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Opinion

Overseas bowlers I could watch all day: Medium pacers

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Roar Guru
9th April, 2020
23

Last week, I wrote some thoughts on Australian bowlers I could spend hours watching bowl.

Part of the fun of putting together that piece was reliving through video clips some great moments of their playing careers.

This article comprises my thoughts on a number of quality bowlers who have played in Australia I’ve watched and enjoyed. Some of these guys are not there because they’re out-and-out champions, and I also need to apologise to any New Zealand Roar fans. If you read, on you’ll see why.

As with my last piece, I’m starting off with bowlers I class as medium pacers – that is, they bowled around the 130 to 135 kilometre per hour mark.

The first bowler played only 16 Tests for his country, took a total of 38 wickets at an average of 41.26 and a strike rate of 79.9, yet I remember him fondly. This is of course the great Asif Masood from Pakistan.

Masood played when I was still a little tacker, and like schoolboy cricketers everywhere, my mates and I wanted to imitate the ‘big boys’.

Masood had a totally unique run-up. Cricinfo describes it as “a bizarre start to his run-up in which he turned sideways to the wickets and leaned backwards before starting his approach.” John Arlott was a tad more poetic, likening it to “Groucho Marx chasing a pretty waitress”. We had a lovely summer in 1971-72 when Masood played for the Rest of the World, trying to get his run-up right. We dropped him, though, when Jeff Thomson came along.

I’ve included the next bowler as a medium pacer because that’s where he was at his devastating best. I refer of course to Sir Richard Hadlee.

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I saw him bowl for the first time in the 1973-74 tour to Australia and honestly thought he wasn’t much chop. I even remember thinking his brother Dayle was a better bowler, and on that tour he probably was. At that time Hadlee was probably trying to bowl too fast, but when he dropped his pace in future seasons he was simply terrific.

His run-up and bowling action were classical, and he was one of the few bowlers who could really make the ball ‘talk’.

Where he really impressed me wasn’t on the field, though he was pretty good, but off it. The way he handled himself in public after copping serious abuse every time he appeared in the Aussie cricket summer of 1987-88 was amazing. He was a seriously good bowler and great to watch.

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My next favourite has to have the longest name in Test cricket history. Warnakulasuriya Patabendige Ushantha Joseph Chaminda Vaas was simply outstanding for Sri Lanka across the 111 Tests he played.

It’s hard to stress just how important Vaas was to Sri Lankan cricket. Every bowling side wants bowlers who can pick up at least one or two early wickets, and this is exactly what Vaas provided. I’d argue that much of Murali’s success stemmed from Vaas getting an early breakthrough, opening up the middle order to face spin.

Vaas could move the ball both ways, and replays show him consistently beating batsmen through the air. He’s another bowler with a balanced run-up and a great bowling action.

My next medium pacer bucks the trend of guys who run in smoothly and have a lovely rhythmic action. The first time I saw Sarfraz Nawaz, I thought he wouldn’t be out of place on an Aussie Rules ground. He had a really awkward-looking run-up and almost seemed to stop before he let go of the ball, but he was probably the first of the great line of fast bowlers Pakistan has produced over the past few decades.

He’d played a total of five Tests against Pakistan before their inaugural tour to Australia in 1972-73. All expected them to be well beaten, and so it proved, but Sarfraz had a pretty useful tour, picking up 12 wickets at 25.66.

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It was in the 1978-79 tour that Sarfraz really made himself known to Aussies, once in a good way and the other way – well, let’s call it questionable.

His effort of 9-86 in Melbourne, including a spell of 9-1 off 33 balls, is simply outstanding. What is less outstanding was his involvement in what became known as the Hilditch incident.

What both of these show are the great skills Sarfraz possessed and the huge desire to win, which was an early taste of what was to come from the great Pakistan teams of the 1990s.

The toughest bowling task in world cricket is trying to bowl finger spin in Australia. The second hardest has to be trying to be a fast bowler in India.

Before Kapil Dev came along, India didn’t have any world-class quicks. Dev changed all that and in the process made fast bowling something more Indian players would want to take up. There’s little doubt his example has influenced the current crop of excellent pace bowlers in the Indian attack.

The first time I saw Dev bowl was in the 1980-81 series in Australia and he looked pretty good, taking 14 wickets at 23 and a bit. He then came back with the Indian team in 1985 and repeated the dose, taking another 12 wickets at 23. He didn’t exactly light up any ground with his batting, but his bowling was very good.

I then had the pleasure of going to Lord’s a year later when India were playing England. There were three memorable parts to the day. The first was the 11-degree temperature and Arctic wind. The second was a how long it took India to make its first innings score, 341 off 137 overs. The final session and best part was all down to Kapil Dev.

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He came out to bat to huge applause from a massive Indian contingent and made a very average one run. He then came on to bowl in England’s second innings with only an hour or two left and proceeded to knock over Graham Gooch, Tim Robinson and David Gower for 35. England were five down overnight, all out for 180 the next day, which led to an easy Indian victory. His bowling in that session wasn’t quick, but it was absolutely world-class, moving the ball both in the air and off the pitch.

No doubt these selections won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but each in their way was a great bowler. One helped inspire a young fella’s love for the game, while the others not only helped their respective teams but also did massive amounts to inspire future generations of cricketers in their countries.