One thing that the recent World Cup taught us, apart from confirming the dominance of Australia in limited-overs cricket, is that having the services of fast, left-arm bowlers who can swing the ball in your armoury can win you cricket matches.
Since the curtain has come down on the eleventh quadrennial ODI tournament, the evidence is clear to see.
The top two wicket-takers in Mitchell Starc (Australia) and Trent Boult (New Zealand) are left-arm quicks who took 22 wickets each. Admittedly, getting to the final provides more opportunities to take wickets, however these two are also in the top three for averages, a clearer indication of bowling prowess, based on playing at least six matches.
In the top ten highest wicket-takers alone, left-arm speedsters hold four of these spots with Wahab Riaz (Pakistan) and Mitchell Johnson (Australia) joining Starc and Boult in 7th and 10th places with sixteen and fifteen wickets respectively. That’s 40% of the ten highest wicket takers bowling left-handed to a predominantly right-hand batting field. Considering only 10% of the global population are left-handed, that is a surprising statistic.
When we talk about fast here, we are not referring to 85mph or higher. Oh no. This quartet of cannon-armed cricket ball launchers are ramping things up to 90mph and beyond. Starc, Johnson and Riaz in particular are the real quicks; they regularly hit the 93 mph mark with added bounce and swing. That is fast, disconcerting and very problematic for the batsman 22 yards away.
Of course, there are plenty of bowlers around the world who can hit the 90 mph mark, but what is key here is the addition of the ball arriving from a different angle and swing. This provides a right-handed batsman with further problems as a left-armer bringing the ball back into him opens up greater possibilities of LBW dismissals and with that extra need to protect the LBW comes a higher risk of being bowled; two very common dismissals in this year’s World Cup from left-handers.
We may just be in a golden era of fast, left-arm bowlers, but England have never been blessed in this department. In the last twenty years, the English team have only played two left arm fast bowlers in Test matches. One being Alan Mullally, who debuted in 1996 and, more recently, Ryan Sidebottom. However, neither of these could be considered fast but more fast-medium paced and purely relying on swing or seam movement to trouble batsmen.
One English player who has recently been talked about more seriously as a Test match bowler around the corridors and changing rooms of county clubs is Sussex paceman Tymal Mills. The 23 year-old switched from Essex to Sussex over the winter and is looking to re-establish himself at the forefront of a bowling attack since he was laid off with injury last July.
Back to full fitness and claiming to be bowling quicker than ever before, Mills is county cricket’s fastest bowler and can clock 90mph and even 93-94mph when in full flow. But it’s not just the speed that excites, he’s a left armer too.
There’s a natural tendency or even classic English culture to focus on the negatives with fast bowlers and Mills has often had his lack of accuracy vilified as opposed to his natural, raw and destructive pace praised. Coaches have previously been looking to correct his radar and turn him into another line and length English production-line bowler but maybe it’s time to cherish his rare qualities of being able to bowl left arm over the wicket and at a very fast pace indeed.
“I sometimes get caught up with slowing down to be more accurate and searching for swing,” he said. “Instead I should just accept that some days it is going to happen and other days it will not. I have had good chats at Sussex and now I am just focusing on trying to bowl quick into a good length, and that is pretty much all I am thinking about, making batsmen play and not wasting too many balls.
“When everything is going right on a perfect day I will swing it back into the right-hander but now I will also quickly go around the wicket and where I can swing it away from right-hander.”
Promising talk from Mills and at 23, there is still time to find a way into the setup even though he may feel he’s a long way off the England scene at the moment. England desperately need left-arm variation in their team and with a lack of real quality 90mph plus bowlers for England since the likes of Freddie Flintoff and Steve Harmison retired, Mills has all the attributes to succeed in the modern day Test arena.
An excellent couple of seasons down on the south coast bowling fast, taking wickets and bruising batsmen just might see him get that chance.