March 2004

The XI meanest bowlers

John Stern infiltrates the bowling terrorists

John Stern infiltrates the fast and furious of Test cricket

Roy Gilchrist: not a man to be messed with © Getty Images

1 Sylvester Clarke
Mike Selvey wrote: "His glare could freeze hell." He terrorised batsmen for a decade for Surrey, splitting Graham Gooch's helmet in two and ripping the top of David Gower's glove. His amazing shoulders and chest-on action could unleash what Dennis Amiss called a "trapdoor ball" because the batsman would lose sight of it until it appeared in front of his nose. But his most infamous act came as a boundary fielder in a Test against Pakistan at Multan in 1980-81. Angered by the barrage of fruit and pebbles, he picked up a brick being used as a boundary marker and threw it into the crowd, seriously injuring a local student leader.

2 Roy Gilchrist
"I bin watchin' cricket 50 years and, if owt's faster than yon lad, they're fired from bloody cannons," said a seasoned watcher of the Central Lancashire League after seeing the Jamaican Gilchrist bowl for Middleton. Gilchrist played 13 Tests for West Indies and took 57 wickets but his Test career ended abruptly, sent home from India in 1958-59 for bowling beamers and a "knife incident".

3 Colin Croft
"Genuinely nasty," wrote Imran Khan. "He didn't seem to enjoy playing cricket very much." Built like a lock forward, Croft bowled from wide of the crease spearing the ball towards the batsman. When Australia met Guyana in 1977-78 Graham Yallop fractured his jaw trying to hook Croft and Bruce Yardley was hit on the head. The tourists' manager Fred Bennett described Croft's bowling as a "direct contravention of both the law and the tour conditions".

4 Charlie Griffith
His partnership with Wes Hall for West Indies in the 1960s was one of the most hostile of all pace double-acts. Griffith was the master of the toe-crushing yorker but is notorious for his dubious action that caused him to be no-balled for throwing twice in his career. In 1961-62 he hit Indian Nari Contractor over the right ear and Contractor had to undergo a life-saving brain operation.

5 Harold Larwood
Not a real meany but gets in for being the executor of Bodyline against Australia in 1932-33. He took 33 wickets at 19.51 but achieves his place as an anti-hero because of the blows sustained by Bill Woodfull and Bert Oldfield in the third Test at Adelaide. Woodfull was hit over the heart after ducking into what he thought was a rising ball while Oldfield was hit on the head by a ball that rose off a length.

6 Jeff Thomson
He set his stall out before England's visit to Australia in 1974-75 by saying: "I enjoy hitting a batsman more than getting him out. I like to see blood on the pitch. And I've been training on whisky." Whatever his secret, his partnership with Dennis Lillee in the 1974-75 series was devastatingly successful. The pair took 58 wickets between them and both averaged two or three bouncers an over as the capacity crowds bayed for blood.

7 Courtney Walsh
West Indies v England, first Test, Jamaica, 1993-94. It was Mike Atherton's first overseas Test as captain and Walsh bowled "harrowingly fast and short" according to Wisden. But it was the "unwarranted and unpunished intimidation" of England's No. 11 Devon Malcolm that shocked all who saw it. Walsh had had enough of a last-wicket stand between Malcolm and Andrew Caddick so came round the wicket to launch an "unedifying assault" at Malcolm's body.

8 Michael Holding
Don't be fooled by the mellifluous Jamaican burr. `Whispering Death' wins his place for the onslaught at Old Trafford on the evening of July 10, 1976 when 45-year-old Brian Close took blow after blow on the body. West Indies captain Clive Lloyd admitted afterwards: "Our fellows got carried away. They went flat out, sacrificing accuracy for speed."

Curtly Ambrose: angry when roused © Getty Images
9 Curtly Ambrose
The meanness of Ambrose left was usually confined to his bowling analysis but when riled his temper was ferocious. Playing for Northants against Warwickshire in 1990, he was so annoyed at having a caught-behind appeal against Dermot Reeve turned down that he bowled three beamers at him in quick succession. Reeve made 202 not out, his highest first-class score.

10 John Snow
The man whose autobiography was entitled Cricket Rebel was easily wound up. On the Ashes tour of 1970-71 Snow hit Graham McKenzie in the face and in the final Test at Sydney felled Terry Jenner with a bouncer. He was warned by the umpire for intimidatory bowling and then had his shirt pulled by an inebriated spectator. As beer cans rained on to the ground England captain Ray Illingworth led his players from the field.

11 Sarfraz Nawaz
An unpredictable Pakistani, Sarfraz had the temerity to bounce Jeff Thomson, playing for Northants against the Australians, and Joel Garner, in the 1979 Gillette Cup final. At Perth in 1978-79 Andrew Hilditch picked up the ball at the non-striker's end and threw it helpfully back to Sarfraz, who promptly appealed successfully for `handled the ball'.

This article was first published in the March 2004 issue of The Wisden Cricketer.
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