Ranking Australia’s fast bowlers

Ronan O'Connell Columnist

By Ronan O'Connell, Ronan O'Connell is a Roar Expert

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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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    The Crowd Says (83)

    • May 27th 2013 @ 9:03am
      Freddy of Bondi said | May 27th 2013 @ 9:03am | ! Report

      1.Pattinson 2.Harris 3.Bird 4.Starc 5.Copeland 6.Cummins 7.Sandhu 8.Siddle 9.Johnson 10.Coulter-Nile

      • May 27th 2013 @ 10:14am
        jameswm said | May 27th 2013 @ 10:14am | ! Report

        Siddle at 8?

        He’s the 3rd ranked quick in the world, AHEAD of Jimmy Anderson I might add.

        • May 27th 2013 @ 1:30pm
          Freddy of Bondi said | May 27th 2013 @ 1:30pm | ! Report

          Mate, if you think that ICC world rankings are accurate…you must be dreaming! I dare you to find any cricket follower in the world who says Peter Siddle is a better bowler than Jimmy Anderson!

          I dont doubt Siddle’s heart…and he really will charge in all day…but if he had more skill and could take wickets earlier on, he wouldnt have to be bowling with the score on 3/450.

          Siddle does not swing the ball, cut the ball, reverse swing the ball, have a decent change in pace and is not quick enough to worry bastmen with short balls….all in all – he tries hard but is very very basic! No. 1-7 on my list can do at least one of the skills better than him – thats why he’s at 8!

          • May 27th 2013 @ 2:54pm
            fadida said | May 27th 2013 @ 2:54pm | ! Report

            Agree completely on Siddle. A trier, but surely we want a trier who comes off a bit more often. The Merv Hughes of the 2000’s

            • May 27th 2013 @ 7:45pm
              Nick said | May 27th 2013 @ 7:45pm | ! Report

              Agreed having Siddle try and try and try again just means he hasn’t taken wickets yet. Full marks for effort but you’re not going to lead a victory charge Sids.

              • Columnist

                May 27th 2013 @ 11:43pm
                Ronan O'Connell said | May 27th 2013 @ 11:43pm | ! Report

                Siddle has taken 76 wickets at 26 since the last Ashes. That is a brilliant record. Fair enough he might not often tear through opposition batting lineups but he is an invaluable member of the attack who has a small gap between his best and worst performances.

      • May 27th 2013 @ 12:46pm
        TheSilentProgressor said | May 27th 2013 @ 12:46pm | ! Report

        Sandhu, Copeland and Cummins ahead of Siddle????

        Sandhu and Cummins are both very good bowlers but not yet in the same class as Siddle. Siddel may not be the most talented bowler in Australia but the man is a machine who will bowl himself to exhaustion for Australia. Cummins could be better than Siddle but unfortunately he is to injury plagued at this stage of his career. Sandhu has only just started playing but he does have a big future.

        Australia is so blessed with fast bowling talent it is great to see so many good young fast bowlers progressing nicely in shield cricket.

        • May 27th 2013 @ 9:46pm
          TJ said | May 27th 2013 @ 9:46pm | ! Report

          Freddy is from BONDI! So let’s just that there is a little NSW bias in Freddy’s 4-7. Siddle has a fc average of 26.7 from 75+ matches and a test average of 28.8 from 41 tests, with 7 5WI. Before we rave too much about Starc how about he reduces his average at both test and first class level below 30 with the ball. I might start calling Starc the Rob Quiney of bowling. Same principle as those who criticise Rob Quiney’s selection. Starc also has a test strike rate that is the same as Siddle’s so Starc must be a good trier as well. I watched Starc in India. If Siddle is a trier on flat wickets at least he does take the odd wicket. Starc on flat wickets looks as likely as Ed Cowan to take a wicket.

      • Columnist

        May 27th 2013 @ 11:17pm
        Ronan O'Connell said | May 27th 2013 @ 11:17pm | ! Report

        It’s amazing the way Copeland has dropped off the face of the earth. He was in the Test side just 21 months ago and actually bowled very tidily and yet now there are probably 10-12 guys ahead of him in the pecking order.

        • May 28th 2013 @ 12:09pm
          Disco said | May 28th 2013 @ 12:09pm | ! Report

          Doesn’t bowl with great pace so he’s not considered a Test player (see also McDonald).

          • May 28th 2013 @ 12:23pm
            Peter said | May 28th 2013 @ 12:23pm | ! Report

            Why should that matter if he gets test player wickets time and time again, at a minimal cost to his team and will bowl consistent line and length all day. No bowler in the current Australian squad can or will do that! He’s being successful with the Duke, and yes, while it is Div 2 he is still taking test player wickets. Pace isn’t always the key, see Philander, Kumar, etc. Just give him a go as a backup in case of injury….please.

            • Columnist

              May 28th 2013 @ 1:30pm
              Ronan O'Connell said | May 28th 2013 @ 1:30pm | ! Report

              Copeland’s main issue is that over the past two Shield seasons he has struggled for penetration. Last season his strike rate was 63, which is ordinary, but the previous season it was 128 which is just insane. If you struggle for pentration on helpful Shield wickets in a competition with weak batting stocks, why would anyone believe you can be a dangerous bowler at Test level?

          • May 28th 2013 @ 12:32pm
            John said | May 28th 2013 @ 12:32pm | ! Report

            How does one go from being good enough to play test cricket 2 years ago, to not being a worth even a slight mention. He didn’t suddenly forget how to bowl. I know lots of good young bowlers have been coming through but how many of them have an shown any form of longevity without injury? To me Copeland brings more to the table than Siddle, who while being a truly hard trier, doesn’t do anything with the ball. As for Starc, stick to white ball cricket till he can bowl much more consistently. NSW didn’t even pick him for Shield regularly.

            • Columnist

              May 28th 2013 @ 2:36pm
              Ronan O'Connell said | May 28th 2013 @ 2:36pm | ! Report

              Check out my above comment John. Copeland has lost his spark at Shield level.

              • May 28th 2013 @ 4:08pm
                John said | May 28th 2013 @ 4:08pm | ! Report

                He was NSW leading Shield wicket taker in 2012/13 and 8th overall, can’t have been too bad!

              • Columnist

                May 28th 2013 @ 6:41pm
                Ronan O'Connell said | May 28th 2013 @ 6:41pm | ! Report

                Yeah he had a solid season John. But after the absolute shocker he had in 2011-12 he needed an outstanding season to get back in the frame for Aus given how many good pace options they have.

    • May 27th 2013 @ 9:33am
      matt h said | May 27th 2013 @ 9:33am | ! Report


    • May 27th 2013 @ 9:35am
      davos said | May 27th 2013 @ 9:35am | ! Report

      Not sure how u could have cutting ahead of coulter nile ….also what relevance has the shield wicket takers tally ? ….obviously not much …as for your best of the rest ….Joe mennie 33 wickets from 6 shield games…i defy anyone to show me a bowler with better stats than that from last shield comp

      • May 27th 2013 @ 10:57am
        Stu said | May 27th 2013 @ 10:57am | ! Report

        Jackson Bird has 98 in only 19 Shield games.

        • May 27th 2013 @ 1:48pm
          davos said | May 27th 2013 @ 1:48pm | ! Report

          Jackson Birds start to his career has been awesome and he is a bowler with enormous potential , in regard to his 98 wicks from 19 shield games that’s an ave of roughly 5.1 wicks per match…. Mennie for this last shield season ave ‘d 5.5 per match . He missed 3 shield games due to being o’seas early season with perth scorchers at champs league…if he held that ave for the 3 games missed he would have been leading shield wicket taker bar none…. also a large amount of his wickets were taken on the flat Adelaide deck and not the bellerieve nightmare……but somehow he cant make it into this blokes best of the rest Im not sure what his ave was for the prior season …but I stand by what I said about his stats for shield 11/12…… my fav aussie bowler atm would be starc he will end up being something really special…..not sure how cummins rates so highly on the strength of 1 game ….you gotta stay fit to be in the best of the best inmho

          • May 27th 2013 @ 2:04pm
            davos said | May 27th 2013 @ 2:04pm | ! Report

            apologies I was refering to last seasons stats 2012/2013

          • Roar Guru

            May 27th 2013 @ 9:12pm
            Nick Richardson said | May 27th 2013 @ 9:12pm | ! Report

            Mennie doesn’t average 19.

            • Columnist

              May 27th 2013 @ 11:22pm
              Ronan O'Connell said | May 27th 2013 @ 11:22pm | ! Report

              There is very little between Cutting and Coulter-Nile but the latter is yet to have an absolute breakout season where he utterly dominates Shield cricket the way Cutting did 2 years ago before he was injured. Really there is very little between all the bowlers listed outside of the top 4. Agreed Mennie deserves to be among that best of the rest list.

              • May 28th 2013 @ 12:06pm
                Disco said | May 28th 2013 @ 12:06pm | ! Report

                But Arthur likes Coulter-Nile.

              • May 28th 2013 @ 2:26pm
                davos said | May 28th 2013 @ 2:26pm | ! Report

                watched cutting bowl a bit live last season…was not all that impressed….I think he struggles with his length and if it’s not going his way he can lose the plot and leak runs badly ..especially on a flat deck…I agree coulter nile is yet to really come off …so it will be a matter of wait and see which one puts his hand up ….my gut says nile

              • Columnist

                May 28th 2013 @ 6:54pm
                Ronan O'Connell said | May 28th 2013 @ 6:54pm | ! Report

                Cutting’s only real problem in his FC career has been leaking runs. But his economy rate was only 2.9rpo last summer. His career strike rate of 44 is phenomenal.

            • May 28th 2013 @ 2:20pm
              davos said | May 28th 2013 @ 2:20pm | ! Report

              bird didn’t either last shield season…..he also didn’t bowl much on the Adelaide track …and when he did he srtuggled for penetration …don’t remember his figures there being all that flash …without looking them up….I reckon too be fair …bellerieve is worth 10 wicks a season to a good bowler like bird especially early season …who really suits those conditions compared to other pitches….which opens up a whole new line of argument …ie comparing stats and favourable/unfavourable wickets…….also another potentially very good fast bowler who has had diabolical luck with injury is Gary Putland …I fear he will never get to show how good he could really be…check out his stats for 4 shield games

              • Columnist

                May 28th 2013 @ 2:46pm
                Ronan O'Connell said | May 28th 2013 @ 2:46pm | ! Report

                The idea that Faulkner, Butterworth and Bird only have amazing FC records because of Bellerive is a myth. All three of them have fantastic records away from Bellerive. In fact Butterworth’s is even better than at Bellerive. The SCG and MCG pitches Bird bowled on in the Tests against SL were not overly lively and yet he was constantly threatening.

    • May 27th 2013 @ 10:17am
      jameswm said | May 27th 2013 @ 10:17am | ! Report

      Ronan I think that’s close to spot on. In reality Bird and Harris will be fighting for the 3rd spot, but I’d oplay Pastto,l Harris and Bird in the first test.

      Siddle will play several tests, as Harris’s knees won’t stand too much bowling, and he needs to be used sparingly.

      Starc could really be something. He reverses it across the right-hander too, sometimes after only 10 overs. He just needs a little more control. He’s unbelievable when on, and a bloody goot bat too. If you play Pattinson Siddle and Starc, you almost bat to 10.

      • Columnist

        May 27th 2013 @ 11:26pm
        Ronan O'Connell said | May 27th 2013 @ 11:26pm | ! Report

        I think Harris when he is fit is in the top 5 or 6 pace bowlers in the world. Bird is a great talent but his international career has barely started. RE: Our strong tail…if Australia decide to play 4 pace bowlers and add Harris to that trio you mentioned we’d bat to 11.

    • Roar Guru

      May 27th 2013 @ 10:25am
      Tim Holt said | May 27th 2013 @ 10:25am | ! Report

      Pretty accurate write up with one major omission…….

      Where is Shane Watson?

      Who when he bowls is in Australia’s most lethal

      • May 27th 2013 @ 12:12pm
        jameswm said | May 27th 2013 @ 12:12pm | ! Report

        I’m assuming the reference was to specialist bowlers.

        I agree Watto’s important, which is why he must bat at 6.

      • Columnist

        May 27th 2013 @ 11:27pm
        Ronan O'Connell said | May 27th 2013 @ 11:27pm | ! Report

        I’m a huge fan of Watto’s bowling and believe he can have a big influence with the ball in the Ashes if he stays healthy. But he just hasn’t bowled often enough or well enough the past 2 years to make the list.

        • Roar Guru

          May 28th 2013 @ 7:22am
          Tim Holt said | May 28th 2013 @ 7:22am | ! Report

          You could say the same about Harris with his litany of injuries πŸ™‚

          • Columnist

            May 28th 2013 @ 1:33pm
            Ronan O'Connell said | May 28th 2013 @ 1:33pm | ! Report

            The difference is that when Harris has bowled at Test or FC level the past two years he has shone…Watto hasn’t.

            • Roar Guru

              May 29th 2013 @ 8:28pm
              Tim Holt said | May 29th 2013 @ 8:28pm | ! Report

              It is funny you say that Ronan for in the period 2008-11 when Twatto did bowl he has an average of 27 with 54 wickets- very decent figures for a bowler that has not ‘shone’

              • Columnist

                May 31st 2013 @ 11:34pm
                Ronan O'Connell said | May 31st 2013 @ 11:34pm | ! Report

                I said he hasnt shone the past two years tim。

    • May 27th 2013 @ 10:43am
      Dave_UK said | May 27th 2013 @ 10:43am | ! Report

      No doubt there is a lot of ‘potential’ for Australia in the bowling dept but as yet, apart from Siddle, most are yet to be truly tested against the top teams over a long period. Having a good start to a bowling career is one thing, sustaining form is compeltly different

      Saying that I’d be quite fearful of an Oz first test bowling lineup of Pattison, Starc and Harris, they could easily rip through England’s top order. See off the new ball and it’s a different matter

      Won’t have to worry after the first test though, as at least two of the above will miss the remainder of the series πŸ˜‰

      • May 27th 2013 @ 12:15pm
        jameswm said | May 27th 2013 @ 12:15pm | ! Report

        Harris has dodgy knees. I’d be stoked if he played 3 tests.

        Pattinson – I’d aim at 4 tests.

        Bird (apart from his back stress fracture!) and Siddle seem to have more resilient bodies.

        So if you have 15 tests (5 tests x 3 quicks per test), I’d be looking at Pattinson, Siddle and Bird 4, Harris 3.

        Starc is a big maybe, he leaks runs when he’s not on or the wicket’s too dead. However with a bit of juice in the air or on the deck, he can be unplayable.

        • Columnist

          May 27th 2013 @ 11:32pm
          Ronan O'Connell said | May 27th 2013 @ 11:32pm | ! Report

          Australia will rotate Siddle, Patto, Harris, Bird and Starc to keep them fit and healthy. Faulkner will more likely come into play if there are injury problems or Starc causes real problems with his left arm variation. II think all 6 of them can cause England significant trouble. Starc is the great unknown. England’s batsmen have shown weakness against left armers and at his best he is a class above Boult and Wagner. But his “best” is elusive.

          • May 28th 2013 @ 10:30am
            jameswm said | May 28th 2013 @ 10:30am | ! Report

            At his best he’s several classes above them.

            • May 28th 2013 @ 12:52pm
              cuzza said | May 28th 2013 @ 12:52pm | ! Report

              Really, I think he is about the same class as IIlott.

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