on offer now in 2012, there has clearly been a relative decline in the number of genuine pace bowlers? Ravi Rampaul is a skilful, intelligent opening bowler, but he doesn't belong to the same tradition as Andy Roberts and Malcolm Marshall.

This theory has never gone down well with current players. The counter argument is often put forward by Alastair Cook, who thinks it's not true that fast bowling has declined since the 1980s and 1990s. "I've never agreed with that argument, seeing as I'm the one who has to go out and face the new ball," he said recently. "There are plenty of quicks around now."

 
 
Practice is only one part of the equation; talent also plays a central role. And the globalisation of modern sport means that talent moves around between sports more than ever
 

Steve James, the perceptive cricket writer and former opening batsman, uncovered another interesting perspective from the bowling coach Kevin Shine. Shine believes that modern bowlers are able to sustain their pace over a longer period. The former greats might have been just as quick on their day, but Shine believes modern training allows today's fast bowlers to bowl at their peak for more sustained spells of hostility.

Modern batsmen, of course, like to agree. When I played with Scott Styris in 2005 for Middlesex, the New Zealander argued that cricket suffers from being in awe of its past. Given that everything else improves, why shouldn't cricket, he asked? Historians call this "golden ageism", the delusion that the heroes of the past always stood taller than today's. Nostalgia can skew anyone's judgement.

But I am unable to agree with people who have an ideological commitment to the idea that the standard and quality of every professional sport inevitably improves. Practice is only one part of the equation; talent also plays a central role. And the globalisation of modern sport means that talent moves around between sports more than ever. In the 1970s, it was almost inevitable that a young, sports-mad West Indian kid would want to take up cricket. Now he might just as easily be tempted to pursue a career in basketball, soccer or - like Bolt - athletics. The way in which the sum total of athletic talent is divided between the rival sports is constantly changing.

There is more of a free market in global sporting talent. As a result, each individual sport does not have the same talent input from generation to generation. Look at men's tennis. To have one player as good as Roger Federer is wonderfully lucky. To have Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic ahead of Federer in the rankings is astonishing. We can be pretty certain that there will be times in the future when it is much easier to win a grand slam than it is today. This really is a golden age for men's tennis.

The same argument should be made about fast bowling in the 1980s and 1990s in Test cricket. The miraculous crop of West Indian quicks, Wasim and Waqar, McGrath and Gillespie. It was an unnatural coincidence of elite talent.

Let's be honest. Cricket has got better in many respects - especially fielding and power-hitting - but fast bowling isn't one of them. That's not disrespectful to today's batsmen. It's an inevitable reflection of the way elite sport has changed.

Former England, Kent and Middlesex batsman Ed Smith's new book, Luck - What It Means and Why It Matters, is out now. His Twitter feed is here

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Posted by jay57870 on (June 23, 2012, 4:48 GMT)

(Cont) Cricket has moved on, over the decades, from a bipolar world to a multipolar one: from a restrictive duopoly to a more inclusive, freer system. The shift in power has propelled it into the world's second-most popular sport! Inevitably it's brought in Money & Glory, like in so many professional sports. MS Dhoni & Tendulkar are currently listed in Forbes' "The World's 100 Highest-Paid Athletes" along with (yes) Federer, Nadal, Djokovic & Bolt! Also, Sachin (2010) & Dhoni (2011) were recognised in TIME Magazine's "The 100 Most Influential People in the World"! Plus TIME ran a daring story "The God of Big Things" (May 21) in which Bobby Ghosh (editor-at-large) describes Sachin as "may be the world's greatest athlete, period": He surpasses superstars in US football, hockey, basketball & baseball! OMG! Remember the Americans once regarded cricket as a "crazed English joke"? What a change! With all this outside recognition, isn't it time to call it progress, Ed?

Posted by jay57870 on (June 23, 2012, 4:36 GMT)

Reputed cricket historian David Frith writes: "It is tempting to mark down Bradman and Tendulkar as the finest two batsmen who ever lived"! Sportsmen, and often their eras, are defined by the records they hold. The great Don is immortalised by his 99.94 batting average. And now Sachin by his 100 international tons. Take Ed's "golden age" of tennis: Federer has a record 16 Grand Slam singles titles with Nadal (11) & Djokovic (6) in hot pursuit. Likewise, in Sachin's era we saw him in an intense batting rivalry with Ponting, Kallis, Lara & Co. Also there was a heated bowling rivalry, led by the great spinner Murali (record 1334 international wickets) with Warne, Kumble, McGrath & Co. Cricket's golden age? As Frith puts it so patently: "The 'argument' can never be settled absolutely. That's cricket for you"! Whatever the debate, there's one worldview for sure: Cricket has come of age - possibly golden - as measured by money, glory & popularity! (TBC)

Posted by PanGlupek on (June 22, 2012, 16:06 GMT)

Although it's possible that the very best of the last generations might have been better than the greats of now, I reckon the standard of a typical, average player has probably rocketed in recent years.

There's so much more coaching, practice aids & biomechanics now that given the right training & coaching, you can probably find someone with less natural talent than a typical pro from the 50's or whenever, could probably develop into a better player easier just by working hard rather than natural ability. This only works with mortals, however. The true greats always shine through.

I don't know if players really were better "back in the day" or not, but without helmets on uncovered pitches probably does make a fast bowler much scarier.

Posted by jay57870 on (June 22, 2012, 4:05 GMT)

Ed - Not so fast! The "biggest name at the London Olympics" arguably could be Michael Phelps (not Usain Bolt): He has potential to become the Greatest Olympian ever! The Yankee swimmer - already the best ever in his sport - owns 16 medals (incl 14 gold). His goal: Get 3 more to break the all-time record of 18 held by former Soviet gymnast Larissa Latynina! For elite sportsmen, the name of the game is to improve & break records: There's always another mountain to scale! For Bolt - already the fastest human ever - the biggest challenge is to crash his record 100-m speed of 9.58 seconds! It's pushing the limits of human potential: Moonshot! If he does it, Bolt could vie with Phelps for "biggest name" honours! Just to think that the Jamaican as a child loved cricket & wanted to become a pace bowler! Cricket vs Track: He made the right choice. He is the better for it. So are the Olympics. For superstars like Bolt & Phelps, it's about records. Glory & Money follow. Same for cricket, Ed!

Posted by harshthakor on (June 22, 2012, 3:16 GMT)

The West Indian quartet was simply the greatest of all time and ripped through the best of batting sides.Today what has considerably improved is the fielding standards .Athleticism is displayed as one could hardly imagine in yetseryears.Scoring rates are also much higher today.In previous eras we could hardly imagine 300-4000 run scored in a day.

However after the advent of Ponting,Tendulkar,Kallis,Jayewardene and Sangakaara we have virtually no great batsman left,bar Sehwag or Pieterson.Gone are the days of the 1970's 1980's and 1990's when one could count great batsman and bowlers or allrounders on your fingertips.There is also no outstanding team,with England unable to dominate the sub-continent conditions.

Posted by Engle on (June 22, 2012, 0:15 GMT)

If things were better in those dayz, it certainly was not due to the battery of pace bowlers from the Windies. It is never good for the game to have one facet dominating over the others. Express pace dished out relentlessly and admittedly crushingly did remove some of the subtle nuances of spin which suffered and almost succumbed. There was a real concern amongst the cricket connoisseurs of the future the game was headed towards. If there was a silver lining to the era, I would venture to give it to the 4 ace all-rounders, the best their country ever produced, the master blaster and the wily magician who alone held aloft the art of the slow men.

Posted by   on (June 21, 2012, 19:11 GMT)

"Let's be honest. Cricket has got better in many respects - especially fielding and power-hitting - but fast bowling isn't one of them."

I could not agree with you more, Ed.

The fearsome tandems of great West Indian fast bowlers produced in the '60's, 70's and 80's were a rare treat for fans around the world and a nightmare for batsmen.

Today's bowlers don't even come close!

Posted by   on (June 21, 2012, 15:02 GMT)

Tricky one, the only skill which has definitely improved in cricket is fielding. While I do agree about sustained pace, but pace with skills of swing/ seam hasn't. Similarly, batting avg., scores and S/R has gone up - but boundaries are shorter, general quality of bowling (not to mention the rules - skewed almost absurdly against bowlers), and batting equipment are better. Imagine how much more Richards, Graeme Pollock or Botham would've scored if they had the bats with footlong "sweet spot" which Dhoni or Pollard use. Cook, as fine a batsman he is, can't even handle Roach; Hayden only flourished after Donald, Ambrose were gone. If the 80s/90s crop of pacers were around Cook would've followed Hick to oblivion. ( PS: It's magical happenstance that Nadal, Federer and Djokovic play in the same era, but golden age? that was when Sampras, Courier, Agassi, Rafter, Moya, Chang, Becker, Bruguera, Ivanisevic all played together. Try predicting a winner from that pool ..)

Posted by Selassie-I on (June 21, 2012, 14:51 GMT)

good article, can't argue with it. I guess until time travel is invented we'll never know!

Posted by   on (June 21, 2012, 12:54 GMT)

I disagree, almost completely. What's happened is that the average has gone up so greatly that it's hard to Identify the 'greats'. Look at India, after opening with spinners on green tops in teams that didn't have Kapil or Sreenath we now have three bowlers who can clock above 150 who can't make it to the team. Umesh Yadav, Varun Aaron and a half dozen IPL exhibits would have probably made it to any old Indian team and the team would have been grateful to have someone with a bit of pace. True, pace bowlers are no longer feared because of the quality of protective gear so they can't rely on intimidation as much as they used to. But I have a feeling, take away helmets and chest guards and covered pitches and someone as currently average as Varun Aaron might acquire legendary status and Imagine playing a Dale Steyn in conditions like that without the bouncer limitation. And Steyn-Morkel for me are equal to a Mcgrath-Gilly, Waqar-Wasim, Ambrose-Walsh. Look at Steyns stats before arguing.

Posted by denessa on (June 21, 2012, 12:46 GMT)

GREAT ARTICLE.....WE WILL NEVER SEE THE LIKES OF WEST INDIES GREATS IN THIS ERA....NEVER......EVER........

Posted by   on (June 21, 2012, 12:42 GMT)

i followed cricket since the 70's so i know a thing or four about those w.i. quicks. fair enough they bowl ed on some under prepared pitches in the caribbean but who stopped lillee and thompson, willis,botham,imran,safraz,hadlee,chatfield,kapil dev, from being effective on those same pitches?the answer is simple those windies 4 or sometimes 5 were too fast,hostile and simply better than the rest then and even these now.sorry cook hloding marshall garner roberts croft sylvester clark daniel davis gray walsh ambrose these guys used to ask some serious questions than siddle and hilfenhaus. just ask kim hughes, ken rutherford and the rest who went to hospital. or ask your mentor graham gooch, he is qualified to comment on previous w.i. quicks.

Posted by RakarthIX on (June 21, 2012, 11:26 GMT)

I think it is rather harsh on the bowlers to say that modern bowlers aren't as good as they were 20/30 years ago. Can't imagine two many batsmen fancying their chances against steyn without a helmet on for example. Everything has contrived against bowlers in that batsmen have much more protection, the wickets are much flatter etc. Yet despite all that 72% of games in 2000's ended in a result compared with 65% in 90's, 53% in 80's and 59% in 70's. This is admittedly partly down to there being less weather related interruptions due to better grounds however you still have to say that a test match is won by a teams bowlers. It doesn't matter how many runs you score if you can't take 20 wickets. I don't doubt the West Indies pace attack was fearsome but you take out the fear of having your skull cracked by a bouncer and they probably wouldn't have stats much different to the bowlers operating today

Posted by   on (June 21, 2012, 9:08 GMT)

Nice, well-balanced piece. I suppose there's a synthesis in the offing - that the random element of talent can be maximised by modern training. So, had the great West Indians been around now, they'd be even better.

Posted by Meety on (June 21, 2012, 5:05 GMT)

"...Cricket has got better in many respects - especially fielding and power-hitting - but fast bowling isn't one of them." - I would disagree with this statement. Whilst the advent of limited over cricket has certainly lifted the standard of fielding, I do not believe that fast bowling hasn't improved. There will always be snippets in time when the cup runs over, like the WIndies during the 80s, but bowlers now have to contend with tailenders who are competent & don't run to square leg the second a ball is dropped short (removing a lot of cheap wickets). Pitches are almost undeniably flatter & in most cases slower than in the past, which means that whilst modern pacers struggle on statistics in comparison, their efforts are very meritorious & that does not even begin to account for Steyn & Phillander! I love comparing across era's, but when doing so, some allowances have to be made. I would say the ave. International match is of a lower standard now as there are more minnows.

Posted by TheOnlyEmperor on (June 21, 2012, 4:59 GMT)

Who says batsmen have improved? NO modern batsman without a helmet has the talent and ability to last 30 balls against the WI quicks of the 70s bowling at tandem. All it takes is one knock on the head for a batsman to fear the fast rising ball throughout his life. I always find it funny when I see the modern greats (sic) take a knock on their helmet. Such poor technique!

Posted by len501 on (June 21, 2012, 4:55 GMT)

i don't know how anyone looking at fast bowling today can draw any conclusion other than that it 's on the decline. Batsmen are a protected species today, by the rules and the protection they wear. In addition many of the wickets are prepared to favor batsmen. As to the argument that today's bowlers bowl with sustained hostility more than fast bowlers of the past, I don't agree and I'm sure that those who had to face the great West Indian and Australian attacks would also agree. The rate at which modern fast bowlers break down certainly doesn't make for much confidence in the modern training they receive. Overall, my vote goes to those fearsome fast bowlers of the eighties. They put the fire in pace like fire.

Posted by harshthakor on (June 21, 2012, 4:37 GMT)

Today,even if standards are in decline there are twice as many games with results in test cricket.This is because there is no truly outstanding team.I can't forget the recent S.Africa -Australia test series.What is needed is to reduce the amount of cricket and concentrate on quality.We also need to build more seamer-friendly tracks.

Posted by harshthakor on (June 21, 2012, 4:35 GMT)

Without a doubt the standard of pace bowling has seriously declined.Apart from Steyn and Anderson,we do not have the likes of Wasim Akram,Glen Mcgrath,Curtly Ambrose,Dennis Lillee,Richard Hadlee,Imran Khan,Malcolm Marshall In previous eras we had 7-8 genuinely great paceman,particularly in the 1970's.

Infact test cricket standards have declined with too much t-20 cricket and too much money in the game.Today pitches are tailor made for batsman and hardly offer assistance to seamers.Most of the wickets are flat pancakes and the protective headgear and the 2 bouncer per over rule are in favour of the batsman.My hat;s of to Dale Steyn and James Anderson for performing so well in this era.Infact now we have far fewer great players and are reaching an era of a serious decline of the.After Tendulkar and Ponting retire only Kallis is left.

However the positive factor is that test cricket has many more results than in previous years ,with a series of enthralling finishes.

Posted by mehulmatrix on (June 21, 2012, 4:30 GMT)

Nice comparison between cricket and other sports Ed. But i think you missed the changes in pitches and coaching methods now. Coaching is much more elaborate and sophisticated. This is reflected by improvement in fielding methods. But what about batting and bowling. given most teams now have a bowling and batting coach? I think apart from Eng and SA most teams dont have a stable opening pair and middle order. Technical flaws are reflected by the same, though from the article we infer that bowling standards has gone down! I think Eng, SA and Aus have a good battery of pace bowlers. Also there dont seem to be up coming class spinners after warne, kumble, murali. Swann is really good and Ajmal has shown in his short time, but still not many for decent time. Also the pitches seem to be more flat then there were before! So over all standards seem to be better than before? Still a question!

Posted by balajik1968 on (June 21, 2012, 1:31 GMT)

Pace bowling is definitely in decline. The major reason is the pitches and the way rules have been changed to favour batsmen. Another reason is that the batsmen have a lot of armoury and hence the edge for the bowler is missing. Maybe ICC should now make a move favouring the bowler and start playing on uncovered wickets. The fear of physical injury has been diminished. Let the ICC favour the bowlers for a change.

Posted by   on (June 21, 2012, 1:07 GMT)

Philosophical but refreshingly amusing. Cricket as a sport has declined since 1980's, not so much in skill but in passion and enthusiasm from the players. I as a spectator, feel most of the time robbed of a genuine and well fought contest. In my opinion, the simple reason of that decline is involvement of huge money and commercializtion of sport. The glamour has taken the passion out of the game. That's why we often take refuge in the past to re-disover that "fire in the belly".

Posted by Baddabing on (June 20, 2012, 23:37 GMT)

One might ask why the world could not produce a Usain Bolt in 1930,or 1960, or 1990, how can you be sure it didnt,would anybody have noticed if it had? Would Usain have had the opportunity to become an elite athlete if he were born in 1910,or would he have followed a career as a labourer or lumberjack? Professional athletes have only been allowed to compete in the Olympics for about 20 years so it really doesnt surprise me that so many records get beaten in athletics,although the median improvement in something like 100m sprint is no more than a couple of 1/100ths of a second every decade,modern athletes train full time,their parents would have had to get upefore dawn to train,then go to work during the day and then train again in the evening,as well as paying their own $ along the way,even Olympic swimmers in the 1970s had to go the local pool and pay to get in and swim around members of the general public,applaud the athletes but just remember its the system that creates the records

Posted by Baddabing on (June 20, 2012, 23:01 GMT)

The skills that seperate a good or average player from a champion in cricket are a natural thing that are unlikely to change from one generation to the next,you cannot create champions with technology or huge salaries,certainly the 21st century players break more records and produce bigger numbers than previous generations,the next generation will likely smash all current records again and again,cricket skills do not 'carry forward'..every kid that ever picks up a bat or ball the first time is starting from the exact same position as every other kid past,present or future,what changes is the system they play within,small amendments to rules,improvements in pitches and bats,restrictions on bowlers and fieldsmen,changes in cultures and opportunities now allow batsmen to score 100's from 20 overs and 200's from 50 overs,yet the real performance level of the players is something that is unlikely to change from past to present and future.

Posted by sk12 on (June 20, 2012, 21:56 GMT)

Disagree. You have confused a handful of fast bowlers to be representative of the whole generation, and concluded fast bowlers of the 80's are better than those of today. Cant really make sweeping arguments as saying fast bowling as a whole was better in the past by stating 4 WI bolwers dominated everyone in the 80s and 4 bowers (Wasim, Waqar, Donald, Mcgrath) dominated in the 90s. Even those WI greats, they might have had great pace but dont think they had so much variations whcih our bowlers have today, flat pitches were rare occurences then, no/little protective gear for batsmen (makign raw pace as everything). They didnt hav to work on their battign or fielding, they had ample rests with large gaps between tours. I would say only WI and Pak had better bowlers in the 80s and 90s. Every other country have better fast bowlers now as comapred to 20 years back.

Posted by whatawicket on (June 20, 2012, 20:47 GMT)

nadeem1976 tino best bowling at ian bell yesterday at 92 mph with belll hooking and pulling with ease seemed ok to me. i think maybe its one of those better in those days moments, i have a few of those also these days

Posted by Rambo2008 on (June 20, 2012, 20:05 GMT)

Fact is fast bowlers dont last long. it would have been really interesting to see how long the '80's fast bowlers lasted playing 40 ODIs, 10 T20 and some 10 tests in a year and a few IPL like tournaments. Today cricket is a professional sport, where people look to maximize their time in the 'sun'. Being a fast bowler is like graduating at 25 with a retirement age of 30...

Posted by   on (June 20, 2012, 19:55 GMT)

My first-hand memory goes back to the early 1960s. There have been two or three peaks in the number of excellent fast bowlers during that time, and corresponding troughs. In 1963, Hall and Griffiths were fearsome, bone-breaking bowlers that good batsmen were scared of. Sobers commanded respect. Trueman was still pretty scary on a good day. Then there wasn't really anything to worry about until Lillee and Thomson, and after that not until Holding and Marshall and friends. Then gap to Waqar, Wasim, Ambrose, Walsh.

Todays crop of very good opening bowlers (Steyn, Anderson, Broad, Morkel, Roach) are faster than anything outside those peak periods, and more skilful than most. But this doesn't feel like a peak period for speed. A gradual Olympic trend of improvement is consistent with troughs.

Watching Roach gently exploring whether Jonny Bairstow could cope with a short ball was not terribly reminiscent of the way that Holding and company worked over Edrich and Close in 1976

Posted by Nadeem1976 on (June 20, 2012, 18:29 GMT)

current players are playing too much cricket as compare to past so quality is going downward. Tendulkar has played 190 tests, and 450 ODIs. When we compare him to Bradman then he played only 50 test matches. Now if Tendulkar knew that he is only going to play 50 test matches in his lifetime then he would put 200% more effort in those matches and may have average of 70 but he knew that he is there for long run.

Batting friendly conditions has destroyed the art of fast bowling. A regular fast bowler like Anderson is consider as one of the best today. Are you kidding me.

ICC has destroyed fast bowling by not allowing bouncers. Hook shot is the best shot in cricket which no body plays now. That's true quality of cricket has gone down in last 20 years.

Posted by Paulk on (June 20, 2012, 18:25 GMT)

>>>>Test cricket was dominated by the fearsome quartet of West Indian fast bowlers. Indeed, there were many more than four. The West Indies omitted a team of fast bowlers who, taken together, would probably have been one of the best bowling attacks in history. <<<<<

I would love to read an article focussing exclusively on the second string of West Indian fast bowlers. Wayne Daniel, Sylvester Clarke, Winston Davis, Franklyn Stephenson, Patrick Patterson. These guys statistics rank them amongst the very best but they never really had a full test career due to the quality of the top rung bowlers. Even Ian Bishop and Colin Croft who for injury and other reasons did not have full careers.

Posted by Paulk on (June 20, 2012, 18:19 GMT)

Very thought - provoking article. Thank you. My personal opinion is that cricket today is somehow less interesting than in the 70s - 80s but that does not necessarily mean the absolute level of play was better back then. There are a number of factors like helmets, bats etc etc where technology has made a difference in the attitude of batsmen towards fast bowlers. And I agree with John Wright who I think said that the overall professionalism of players was greater today. He specifically said that batsmen were more aware and conscious of their batting averages etc. However negative of the greater professionalism and homogeneity in training methods (due to international coaches etc) is I think a lack of distinct characters as individuals and as teams. That's what makes todays cricket a little less interesting for me.

Posted by msq3761 on (June 20, 2012, 18:08 GMT)

I think that he disregards the fact that with the improvement of technology, lesser kids are out of their homes taking part in physical sports. Talent can remain unpolished forever if it never comes out...

Posted by Hayat22 on (June 20, 2012, 18:00 GMT)

Pitches have grown slower all over the world, thereby negatively impacting the development of fast bowling talent.

Posted by AtifFazal11 on (June 20, 2012, 17:34 GMT)

I agree, they dont make fast bowlers like they used too. But, I also think the present batsman would handle fast bowlers better than the batsman of the past.The use of helmets and dead pitches have finished the fear of fast bowling.

Posted by   on (June 20, 2012, 17:08 GMT)

I disagree with the decline of fast bowling. The English pace attack is at its all-time best - Anderson, Bresnan, Broad are as good as any. Aussies have had their share of young quicks coming in - Starc, Pattinson, Cummins are all good bowlers who will develop over time. Even a once pace deprived Indian attack can boast of decent quickies - Zaheer, Ishant, Umesh Yadav, Nehra, RP Singh have all done well in patches and the likes of Varun Aaron and company are emerging. I am yet to see a South African or Pakistan attack that is not comprised of very good if not great bowlers - Steyn, Morkel, Gul, Sami, De Lange, Parnell are all express. The game has become more mechanical and the success criteria has changed - the ability to bounce the ball on the wicket and then into the crowd is no longer a measure of greatness, its foolishness.

Posted by BRUTALANALYST on (June 20, 2012, 16:57 GMT)

Also may I add the ECB changing rules of number of bouncers only adds to the problem nobody wants to be a fast bowler any more cos they can't hurt/scare the batsman ! making the game become a lot more technical has killed of the characters and drama it used to have. Most modern players are carbon copies almost robot like you rarely see any unique styles that used to be so abundant in the game which added to it's excitement. The rise of IPL/T20 franchise competitions is only going to add to this as most sort after players and money are for the big hitters not pace bowlers I feel this is the biggest danger to the future of the game as growing up watching bowlers terrify batsman was always the highlight for me.

Posted by BRUTALANALYST on (June 20, 2012, 16:45 GMT)

There has not been a decline in fast bowling LEE ROACH BEST STEYN e.t.c are as quick as anyone 90mph bowlers the difference is that batsman now are so drilled against bowling machines of that pace and the MAINE issue is EQUIPMENT HELMETS /THIGH GUARDS / ARM GUARDS CHEST GUARDS. GLOVES / PADS have made it almost impossible to be scared of fast bowling even for tail enders. Whether anyone wants to admit it or not it used to be more exciting to watch because it was areal battle between bat and ball and there was a good chance somebody would get hurt - I guarantee if you outlawed helmets crowds in test cricket would increase again.

Posted by The_Utican on (June 20, 2012, 16:32 GMT)

I can see why modern batsmen don't like being told that they might fare poorly in the 1980s, but advances in technology (bats and protective equipment) have all been to the batsmen's advantage, and have allowed players with relatively poor technique (e.g. Hayden, or Cook himself) to acquire daunting Test averages. The last fifteen years has seen more batsmen average over 50 than for several previous decades and it isn't the mark of exceptional excellence it once was. The point about the West Indian quicks was that they were genuinely feared - in physical as well as cricketing terms. You only need to read Wisden on the 1984 series, or Frances Edmonds on the 85-86 'Another Bloody Tour' (both 'blackwashes') to realise that people were frightened, and indeed despairing, about facing them. People got injured. More recent speedsters, such as Lee or Shoaib Akhtar, didn't have anything like the same menace. Claiming that fast bowling has got better just doesn't make sense to me.

Posted by Green_and_Gold on (June 20, 2012, 16:29 GMT)

A generation can get stuck in the past. When new players come in they are compared to past greats almost immediately. We are all waiting on the next Lara, Mcgrath, Warne, tendulkar that we dont give the current crop of players a chance to be their own greats. If they dont meet the standards of the big name players then they are often discarded and the next big thing comes through. Its like we need a generation of average before we can peak again.

Posted by   on (June 20, 2012, 16:11 GMT)

cricket as an all round sport has various periods where a particular aspect of the game might dominate the others. Although I am skeptical that if all the spells of yesteryear greats were timed, that whey would be as consistently quick as they are made out to be (many bowlers can bowl a couple of quick balls when being measured, also considering closer scrutiny of bowling arm actions today), if we analyze the differences between old bowlers and modern bowlers, what about factoring in tame pitches and batsman that are far superior in terms of attacking prowess than their precursors. So maybe the question is not, are yesteryear bowlers better than today's, BUT rather, are today's batsman better than those of yesteryear?

Posted by   on (June 20, 2012, 15:58 GMT)

Didn't you guys notice Gordon Greenidge in the picture also?

Posted by Sarthak1305 on (June 20, 2012, 15:54 GMT)

To all those who say helmets have changed the way the game is played i agree the fear of getting your head knocked off has gone yet in the 90's you had bowlers who hunted in groups it was relentless fast bowling that made the difference like Mcgrath fleming,lee, gillespi then u had Imran Khan akram younis then akhtar gt added u had the walsh the ambrose of cricket, that is what is missing in todays cricket, i mean you couldnt write off bowlers like them in any conditions home or away jst didnt matter to them and this is what is missing, exception being Steyn, Amir(wouldve been 1 bt now we will never knw)

Posted by Jonathan_E on (June 20, 2012, 15:51 GMT)

Hm. Interesting comment about the "throwing" field event records having NOT improved by the same amount that the track events have, in athletics.

People are, undeniably, running faster and faster. But are throwing and bowling techniques being eroded as a result of actually running up faster or further? In fact, does the technique of running really fast get in the way of putting one's full shoulder strength into a throw or bowl?

A comparison can be made: A javelin thrower who runs up too fast risks overstepping the line. A bowler who runs up too fast... also risks overstepping (no-ball) or, worse still, being penalised for "running down the pitch", which umpires are far more picky about these days. So to avoid that, one must either twist that much more in the delivery stride before one's momentum takes one into the danger area (which will take pace off the ball) or have a slower run-up, for which a whirligig arm action may or may not compensate...

Posted by Nutcutlet on (June 20, 2012, 15:27 GMT)

I have been watching cricket since 1960. Discernment kicked in just a few years later, but I am convinced that, at the top level, the bowlers of yesteryear were every bit as skilful as those that take the field today. Moreover, they kept going, playing a full quota of county cricket + Test match appearances giving them a season so full & tough that many of today's well paid stars would turn pale in horror at the workload that was required of them, for a tiny fraction of the remunaration now available. Take Brian Statham in his last year as a Test player(1965): a mere 771 overs, 137 wickets, av12.52 - aged 35. S Africa's batting line up was impressive (Barlow, Lindsay, RG Pollock, Bland) yet JBS's figures at the Oval in the 1st inns: 24.2 - 11- 40 -5. I recall it in detail. The best line & length bowling I've ever seen, at about Bresnan's pace. I will concede that outfielding has improved enormously, but close catching (Micky Stewart, Tony Lock) has not. No helmets then, of course!

Posted by dabbler on (June 20, 2012, 13:45 GMT)

So you'r basically telling us that the old days were better. But I know that already.

Posted by Hammond on (June 20, 2012, 11:45 GMT)

Nice one Ed. If the eyewitness accounts are true, then Charles Kortwright bounced a ball from the middle of the pitch and it then travelled over the keeper and then the fence without touching the grass. This was in the 19th century. I think the standard over all has improved, but the occasional freak like Tibby Cotter, Harold Larwood or Frank Tyson would be quicker than anyone around now. None of the modern bowlers spent their childhood pushing a miniature train full of coal back and forth inside a Notts coal mine. There are bowlers from the past as fit and strong, if not more so than anyone playing today.

Posted by HumungousFungus on (June 20, 2012, 11:28 GMT)

Excellent article Ed. I agree 100% with your assessment that the 1980's was "an unnatural coincidence of elite talent". Consider: Marshall, Roberts, Garner, Holding, Croft, Walsh, Ambrose, Bishop, W Benjamin, Davies, K Benjamin, Gray, Patterson, Ferris, Stephenson, Clarke. 16 bowlers, all operating, at worst, at the sharp end of fast medium, and at least half of whom, based on both seeing them in the flesh or watching on television, were quicker than anybody currently playing Test cricket. Kemar Roach would have been first change West Indies A at best in the midst of these guys. The point made about bowlers today maintaining their pace better is also a fallacy. A lot of the guys above very rarely operated at full speed, but knew exactly when to switch gears and bring the fury. It was a privilege to watch the West Indies play in the 1980's as you knew it was the greatest examination, and runs against them were worth twice those against any other Test team...

Posted by cricsom5667 on (June 20, 2012, 11:15 GMT)

The article's "raison d etre" can be surmised in one simple idiom - familiarity breeds contempt. A simplistic observation,although manifest in which are other equally important contributing factors like overexposure to quicks through lopsided batsmen centric formats like 20-20, covered wickets having more of a true bounce, better protection gear, lighter and stronger bats, higher financial security through alternate channels have made the situation worse for the quicks. The fear factor-fear of failure or injury, both epitomised by Test cricket until early part of previous decade, has been diluted with a corresponding dilution in "awe of the quicks" in the minds of batsmen due to the loss of absolute pre-eminence (financially and/or otherwise) of Test cricket in a cricketers career. There hasn't been much of a dilution in the craft although certain menacing personalities like Marshall/Wasim/Holding etc., are missed sorely. The stakes for the batsmen have been decreased substantially.

Posted by   on (June 20, 2012, 11:01 GMT)

I love reading your pieces as you address issues not easily dealt with. However, I'd like to point out a few things that might possibly help you become a better writer: Young people suffer from two main disabilities - seeing things in black and white plus temporal myopia. As an example, your "Golden Age" in tennis is no more than wishful thinking on your part - if you look into it deeper, you will see the limitations older generations had to contend with. The 1970s was more of the true Golden Age of tennis with the older generation of Laver, Newcombe and Ashe being challenged by the youngsters Connors, Borg, McEnroe while Billie Jean King faced Martina Navratilova. With all due respect, the modern age just cannot compete. Same with cricket. Batsmen such as Lloyd (remember his "skull cap" under the sun hat that never was?) and Richards faced faster men on worse pitches with little or no protection. Thommo bowled at 100+ when adjusted for limitations in measuring technique. And so on.

Posted by Somerset-Richard on (June 20, 2012, 10:27 GMT)

A nicely written piece by Ed Smith. Maybe we're all missing a point here though. Those of us that love cricket now and who are old enough to have loved cricket "back in the day", don't really care who was "the fastest" bowler or statistically "the best" bowler. We do, however, remember exciting periods of test match cricket, as epitomised by the 70's/80's West Indian team, the 90's/00's Australian team, England now, possibly even the 30's Australian team if we're old enough.

Posted by EdGreen on (June 20, 2012, 10:11 GMT)

I think if you look at the athleticism of some of the best fast bowlers through time (Mike Holding and Harold Larwood are prime examples) that they were at the forefront of sports fitness at their times.

Cricket has had an oddly cyclical development path - fielding now is probably the best its ever been - but there have been previous highs - such as the era of positive cricket in the 1950s.

With fast bowling there are, inevitably crops and groups - Flintoff, Harmisson, Jones, Tudor is a pretty brutal set for example, if you want sheer pace then England can now potentially field five genuine fast bowlers in most tests. Whereas for years we had Bob Willis.

Has the fastest ball changed as must as the fastest runner? No, will it likely have moved forward a little yes, how many bowlers will ever be as consistently quick as Mike Holding - precious few.

Posted by ragebe on (June 20, 2012, 10:02 GMT)

Hmm, I wonder Ed, if you would have written the same article if today's batsmen were facing quicks on uncovered wickets?

Your article appears to be about the intimadatory factor of a ball coming towards the batsman at a great rate of knots (when the object of the game is to take 20 wickets), so it's more about the perceived decline of WI fast bowlers than the game itself being in decline.

So whilst I wish Marshall was still terrorising batsmen at the Rose Bowl for Hants, I don't think fast bowlers as a breed are worse today than in the 70s or 80s, just that matches are played on easier pitches.

And no mention of Bob Willis? I can't recall who it was who described him as the best bowler in the world (I think I read it Botham's bio) but it was somebody like Clive Lloyd or Kim hughes.

Posted by   on (June 20, 2012, 9:58 GMT)

Superb one.But much as I admire Dizzy Gillespie's hardworking ethos cant see him in the group

Posted by SirWilliam on (June 20, 2012, 9:50 GMT)

The point that Alastair Cook seems to ignore is that, against the great West Indies side, the attack was relentless, with bowlers of great pace bowling at you all day (if you were good enough to bat for that long!) in rotation. The bowlers were consequently always fresh and quick. Cook only has to deal with one, or occasionally two, genuinely fast bowlers and is therefore not worn down by ever-present danger and the continuous concentration required when perhaps only one ball every over could be scored from. Cook can stand at the non-striker's end shouting "No" if he wants some relief from it and take easier pickings in the following over! Surely he must have talked to his coach Graham Gooch about this. He would know.

Posted by RandomTalk on (June 20, 2012, 9:39 GMT)

I tend to agree with the 'golden past' delusion. Having said that, I also believe that we cannot compare two eras, that of pre and post use of technology, equipment and changing rule sets. Still, the memory of Michael Holding's gazelle like run to fire a cannonball, or Malcolm Marshall walking down the pitch post delivery to stare down a batsman, remains indelible.

Posted by RandomTalk on (June 20, 2012, 9:37 GMT)

I think we should also consider the impact of technology on the modern game, particularly video and cartwheels. Opposition bowlers can view hundreds of hours of a batsman's time in the crease and work out a batsman's weakness, scoring patterns, areas of strengths and so on. Equally, a bowler's action, angle of attack and variations also comes under microscopic scrutiny. Do we deduce that in spite of the oppostion being aware a team's weaknesses, a contemporary cricketer plays within a corridor of his/her strengths thereby is, in a sense, restricted? We are also seeing batsmen's averages rise through the last two decades. Does this mean that the bowling is inferior to what it was 30 years ago, or, we are seeing, to paraphrase Ed, a miraculous crop of great batsmen, notwithstanding the fact that there is an immense improvement in fitness levels of players, and that of fielding standards thereby making run scoring even more difficult.

Posted by Marktc on (June 20, 2012, 9:32 GMT)

It is difficult to really compare past and present. I do agree that people are very in awe with the past players and are unwilling to give enough credit to those of today. But, all sports change....equipment changes, tracks change, training and diets change...they all influence the results. Example running...runners from yesteryear, turned up and ran. Today it is a science from you shoes to what you eat and drink of track day. To compare, all things must be equal. Cricket today has seen changes in the rules, tracks, equipment etc..this all leads to alterations in the way the game is played, from tactics to basic play. Fast bowlers these days, cannot simply be speedsters, but need an array of weapons to combat batting, which is ever evolving. This often may lead to the bowler slowing down. It is unfair and useless to try to compare one era with another, we should honour the greats at the end of the day, past and present.

Posted by FieryFerg on (June 20, 2012, 8:55 GMT)

Great article. Don't agree with the premise that only WI have declined in pace bowling. In the 70s, early 80s SA had Le Roux, Hanley, Jeffries, van der Bijl, Aus had Lillee, Hogg Pascoe, Thommo, etc - easily as good or better than now. Remember also Thommo's 99 mph was timed over the full 22 yards not just peak velocity out of the hand as modern speed guns produce. Also don't buy Cook or Kevin Shine's arguments fully. Conditioning may be better now but as has been pointed out fast bowling is not about fitness, it's a combination of timing, flexibility and physiology that cannot be coached. Cook should talk to Lamb, Gower, etc who fended off Pat Patterson and the others on the cobbled pitch in Jamaica in '86.

Posted by Yagga175 on (June 20, 2012, 8:49 GMT)

Surely the talent that made a Trumper, Spofforth, Headley or Nourse a great player in his own age would translate to the modern era. To turn the question around: if we believe that a Waugh, Cook, Kallis or Warne is a great player now in current conditions do we believe that they have the ability to play on uncovered wickets, without modern training methods, video analysis? I firmly believe that while the parameters within which we judge the performance do move the ability of players to apply their talent and intellect to the problems they face does too. I think comparisons can be made - it can't just be about averages. Kallis is a great player but the way in which he makes his contribution is quite different to that of Sobers - 3 in 1 bowler, brilliant fielder and complete batsman. One does not diminish the other. It is inarguable that Sobers would be a great player in any era and I strongly suspect the same of Kallis. You know great players when you see them whatever the sport and era

Posted by BellCurve on (June 20, 2012, 8:42 GMT)

Great topic. I disagree with the conclusion because the premises are false. Do you honestly believe the worldwide talent pool is smaller today than in 1980? Given the vast improvement in living standards in so many cricket playing nations, I would not be surprised if there are 3 times as many cricketers today than there was 30 years ago and 20 times as many as 80 years ago. When Bradman was born in 1908 Australia had a population of 4.2 million; today Australia has 22.9 million people. If you also consider increases in living standards, advances in sports science, the widespread availability of sports facilities and equipment, and the establishment of a rich cricketing tradition, it would be fair to conclude that cricket in Australia is at least 20 times more competitive today than it was in the days of Bradman. Guys like Fingleton and McCabe would probably have been playing Grade cricket if they were around today. That's why Bradman was so much better than his contemporaries.

Posted by Truemans_Ghost on (June 20, 2012, 8:31 GMT)

My view on this is that genuinely fast bowling has declined, but this is a consequence of a tactical shift in the game. With bouncers limited and better batsman protection, sheer pace is no longer the effective weapon it was so players are coached to be fast-medium bowlers with, (theoretically) better accuracy and movement rahthr than raw pace bowlers. Shoaib was one of the last bowlers to use raw pace as his main weapon, and his cereer was good rather than spectacular. I'm not saying the greats of the past didn't have craft, or that the likes of Steyn don't have good pace. I think modern fast medium bowling is probably quicker and has more sustained pace than in the past, but even the quickest bowlers today are reallt fast-fast-medium, rather than Holding like quicks

Posted by khan321 on (June 20, 2012, 8:31 GMT)

Well I do agree to most that in general fast bowling has declined but only slightly the reason the decline is magnified is because countries that were known for their fast bowling exploits have not been able to produced the like of their past in recent years and countries that had been known for at best promising bowlers have unearthed some gems like england, south africa and even srilanka. Australia Pakistan and West Indies on the other hand have declined but the decline has been gradual not sudden I am sure facing Mcgrath and gillespie would have been a daunting task but i am sure most batsman would prefer it over lilli and thompson .. so was the opening combination of walsh and ambrose but again roberts, holding and co were probably more feared. Amir asif and shoib in their prime would have made batsman work harder but the fear of god put in by waqar and wasim in them could not be matched. its just a turn in fortunes for different teams and i guess its a natural process.

Posted by analyseabhishek on (June 20, 2012, 8:26 GMT)

The new generation is always better than the previous ones because they can ..."stand on the shoulder of giants", so to say. In other words, they have a benefit of hindsight, a role model to emulate PLUS improved equipment and fitness. Kapil Dev was candid enough to admit this recently- he simply said the newer generation players are always better than the previous generation- except perhaps when we are talking about Bradman!

Posted by o-bomb on (June 20, 2012, 8:14 GMT)

Great article! You touched on the "stopwatch" sports, particularly athletics and the fact that the world records on the track and in the swimming pool are broken failry regularly. In contrast to this you could look at the field events in athletics, particularly the throwing events. The world records for all 4 of the throwing events have stood for more than 15 years now (in the case of the hammer and the discus they've stood for more than 25 years). Could you relate the throwing skills to fast bowling and make the case that the quickest bowlers now are no faster than the quickest bowlers of the 80s?

Posted by   on (June 20, 2012, 7:58 GMT)

I find the common mistake when talking about the general stocks of fast bowling is to focus on the great West Indian fast bowlers and compare them to modern equivalents. It leads one to conclude fast bowling has declined, when in reality is merely West Indian fast bowling that's diminished, and that as part of an overall decline in West Indian cricket. England have just recently developed a genuinely threatening pace battery. South Africa have Steyn and Morkel, with Philander being added to make a very threatening set of bowlers. And while Australia might have dropped back with the retirement of McGrath and Gillespie, the new bowlers coming through look extremely promising. I think nostalgia might sometimes drive us to forget that while some bowling attacks were potent, there were plenty of teams struggling to put 3 quality quicks onto the park back then as well.

Posted by cork123 on (June 20, 2012, 7:53 GMT)

Good one Ed, yes it is delightful to compare the players of different era's despite everyone knows at the back of their mind that the comparisons doesn't really make any sense due various factors. You got it right, when you say that opinions are alwasys skewed to nostalgic. Expecting more from you on the same subject...

Posted by   on (June 20, 2012, 7:32 GMT)

It's worth looking at the at the men's 100m sprint world record over time. To me, running very fast and bowling very fast have some similarities - if the pure talent isn't there, no amount of training will make up for it. The 100m record has steadily gone down over the last century. Can you conclude that that probably means fast bowlers have similarly speeded up? I don't think so - a lot of the 100m time improvements can be put down to improvements in track, timing and shoe technology, which have little application to cricket. Take those factors out and only relatively marginal improvements have come from better training methods and professionalism. Usain Bolt has lowered the record significantly lately - but while his training is no doubt at the absolute cutting edge, to me his achievements are more down to his freakish talent. Similarly, fast bowlers with something like that level of talent (eg Jeff Thomson, Frank Tyson, Michael Holding) are born, not made by modern training

Posted by   on (June 20, 2012, 7:30 GMT)

Can't really agree with the Tennis comparison; Indeed I can think of 6 or 7 Australians of the 60's who would marmelise the present crop of players;Laver, newcome,Roach etc.etc. etc.

Posted by   on (June 20, 2012, 7:05 GMT)

Cook would say that because in the 80's and 90's Englands fast bowling was non existent. It looks to me as though fast bowling is coming back though.. You already have Steyn leading the way but there is a lot of good young talent coming through with Finn, Pattinson, Kemar etc and another wave of talent just behind them. It may also be the age of the mystery spinner... with one spinner after another bursting onto the scene before 'mysteriously' dissappearing two years later.

Posted by   on (June 20, 2012, 6:59 GMT)

Excellent piece! I've come to the conclusion that the game is no better and no worse today than it was in previous generations but it is different. The improvement in fielding and field placing has been huge since I started playing the game and the innovations brought about by T20 cricket played by professionals have been many. When I first played the game at decent club level, it wasn't unusual to go through an entire match with two slips and a gully in place. Now, if there's still a slip after 10 overs, it is worth commenting on!

The only qualification I have in all this is in respect of the bowlers. As you suggest, every county had a Roberts, Holding, Marshall, Clarke, Boyce, Ambrose, Walsh, Garner, Daniel etc. Some counties had two as in the case of Gloucestershire who for a short time were able to open the bowling with Walsh and Lawrence. Today, we find it remarkable that Surrey can put three sharpish bowlers in the side. And, no helmets made a big, big difference!

Posted by   on (June 20, 2012, 6:57 GMT)

My take on this is that the golden era referred in the article also coincided with TV and media's large interest in cricket. It was for the first time many got to see this talent in live colour especially people like me who grew in a eighties in India. The impressions made are not easy to forget and nostalgia about them is in the human nature.

Posted by cricketforpeace on (June 20, 2012, 6:05 GMT)

Wonderful write up. insightful and incisive. There is one reason which I find relevant, especially with reference to WI cricket. "Now he might just as easily be tempted to pursue a career in basketball, soccer or - like Bolt - athletics" - this is because there is now more money in these sports (at least in WI) compared to cricket. Whether we like it or not, the introduction of more money into other sports with not a proportionate rise for cricket players (except for maybe Indian cricket) - has resulted in sportsmen gravitating to other sports.

Posted by santoshjohnsamuel on (June 20, 2012, 6:04 GMT)

Ed, a pleasure reading your articles, as always. And while i agree that nostalgia can skew anyone's judgement, it would not also be correct to attribute all judgements to nostalgia. Witness the near unanimous agreement on two of the greatest sporting sides -- the WI of the late-1970s to end-1980s, and the 1970 Brazilian side. Remember these sides had captured the imagination of the masses during their playing eras with the beauty of their games, their unbelievable records apart. One would not put it down to pure nostalgia. And thank you for being forthright about the decline of fast bowling -- it also is an reflection about the diminished ability of many current batsmen to handle pace bowling.

Posted by mcsdl on (June 20, 2012, 6:03 GMT)

Dont think fast bowling got any worse is the right way to put it, but it hardly improved, where as batting, pitches and bats got improved well beyond..!

Posted by B.C.G on (June 20, 2012, 5:36 GMT)

Todays pace bowlers don't have the advantage of bowling unlimited bouncers.Steyn will be much more intimidating than any of the 1980's bowlers if he could do so.Also there are these front foot no ball rules.Besides captains have to complete 90 overs a day while previously this wasn't the case.Please take these facts into consideration.

Posted by aditya.pidaparthy on (June 20, 2012, 5:32 GMT)

I think Ed Smith describes it perfectly. I always believed a good athlete is good regardless of which sport he plays. Considering the west indies cricket was very popular in the 80's, so the strong athletes, the big tall fast bowlers flocked to play cricket. They had the chance to play as professionals in England, it was financially attractive. Now the top athletes from west indies have the very lucrative, albeit, slightly less global sports in USA like Basketball, baseball, NFL. The talent is being poached because it is closer to home and there is more money.

Posted by Vinshada on (June 20, 2012, 5:28 GMT)

I like the article because you were bold enough to state that fast bowling definitely isn't as good as it was in the past.

Perhaps as batting has improved, and with helmets etc, the fast bowlers of today are made to look worse than their predecessors?

Is this the golden age for spinners? If so shouldn't improvements in batting have been neutralised, and so batsmanship is actually at a standstill overall because while they play fast bowling better, they play spin worse?

Posted by   on (June 20, 2012, 5:25 GMT)

As always well articulated Ed. However, the impact of the helmet on fast bowling and batting should not be under estimated. Before the helmet, the speed of the delivery, had a clear psychological impact on the batsman. Faster you bowl, more bounce and potentially every delivery can kill you. Once the fear factor has gone, sheer speed does not make a difference.Batsmen get hit on the helmet, blink twice and slog the next ball for a six. You can as well bowl in the high 80s for a much longer period. What surprises me is how come we do not come across people who can bowl in the 110 mph range? Is that a question of physique?

Posted by   on (June 20, 2012, 5:00 GMT)

Very very good article....80-90 era will never back in cricket for bowling.....like wise this time in Men's Tennis....

Posted by S.h.a.d.a.b on (June 20, 2012, 4:47 GMT)

Good. Totally agreed. Please keep writing about it.

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