The Pacemen: 100 Years of South African Fast Bowlers December 14, 2013

Men of South Africa

South African cricket is synonymous with fast bowling, and a new book celebrates the best of it

One of the thrills of quality bowling is that the few seconds it takes for the ball to leave the hand of its deliverer, reach the batsman and wreak magic can form the basis for entire stories. It could be the story of Krom Hendricks, told through the bullet he shot out to blast Jock Hearne's off stump out of the ground; or of Craig Cumming's face, rearranged courtesy a quick one from Dale Steyn.

The stories of 32 South African fast bowlers, in bite-size chunks of around 1000 words each, are fleshed out in Mail and Guardian journalist Drew Forrest's book, The Pacemen, written in an engagingly informative style that educates and entertains.

Hendricks' tale, of which not much is known, is tinged with sadness. His chapter ends: "First-class career: None, Tests: None." In Buster Nupen, Forrest introduces us to "probably the only Norwegian to play Test cricket", who lost his eye to a steel splinter as a seven-year-old and faced amputation as an adult. You also learn how Bob Crisp found out he was picked for the 1935 tour of England (Hint: he was not standing on ground level at the time).

These well-researched nuggets provide insight into men we thought we understood, through the fear they could ignite when standing at the top of their marks. In daily existence, they were far more gentle. Peter Heine is described as "mild-mannered, genial and a 'great favourite with the ladies', according to Neil Adcock", who also features in the book. Adcock was trained by a prominent former football coach and put on 20 kilograms in an effort to become stronger.

The book covers South Africa's quicks through the ages and across various divides. Vince van der Bijl and Clive Rice share space with Eric Petersen and Dik Abed. None of them played Test cricket but all four were widely acknowledged as being among the best of their generations.

Forrest's work reveals more interesting human facts about past players - perhaps because we did not know them - and more statistical and technique-based information about the modern generation. Makhaya Ntini's approach from wide of the crease is singled out as the reason why only 6% of his Test dismissals were obtained with lbws, compared with 21% of Shaun Pollock's. Vernon Philander's records as one of the best newcomers on the scene are explored in detail in the last chapter of the book.

What is common to all the bowlers described is that they are the men on whose backs South African cricket's reputation was built and continues to grow. With this book, Forrest gives them the recognition they deserve.

The Pacemen: 100 Years of South African Fast Bowlers
Drew Forrest
221 pages

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent