Everyone who loves cricket will have their favourite players. These are the ones who really make you sit up and pay attention when they come in to bat or come on to bowl. They have something intangible that you simply enjoy watching.
The following are bowlers I’d pay good money to watch play. These aren’t necessarily the best at their craft, but for me they have that special something that makes me put down the book, pick up a beer and really focus.
I’ve broken these into three categories. The first is what I class as medium pacers – that is, bowlers who operated around 135 kilometres per hour or less.
Doug Walters is my first choice. The scene is the fourth Test in the 1974-75 series. Australia has already batted and England are (predictably) in trouble, though John Edrich is defiantly facing down everything Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thompson, Max Walker and Ashley Mallett can produce.
The Hill was packed when Ian Chappell threw the ball to Doug Walters. In those days everyone seemed to have a transistor at the game, and you could hear the ABC commentators talking about “the man with the golden arm” or “the partnership breaker”. What seemed like only a few balls later, John Edrich was gone for 50, caught by Rod Marsh off Walters.
It’s hard to describe the expectations on the Hill that Doug would get a wicket. I also enjoyed his action which was smooth and easy to watch.
Speaking of smooth and easy to watch, Bob Massie and Terry Alderman fit that description to a tee.
Massie’s Test debut has to be compulsory viewing for anyone who loves genuine swing bowling. These days most quickish bowlers rely on movement off the pitch to get wickets, but Massie moved the ball in both directions through the air and had some outstanding batsmen completely bamboozled. This from a guy running in and bowling around the 130-kilometre-per-hour mark.
The series I most remember Terry Alderman playing was the 1989 Ashes tour. In Australia we were being told almost daily by the English press that this Australian team was one of the worst to ever step onto English soil and how badly the Poms were going to beat us.
Lots of guys contributed on that tour but Alderman was at times unplayable, which made no sense to me. He seemed to amble in using a nice, relaxed run-up and smooth bowling action, bowled a ball at maybe 130 kilometres per hour, which I thought I could face, but he had some really good English batsmen batting in home conditions playing him really badly.
I lost count the number of times he got guys out LBW or the number of times Richie Benaud said, “They need to stop playing across the line”. It took six Tests for the message not to get through, as Alderman picked up seven wickets in his final Test on English soil. His last wicket was John Stephensen, out LBW!
I have a soft spot for spinners. They’re on a hiding to nothing these days with the way the pitches are prepared, especially in Australia. Captains rarely know how to use them properly and they’re often the first guys dropped when things aren’t going right in a team’s attack.
All that said, Stuart MacGill was a bloke I really enjoyed watching. I know all the kudos goes to Shane Warne, but MacGill was actually a better bowler and is certainly worth watching over and over now he’s retired. He certainly knew how to rip a leg break, and I loved his intensity and quiet aggression.
The GOAT, aka Nathan Lyon, has become a favourite not only for me but for tens of thousands around Australia. His career epitomises the comments I made earlier about spinners, and it’s really only been in recent seasons that captains and coaches have woken up to the fact this guy is a pretty good bowler.
Off spin bowling has to be one of the most thankless bowling styles in the game, especially if the track’s not doing a lot. Lyon, when he gets his line right, doesn’t seem to care what the pitch is doing; he can beat batsmen with flight and bounce. His action is simple but, as Warne explained, he really gets through the crease, and an added bonus is watching him field off his own bowling.
Jess Jonassen is another bowler who is great to watch. She bowls the same stuff I attempted in my playing days, only she does it way better than I ever could.
Again, she has a relaxed approach that is easy to watch but has lots of variety, which is incredibly hard to do for a left-arm finger spinner. She’s taken 170 wickets in white-ball internationals, including three lots of five for. Google her name and have a look at some of the YouTube highlights of her bowling. It’s easy to sit and watch her bowl for hours.
Everyone loves fast bowlers, except the poor guys facing up of course. I’ve got two criteria for fast bowlers in this article. They have to be lethal when they played and they have to be easy on the eye when watching replays.
The most lethal bowler I’ve seen has to be Jeff Thompson in the 1974-75 series. He was crazy quick, and I recall thinking how far back Marsh and the slips were standing. There was more than one occasion where Marsh would rip off his glove after taking a Thommo delivery simply because his hands were hurting so much from catching cricket balls travelling at high speed.
Now that his career is over it’s still a pleasure to watch him bowl. Ignore the ball once it leaves his hand and focus on each delivery from when he starts to run in. He had a nice easy run-up and a perfectly side-on action that was considered copybook in my day.
Another guy who fits the same criteria is Mitchell Johnson. Any bowler who can take more than 300 Test wickets is obviously doing something right pretty often, but in the 2013-14 Ashes Johnson seemed to take scary quick to a level perhaps not seen since Lille and Thompson in 1974-75.
Some of the deliveries that took wickets were simply outstanding, but if you look back at the highlight reels, there were dozens more that didn’t take wickets but set up batsmen and did lots to harm English players mentally.
Rhythm is a crucial part of bowling quick and the other noticeable factor in the highlights was the rhythm Johnson had throughout that series. Everything looked right, from his run-up through to his delivery to his follow-through, which often seemed to end just under the batsman’s nose!
The final two are guys I never watched bowl live – Keith Miller and Ray Lindwall.
I was brought up on Keith Miller stories, and one of my favourites was that he rarely marked out a run-up, or if he did, he wouldn’t necessarily stick with it. He would have no hesitation bowling off a couple of steps and, according to those who should know, was just as quick off a couple of paces as he was off his full run-up.
Again, have a look at his bowling action and the way he slides so smoothly through the crease. It takes a special type of bowler to generate express pace and make it look almost effortless.
Ray Lindwall bowling action has been described as poetry in motion. There are many films showing what a truly great sight it must have been to watch him in action. Rhythmical, balanced and seriously quick, Lindwall is my all-time favourite to watch.
A genuine regret is that I never had the chance to see Miller and Lindwall bowling live in tandem. Each had a terrific action, each could move the ball through the air and each could be seriously quick. They were also feared, not because they bowled in an intimidating way but because they could switch on the intimidation when they chose to.
I’m sure others will have different bowlers they’ve enjoyed over the years, and that’s one of the great things about cricket in Australia: we’ve had a raft of talent to watch and admire. The current generation shows this trend is continuing. I’m sure if I wrote a similar piece in five years Pat Cummins would be a likely addition.