Bowling Fast – An Obsession With The Speed Gun

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Is Fast Bowling Becoming An Obsession?

Fast Bowling. A rare commodity that teams go out of their way to encourage among younger generations.

England chose to select both Jofra Archer and Mark Wood in their first Test match against the West Indies, a Test they subsequently lost. It leads me to ask – why do teams have an obsession with fast bowling and also the speed gun?

We often hear excitement amongst the cricketing fraternity when a new young bowler can clock up to 90mph and above. But is fast bowling the be-all and end-all? Stuart Broad would make a strong case that it isn’t. Broad was the man left out of the England side in place of the two quicks Wood and Archer.

Jofra Archer bowling in the 2019 Ashes to Marnus Labuschagne. Is fast bowling key?
LONDON, ENGLAND – AUGUST 18: Jofra Archer of England looks at Marnus Labuschagne of Australia after he was dismissed by Jack Leach of England during day five of the 2nd Specsavers Ashes Test between England and Australia at Lord’s Cricket Ground on August 18, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

The two pacemen then managed five wickets between them in the first match of the series. England could look to ditch out and out fast bowling and pick Stuart Broad at Old Trafford. It is a must-win game for England Cricket.

Everybody knows an extra yard of pace can cause batsman problems. In fact, there is little doubt that when conditions dictate extra pace can prove crucial. For instance, on placid sub-continent pitches where the more traditional seam bowlers struggle to extract assistance.

How important is fast bowling?

However, is it more beneficial than other skills in a bowlers armoury? Particularly in English conditions that are known to be helpful to seam bowlers with the ability to move the ball. Fast bowling alone is no substitute for and can come at the detriment of those other skills. The art of bowling fast certainly doesn’t seem to come with the longevity of it’s lesser paced counterparts.

Pace can cause issues of another kind, batsmen can fear being struck and sustaining an injury as opposed to potentially simply losing their stumps. The elite batsmen are more often than not well equipped to deal with extreme pace and can deal with the threat posed.

Brett Lee was the epitome of fast bowling in his time for Australia Cricket
Australian bowler Brett Lee in action against England during the 3 Mobile Ashes Series Fourth Test Day Three, December 28, 2006, held at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Australia lead the series 4-0. (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)

The ability to swing the ball or control the seam in such a way to dictate the movement off the pitch can be a far more deadly weapon than raw pace alone. In many senses often, the quicker it comes the faster it goes.

In this country in particular, if a young bowler can rack up big numbers on the speed gun, you hear a sense of excitement in the commentary box. That bowler is almost immediately fast-tracked into England reckoning. This is often happening before the bowler has made their mark on first-class cricket.

History Tells Us Otherwise

If you look through the record books there have been some fabulous quick bowlers down the years. These bowlers who combine 90mph rockets with skills any type bowler would be happy with.

However, the majority of the wicket-takers of all time in Test cricket weren’t pace merchants at all. The top three all being spinners (Warne, Murali and Kumble).

England’s own James Anderson sits fourth. Jimmy has never been known for his rapid pace, moreover, a clever seamer who has the ability to move the ball both ways. He has made many a top-order player look silly for well over a decade.

Next on the list comes Glenn McGrath. Another low to mid 80mph operator who simply persistently tests the technique of his opposition. Winning the battle almost every time.

Glenn McGrath 5-53 – Lords 2005 Ashes Test

James Anderson has the most wickets in Test matches for England till 2020.
LEEDS, ENGLAND – AUGUST 26: England bowler James Anderson celebrates dismissing Kyle Hope during day two of the 2nd Investec Test match between England and West Indies at Headingley on August 26, 2017 in Leeds, England. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

In fact, perhaps quickest member of the top 10 is Dale Steyn, one of the few who has the ability to swing the ball at high speeds. The South African has been a phenomenal performer for some time now.

Steyn vs Anderson: Who is the best in Test Cricket?

Some of the quickest the world has seen over recent decades do not feature even in the top 20. Names like Pakistan legend Shoaib Akhtar and Aussie Brett Lee appearing much further down. Perhaps partly due to the stresses and strains involved with bowling fast. Plus, perhaps partly down to pace not being enough alone to pick up stacks full of wickets.

Brett Lee and Shoaib Akhtar were both bowling fast for the majority of their career. This could perhaps be why they broke down.

The Conclusion

Whilst pace has got and will always have a prominent role in the game, pace alone often isn’t enough to dismiss the worlds best.

Stuart Broad and Jimmy Anderson may not always be the epitome of bowling fast but they have been extremley effective
CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA – JANUARY 02: Stuart Broad, James Anderson and Jofra Archer laugh during a training session at Newlands before the second Test match against South Africa on January 02, 2020 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo by Philip Brown/Popperfoto/Popperfoto via Getty Images)

Perhaps next time we all get excited about seeing the speed gun tick over the 90mph mark, imagining that bowler is going to be the ones taking all the wickets from here on in. We should spare a thought for those bowlers plugging away on a length nibbling the ball both ways. This is because often they are the ones walking away with the glory.

Bowling Fast is great but Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad have both not been consistently fast for most of their careers. Both started off quick. However, both have adapted their game. And both have become world-beaters.

If this isn’t enough proof that out and out bowling fast is not necessarily required in abundance, then I’m not sure what is.



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