The essence of cricket is a contest between bat and ball, and to that end the real battle is between the bowler and the batsman.
While it has been said that cricket is a batsman’s game, it cannot be played without the bowlers hurling them down from the other end. And while we all love to watch the guile of the wily spinner rolling the arm over, nothing beats the thunderbolts being launched from 22 yards away.
The history of cricket has seen many bowlers feared for their intimidating nature and sheer pace, most notably the West Indian line-up of the 1980s, and through the ages names like Harold Larwood, Frank Tyson and Wasim Akram have all made their place in the game as merchants of speed.
Australia has a rich history of pace bowling stocks due to our hard, dry pitches. They’ve sent shivers up the spines of batsmen the world over. While a definitive list would not be possible here, this is a short summary of those who have etched their name in cricket history.
One notable name missing from this list is Glenn McGrath. While no-one can deny his status as one of the world’s great bowlers, with 563 Test wickets to his name, I don’t rate him as feared for sheer pace as I do the others on this list.
Fred Spofforth only played 18 Test matches for Australia, taking 94 wickets. Known as the ‘demon bowler’, Spofforth was our finest pace bowler of the 19th century. An ICC hall of famer, he took a Test match hat-trick in 1879. A fearsome swing bowler, he had a statue of himself unveiled at the Sydney Cricket Ground in 2008.
Dennis Lillee held the world record most test match wickets for many years and was our highest wicket-taking pace bowler until overtaken by Glenn McGrath. Lillee played in an era of unbuttoned shirts and long hair, which made the sight of him from the other end of the pitch all the more intimidating. Bowling in tandem with Jeff Thomson, they were the most feared duo in world cricket. Rated by many as the finest fast bowler of all time, Lillee formed a successful partnership with wicketkeeper Rod Marsh, and the phrase, “Bowled Lille, caught Marsh” became a commentary staple.
Jeff Thomson has the reputation as Australia’s fastest and most feared bowler. Thommo could bowl at 150 kilometres and hour with his sand show crusher, the nemesis of batsmen the world over. His slinging action gave him the necessary whip to generate the pace off our hard, dry pitches he found difficult to replicate in England. A surprise call-up to the 1985 Ashes squad was his international swan song.
Brett Lee is said to have taken the mantle off Thomson as our fastest ever bowler. Lee had a smooth approach to the pitch that belied the pace generated from his slender frame. In a Test career that netted 310 Test wickets, he found great success in the T20 game, most notably with the Sydney Sixers. He’s also the only player on this list to star in a major Indian movie, UNindian.
The much-maligned Mitchell Johnson found his greatest success and fearsome nature in Australia against England. A crowd favourite, he perhaps didn’t have the temperament to be as feared as he could have been, but nonetheless his 313 Test wickets are nothing to sneeze at. One of our all-time leading wicket-takers, Mitchell Johnson retired from the game with much venom still left in the tank.
Ray Lindwall was another of the open shirt brigade but from another time, when the pictures will still in black and white. A 61-Test veteran with 228 Test wickets to his name, Lindwall was one of the first selected in the Australian team from the mid-1940s to the 1960s. A talented all-round sportsman, the Sydney-born Lindwall was also a rugby league star with the St George Dragons sides of the 1940s, when he appeared in two grand finals.