Ranking Australia’s fast bowlers

Ronan O'Connell Columnist

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    James Pattinson is running out of time to get his body up to Test standards. (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

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    The strength and depth of Australia’s fast bowling stocks is its only strength in Test cricket. But the plethora of pace options has also caused confusion about the pecking order.

    Some consider Peter Siddle the heartbeat of the Aussie attack, while others would not choose him in the starting XI for the Ashes.

    Ryan Harris is Australia’s finest pacemen according to certain pundits and fans, but others consider him too fragile.

    Who do you rate Australia’s top 10 pace bowlers in first class cricket? Assuming all bowlers are fit, these are my rankings:

    1. James Pattinson
    The 22-year-old firebrand showed in India this March why he has the potential to succeed Dale Steyn as the world’s best fast bowler.

    While the other Aussie bowlers struggled to have any impact on docile pitches, Pattinson regularly troubled all of India’s top order with his pace and aggression.

    No batsman enjoys facing 150kmh missiles and Pattinson is perhaps the only bowler in the world apart from Steyn who can produce such heat while maintaining a perfect line and length.

    His height and classical action also allow him to gain disconcerting bounce, which adds to his intimidation factor.

    What elevates Pattinson above his Aussie peers is that he is rarely unthreatening – when he has the ball a breakthrough appears possible, regardless of pitch conditions or the state of play.

    After just 10 Tests, he has already become the spearhead of the strong Aussie pace attack. If he avoids regular injury trouble, he should take 300-plus Test wickets.

    2. Ryan Harris
    Harris’ career figures for Australia are phenomenal – 47 Test wickets at 24 and 44 One Day International wickets at 19.

    He hasn’t represented his country for 12 months because of an injury layoff, but his return to state cricket last season was emphatic. Look no further than Harris’ effort on the fourth morning of the Sheffield Shield final.

    On a pitch flatter than the Netherlands, Harris made the new ball talk as he tore through the Tasmanian top order.

    The delivery which bowled Tassie captain George Bailey would have left Bradman in tears. It started well outside off stump before swerving in through the air and darting further off the seam to smash into middle stump. In this spell, Harris took 4-6 to leave Tasmania reeling at 5-15.

    This stunning display came just weeks after he almost single-handedly won Queensland the Ryobi Cup with a man-of-the-match performance which saw him take two wickets in the nail biting final over of the game as he finished with 4-26.

    3. Peter Siddle
    Tenacity and courage are crucial assets for a fast bowler. When you are bowling your 30th over in 40 degree Indian heat with the score 3 for 450, it is these traits that allow you not to fold but to fight.

    The only occasions when Siddle has wilted while sporting the baggy green have come when his body simply could not operate any longer, having been pushed beyond exhaustion.

    Siddle’s endeavour and commitment are legendary, but his skill should not be underestimated. Over the past two years, Siddle has matured as a bowler, displaying greater control, guile and patience.

    He’s been rewarded with the fantastic return of 76 Test wickets at an average of 26 during that period.

    4. Jackson Bird
    Some fast bowlers blast out batsmen while others prefer to slowly strangle them. Bird does not have extreme pace and rarely bowls unplayable deliveries, but his accuracy and stamina turn his encounters with opposition batsmen into a battle of endurance.

    The Tasmanian repeats the same delivery – swinging away gently on a good length just outside off – until the batsman’s patience erodes, prompting a false stroke. It is an approach very similar to that which reaped rewards for former Australian seamer Stuart Clark.

    Bird is a dream for bowlers to work with in tandem because the suffocating pressure he builds can force the batsmen to take risks from the other end.

    5. Mitchell Starc
    The New South Welshmen is a genuine freak – a 196cm left arm bowler who can swing the ball prodigiously at up to 150kmh. There is no other bowler in world cricket like him.

    Starc’s extraordinary gifts have helped him to become one of the elite bowlers in international limited overs cricket aged just 23. He is yet to consistently exhibit his wild talent at Test level but has shown promising development.

    His late swing back into the right handers is something most left arm pacemen can only dream of possessing. The steepling bounce he extracts from a good length make him an even more difficult opponent.

    If he can begin to bowl in Tests the way he does in ODIs and T20, he will carve through opposition batting line-ups.

    6. Patrick Cummins
    How do you accurately judge a 19-year-old prodigy who burned so brightly so briefly before disappearing from view at first class level?

    His single Test for Australia was so blindingly brilliant it remains vivid in the memory. He rattled South Africa’s formidable batting line-up, including veteran kingpin Jaques Kallis, who after being worked over and then dismissed by Cummins hailed the Sydneysider as a star of the future.

    Unfortunately, since taking seven wickets in that match, Cummins is yet to play another first class game almost 18 months later.

    But the talent displayed in that Test was enough to suggest he can dominate world cricket if and when he has an injury-free run.

    7. Ben Hilfenhaus
    There are two Ben Hilfenhauses.

    The first one, seen during the 2011-12 Australian summer, bowls 145kmh and gets late swerve away from the right handers. This Hilfenhaus is a world-class strike bowler capable of ripping through top orders and is one of the first players picked in the Australian side.

    The second Hilfenhaus, famously flayed by England during the disastrous 2010-11 Ashes, bowls in the mid-130kmh range with swing which comes straight from the hand as opposed to deadly late movement. This Hilfenhaus is solid but pedestrian. He can contain but he can’t conquer.

    Unfortunately, the latter Hilfenhaus is the one on offer at the moment.

    He bowled well for Tasmania in the recent Sheffield Shield season, taking 26 wickets at 24. But he lacked the penetration of fellow Tigers fast bowlers Bird, James Faulkner and Luke Butterworth, who all had superior strike rates.

    8. James Faulkner
    The young all-rounder has very similar first-class bowling figures to older Tasmanian teammate Butterworth but boasts more pace, a greater mix of deliveries and the valuable variety of being a left armer.

    Faulkner can swing the ball both ways, possesses several effective slower balls and offers few bad deliveries for the batsman to punish.

    He showed with several eye-catching efforts in his debut ODI series against Sri Lanka in January that he is comfortable at international level and, in fact, relishes the challenge.

    A fierce competitor, Faulkner possesses “mongrel” – an attitudinal asset exhibited by great Aussie quicks Dennis Lillee and Merv Hughes, and most recently Pattinson.

    9. Mitch Johnson
    Despite being famously erratic and the butt of a million jokes, Johnson remains a threatening, aggressive and durable performer.

    His supreme fitness allows him to bowl long spells at high pace, unlike many of his counterparts who can operate at top speed for only short bursts.

    The quickest bowler in Australia after Pattinson and Cummins, Johnson has perhaps the best bouncer in international cricket.

    Despite being a genial character, he is one of few bowlers in the world capable of a delivering a genuinely frightening spell. But, of course, his wayward radar means he offers batsmen too many loose balls.

    Johnson has tried everything from modifying his action to changing his run up in an attempt to remedy this inconsistency. But it continues to prevent him from being a frontline Test bowler.

    10. Ben Cutting
    The tall Queenslander would quite possibly have debuted for Australia ahead of John Hastings in last summer’s WACA Test against South Africa if not for an untimely injury. After returning from that setback, he took 22 wickets at 19 in the Shield.

    Cutting swings and seams the ball nicely but it’s his ability to also bowl at 140kmh-plus with good bounce that squeezes him into my top 10 ahead of the likes of Butterworth, who operates mainly in the 125kmh range.

    If he can stay fit, he is a big chance to play in the return Ashes series in Australia next summer.

    Best of the rest
    Luke Butterworth, Alister McDermott, Clint McKay, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Chadd Sayers, Gurinder Sandhu, Michael Hogan, Steve Magoffin, Trent Copeland.

    Ronan O
    Ronan O'Connell

    Ronan O'Connell has been a journalist for well over 13 years, including nine at daily newspapers in WA. He now traverses the world as a travel photojournalist, contributing words and photography to more than 30 magazines and newspapers including CNN, BBC, The Toronto Star, The Guardian, The South China Morning Post, The Irish Examiner and The Australian Financial Review. Check out his work and follow him on Twitter @ronanoco

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