Dead set SJS, if you started your own cricket blog and charged people to read it, I'd pay up.
I'd love to form a long reply SJS, but for now, thank you for an incredibly insightful post.
I have spent the last couple of hours going over this thread and feel very privileged to have read it. Thanks SJS, for such a great treasure trove.
My favourite part was reading about how Imran changed his action. It's so rare to see such determination, analysis of ones own skill, willpower and hard work to turn from a raw and inexperienced person to an all time great. It's something for all of us to inspire to.
My second favourite part was reading all I could about Lillee, and one thing that has been so consistent in this thread is how much everyone rated him (and you have mentioned this point as well SJS). If anyone was a fast bowlers' fast bowler, it surely was Lillee. Also enjoyed how all the greats mentioned his never give up attitude and his aggressiveness.
So is CW ready to accept the notion that Lille is the best ever fast bowler or at least in the very top tier with Marshall?
Simpson^ | Hayden | Bradman | Chappell^ | Ponting | Border* | Gilchrist+ | Davidson3 | Warne4^ | Lillee1 | McGrath2
Greenidge | Hunte | Richards^ | Headley* | Lara^ | Sobers5^ | Walcott+ | Marshall1 | Ambrose2 | Holding3 | Garner4
Richards^ | Smith*^ | Amla | Pollock | Kallis5^ | Nourse | Waite+ | Procter3 | Steyn1 | Tayfield4 | Donald2
Hobbs | Hutton*^ | Hammond^ | Compton | Barrington | Botham5^ | Knott | Trueman1 | Laker4 | Larwood2 | Barnes3
And so I don't think the debate of Lillee Vs McGrath as Australia's best bowler can ever be resolved. It will still be around in 100 years.
As a general rule - if the venue is Australia or England then I would preference Lillee. But if the venue is the Subcontinent then I would preference McGrath.
Last edited by watson; 17-09-2012 at 06:21 PM.
"Whenever people agree with me I always feel I must be wrong" - Oscar Wilde
Can't really call one particular bowler the best. The best we can say is have a tier of the best bowlers.
Please do not misunderstand what I am about to say. . .
Its not important what we think here at CW. Lets keep our own importance in the scheme of things within a modest context. This is not an exercise to issue certificates to cricketing super-stars from CW - we do it enough in other threads. This is more to try and understand what the greats of the game, both batsmen and bowlers, over time, have thought about such issues.
Lets just imagine that there is a high-level convention where the participants are all from the Hall of Fame of cricket and we, all of us on CC, are the fortunate chosen few allowed front row seats to hear what these greats have to say of their contemporaries. It would be an affront to these champions for any of us to stand up and tell them they are wrong. We would be wrong to assume our role was anything more than that of spectators lucky to be invited to an august gathering as mere audience.
Please do not misunderstand what I have just said. This is not a criticism of any individual opinion expressed by any CW member here but just to try and put these discussions and such exercises in context. I had seen many pointless and un-necessarily heated arguments on CW over the same issue and then one day I decided to try and change the narrative and instead of giving my take on anything and then get into interminable arguments - for who was I anyway - 'invite' some 'guests', if you please, into CW to speak their minds on the subject. This thread is that convention.
I was hoping that they would get a better hearing from all of us and we would listen to their opinions with a little bit more respect than we showed to each other. I was right for that is, more or less, what has happened making the stenuous work of this thread worthwhile..
Of course, the differences will exist even between the great cricketers as to who is the greatest. That is natural and, if anything, it should convince us of the futility of the shouting matches we sometime indulge in amongst ourselves which can turn riotous with people throwing statistical missiles at each other. But, by and large, the thoughts and points of view of the greats themselves would provide much more insight than we are capable of ourselves. Of course they use statistics very very sparingly if at all. They don't need the stats - they know. We, often times, use stats to cover up our lack of knowledge.
Coming back to the greatest. It is easier to make a list of fast bowlers who followed each other over time covering, more or less the entire period of Test cricket. A list like, say,
- Spofforth (1877-1887)
- Barnes (1901-14)
- Larwood (1926-1933)
- Lindwall (1936-1960)
- Lillee (1971-1984)
I dont want to start a fresh debate on this subject so I will not claim that this is perfect although from all that I have studied about the game, these appear to be the only one's in contention when discussed by their contemporaries, the generation of players that came before and the one that followed - in other words those that had an opportunity to see them in action. I have tried to put names after Lillee but not his contemporaries. He was playing in an era which was, probably the richest in the history of the game as far as the pool of really high class fast bowlers is concerned, thanks to the West Indians and to a lesser extent the Pakistanis. That tradition continued in the two decades after Lillee although in the last decade stocks are running low.
Spofforth - The Demon (1877-1887) was the first to be called the world's greatest by multiple generations of cricketers and fans. Barnes challenged that He continued to rule the roost till WW1
There are not too many first hand accounts of Spofforth's bowling from his hey-days - not from contemporaries at least. There is one from the grand old man himself - WG Grace
First class bowlers have come and gone with the Australian elevens, but to my mind, not one of them has come up to the standard of Spofforth, who visited England with the first team in 1878. I first met him when I took a team out to Australia in 1874, but I little thought then that he was to stir the whole cricket world four years later. . .
His style has been described many times; right-hand, round arm, a high delivery and fairly fast, with a break from both sides, but chiefly from off. He was most successful with his medium pace balls, which, when he was in form, he could pitch where he liked. Whether he broke six inches or two feet, si wonderful was his command that if it beat the bat it invariably hit the wicket. His very fast ones were generally yorkers, which were delivered without any apparent alteration of pace. Length and accuracy were his great characteristics, and it used to be said of him that if he were allowed to pour water on a space six inch square on a dry and hard wicket, he would bowl out the best eleven in England for a very small score.
- WG Grace in his book "Cricket" published 1891
Then there was CB Fry who, though twenty years younger than the great Australian, played against him in county cricket where Spofforth was playing for Derbyshire. Spofforth must have been a bit long in the tooth yet Fry writes . . .
Spofforth played pretty regularly for Derbyshire . . .
One could not deal with Spofforth on a sticky wicket by playing forward and hoping for the best. Under stress of the occasion, and not enlightened by after thought, I found myself either playing right back within about 18 inches of my wicket, or thumping him in the air over his head. The speciality of Spofforth's bowling was that it was impossible to tell from the delivery whether the ball was coming fast, medium or slow and he graduated (controlled) his off break so that whether the ball pitched a few inches or two feet outside the off stump, it would hit the wicket. It was at that time that I formed the guiding principle that even a Demon on an evil wicket can only bowl one ball at a time ! and if you really look at that ball you may have some chance of playing it.
CB Fry in Life Worth Living
On Barnes, to save time, I will provide links to what I have written elsewhere before
S F Barnes (page 5)
and on this very thread - page 5
Fry has written :-
The opinion in the cricket world of Australia is that Barnes is the greatest bowler England ever sent to Australia. and they rank him with their own F R Spofforth, Both of these princes of their craft are often spoken of as fast bowlers. Both of them could bowl a fast ball but their standard pace varied from medium to fast medium. Spofforth earned his sobriquet of Demon not because he was fast, but because he was difficult. Sydney Barnes average ball was rather faster but he too varied his pace within a wide margin.
Barnes is 66 this year of 1939 but he still takes his 100 wickets for about 5 runs apiece in good club cricket. He is tall, loose limbed, and a deliberate sort of mover, with easy hips after the manner of the African races. He takes a long loping run and swings his arm over with disengaged carelessness and consummate control. He could swerve the ball in and out but did not much use this device. He relied on disguised changes of pace and of break, which he never over did.
His best ball was one, very nearly fast, which pitched on the leg stump to hit the top of the off, even on a good wicket. I never batted against a bowler more interesting to play.
Interestingly, in the triangular of 1912, Fry was the captain and of the last Test at Oval against the Aussies he writes " Barnes was quite unplayable/ Had the Australians been able to play him, they would have made fewer runs" !!! The Australians were not good enough to lay a proper bat on his bowling obviously and he was already in his 40th year !
For those more interested in Barnes
There is his obituary posted by me here long ago.
SF Barnes - onituary
(to be continued)
Last edited by SJS; 18-09-2012 at 01:08 AM.
wow SJS....wonderful post...keep this thread rolling please....and don't run off to start another company
I have kind of rushed through the first two of the all time great fast bowlers; Spofforth because I do not have more first hand accounts of this legendary figure and Barnes because I have done it so much on CW before. I am sure I could find more than I have provided links for :o)
Now we come to the three L's. I have always wondered how some alphabets provide a series of great players which is a boon when making alphabet XI's. Hobbs, Hammond and Hutton followed each other so closely to form the top three of any reasonable all time England XI. The three W's of the West Indies who were contemporaries and it is tough leaving anyone of them out of an all time XI from the Caribbean and, also from W, the fabulous fast bowlers from the end of the last century Wasim, Waqar and Walsh.
I doubt, however, if there is trio to beat Larwood, Lindwall and Lillee. Three of the greatest fast bowlers in the history of the game and if one was to include only those who were genuinely fast then, arguably the three on top of most short lists. So here they are one after the other.
During the inter war period the batsmen blossomed on very good batting surfaces around the world. Double centuries became commonplace and we saw batsmanship and stroke play of very high order indeed. Two batsmen, one each from England and Australia were the batsmen who were contemporaries, the greatest batsmen of their times and clearly ready to displace all the legends of the past - Bradman and Hammond. In spite of many other fabulous batsmen these two were and remain, to this day, the standards by which batsmanship was measured in their own countries and around the world. We have, over time, accorded a much lower place to Hammond whose only misfortune was that he was born in the same era as Bradman. But we digress.
In this period of the dominance of the bat there came a fast bowlers fast bowler who, in a career tragically cut down by politics and intrigue completely beyond his control and, in many ways, unrelated to the game itself, showed what great fast bowling was all about. We use the word great far too easily and have devalued the term but Harold Larwood was truly a GREAT fast bowler and the world of cricket recognised that. The cricketing fraternity, players and scribes were almost unanimous in this even though they were split down the middle by the Bodyline controversy.
Of the three men, Larwood, Lindwall and Miller, possibly Larwood had the most perfect action. His run in was flowing and symmetrical., his speed increasing and the length of his stride widening as he moved in. The first time I was in runs against Larwood, as I was beginning to lead off, I thought he had fallen flat on his face. It was the scrape of his right foot. His final stride on the side of it in delivery had his entire weight skidding along the ground for a yard or so ! Thus he got every ounce of his body, perfectly balanced, into every delivery. Larwood’s right hand came down from as high as possible, straight up from his head..
He had broad strong shoulders and he got his strength from early work in the coal mines.
All Larwood did (when he first arrived at Nottingham) was bowl straight and hard. ‘You’ll have to learn to do something with the ball” Iremonger told him. So Larwood experimented with his body and angle of delivery. At Trent Bridge in 1925 he brought one back from the off with a body-break and knocked Hobbs’ stumps out of the ground. Hobbs was big cricket news. The press rushed to know how an unknown had clean bowled him. ‘Oh, a fluke I guess’ said Hobbs. So Larwood knocked Hobbs’ stumps once again in the second innings. Larwood thought because of that Hobbs, who was a selector, advanced his Test case.
With the new ball, Larwood could move it late in the air from the leg. (In the bodyline series)his control of the short ball in line with the body was amazing in its control as in the ire it raised on all sides.
Larwood’s pace was terrific. It was best seen as the ball hurtled through to the keeper. If one got some runs against Larwood, the muscle between the thumb and the index finger of the bottom hand would ache for many days from the jolting concussion of ball against bat.
He was the greatest fast bowler that I ever saw, and at his peak in 1932, probably the greatest that anyone else ever saw too.
- Fingleton in Fingleton on Cricket
Of all the memories the one I cherish the most is of Harold ‘Lol’ Larwood of Nottinghamshire, to my mind, the world’s best and fastest bowler of all time. . . . he had muscles of coiled steel, hardened by work at the coal face as a miner, and one of the loveliest actions imaginable..
He measured out a 26 pace run but he bowled off the 14th pace. His acceleration as he moved in to bowl was smooth and menacing. On the hard grounds of Australia his feet could be heard beating a quickening tattoo. He was moving so fast in his final stride that he had a drag of 32 inches but started so far back behind his bowling crease he seldom had trouble with a no-ball.
When his left foot hit the ground, there was a slide of a couple of inches but all these things seemed allowed for. It was the perfect action and the perfection continued into the delivery itself. He had longish arms, the left shoulder pointing in the direction the ball was intended to go and the shoulder got to the fullest height possible before it started to swing downwards and outwards, so that maximum power of the body swing and shoulders came in, with perfect timing, to join the swing of the right arm flashing round with the ball in hand as of fastened to the rim of a wheel.
With such an action Larwood could not fail to have all the attributes needed for fast bowling. There was control besides speed, a deadly accuracy so fine that he could bowl down the line of the off stump or leg stump at will. He did not swing the ball, that is in terms of movement through the air, but, hitting the pitch with the seam upright he many times made the ball move towards the slips after pitching and he could move the new ball ‘in’ a manner that was obvious even to the spectators – as much as four to six inches at times . . .
The nearest approach I have seen to the Larwood action is that used by Australian Ray Lindwall after the second world war.
By half-closing the eyes and watching lindwall it was easy to think here was Larwood again and I was delighted on one occasion when, at Trent Bridge, a Nottinghamshire spectator accused the Australian of ‘copying’ Larwood. . . Lindwall squashed him in a second when he asked, quite earnestly, ‘And why shouldn’t I copy the master?’
In 1954, Tyson was greatly instrumental in keeping the Ashes for England. He bowled magnificently. He hurried the batsmen to such an extent he many times hit the bat before thebatsman had started moving the bat towards the ball. If one were to draw a comparison with Larwood . . . it would be only to say that Larwood many times hit the bat, or had flashed past, while the batsman was still lifting the bat from the block hole !. Australians said, Tyson was ‘the next fastest thing to Larwood’
In the 35 years since bodyline, I have seen every fast bowler of reputation in the world. I have not seen one with the speed or the perfection of action like Larwood. I have not seen another bowler skim from Australian pitches like Larwood. To have seen Larwood in Australia is to have witnesses one of the greatest of all sporting occasions
Bill Bowes – Larwood’s bowling partner in the bodyline series
Bradman’s dislike for Larwood was intense. Till the great Australians death almost 70 years later, he did not forget the great fast bowler’s role in the bodyline series. This was a real tragedy for Larwood had made Australia his home and lived their for the last 42 years of his life and his Ashes are interned in New South Wales. In 1948 when Bradman wrote his “Farewell to cricket” the wounds were even fresher yet he reluctantly conceded . . .
Over a full season, under all sorts of conditions, I rank Larwood the fastest bowler of them all.
At times he obtained exceptional speed.
There was the Melbourne Test in 1928 when Jack Ryder tried a hook but hit the ball on the edge of the bat. It went well over the fence for 6, straight over the keeper’s head.
In the same spell of bowling, Ryder tried for another hook but missed. He obscured Duckworth’s vision. The ball hit Duckworth straight on the forehead, bounced off it and landed on the sight-screen !
- Bradman in his Farewell to Cricket
Larwood was not just fast, he was everything a fast bowler should be. It was no surprise, therefore that he was the model on whom the next truly great fast bowler's action was modelled.
Lindwall's and Larwood's run up and bowling action can be seen on you tube and the similarity is uncanny. However, the Australian states that he did not conciously model his action after Larwood whom he watched bowling, as a starry eyed young boy, in the first test match of the bodyline series. However the similarity down to the long drag of the right foot was uncanny. Lindwall was to write later in his autobiography . . .
Two men out-dazzled the rest. One was Stan McCabe, the other England's fast bowler, Harold Larwood.
This was my first sight of Larwood and, loyal as I was to Australia, he provided me with an unforgettable thrill.
The smooth approach and gradual accelration, the fire and control in delivery and the whipped follow through were combined in a an action that could not be faulted. Not a movement was unnecessary.
. . . had I needed a further incentive that one and only opportunity of witnessing his artistry would have been sufficient to have provided it.
From time to time, I have been told that my action bears resemblance to that of larwood. That is a real compliment, but whatever similarity may exist was not brought about by consciously copying by me.
Lindwall on Larwood in his autobiography.
. . . to be continued
. . . and then came Lindwall . . .
Ray Lindwall (1946-1960)
This post war Australian great became the next torch bearer of the "greatest fast bowler" tag and a worthy fast bowler's fast bowler. Again, from the mid 40's to the mid 70's almost no one, amongst the games elite, had any reservation on this. It was Lindwall all the way and, I hasten to add, his "partner in crime" the incredibly talented Keith Miller.
I grew up hearing of Lindwall and was eleven when I saw my first test match in 1961. Lindwall had retired the year before. His major exploits were before that. But one heard of him all the time from coaches and cricketers. They disagreed on many things but on Lindwall there was a kind of unanimity. You almost heard a silent "amen" when his name was mentioned. I suggest that this kind of universal acceptance of "super-greatness" - to coin a "super-hyper" term in these times of hyperbole - was the same as had been accorded to Spofforth and Larwood before.
Comparing Larwood and Lindwall
A boy on the Sydney hill during the bodyline series, Lindwall was so impressed with Larwood, he decided to copy his run up. Lindwall’s run up also had suggestion of the long jumper – fluid and graceful and gathering in momentum as he went. He too, most perfectly got his body into his delivery. His arm, possibly, was not as high in delivery as Larwood’s.
I don’t think LIndwall’s bouncer was quite as venomous as Larwood’s because of his slightly round arm action, whereas Larwood’s delivery was from high up.
Lindwall was a glorious fast bowler, a man of guile and infinite variations. He too could move the new ball in the air and his usage of the width of the delivery point enabled him to move the ball in to the batsman. Pictures taken of him in the immediate post war series in Australia showed that he had a considerable drag and, indeed, was often well over the line when he delivered.
It was because of Lindwall that the (no ball) rule ultimately was changed to the front-foot. Unlike Larwood and Miller, Lindwall, I thought stayed on too long in Test cricket. He had some record in mind and labored to get it.
These are the three (larwood, Lindwall and Miller) I put on a pedestal, with Larwood possibly a shade ahead.
- Fingleton in Fingleton on Cricket
I would like here to quote someone who came from another century and was an "Old foggy" even when Larwood started playing. Plum Warner (1899-1912) was a contemporary of Lockwood, a captain of the legendary Syd Barnes and the Chairman of the England committee that selected Larwood and the manager on that ill fated tour who also decided to end his international career after the bodyline series.
A very conservative old school Englishman, Warner was very reluctant to acknowledge greatness in the greatest of Aussies, Bradman included. Keep this in mind when you read what he wrote of Lindwall in 1957
Plum Warner on Lindwall
Lindwall is one of the finest fast bowler the world has ever known.
With a smooth approach to the crease and a lovely action he is a master of accuracy. He bowls at the wicket and compels the batsman to play almost every ball and his late swing either way demands extreme watchfulness. But where he seems to me from the pavillion to surpass the skill of any previous fast bowler is in his variation of pace.
There have been fast bowlers in the past who have included in their armory a (one) slow ball - Lockwood was one of them - but I have not seen or played, a fast bowler who possessed so many. Taking the figure of 100 as an equivalent (for his fastest delivery), Lindwall will deliver another at 75, another at 85 and another at 90.
Is he the greatest fast bowler there has ever been? It is hard, indeed to imagine a greater.'
Then he goes into a detail of how he thinks England batsmen should play him and ends with . . .
Having ventured to say this I would like to take my hat off to a magnificent bowler, of whom history may well give the verdict that he is 'the greatest of them all
- Pelham Warner writing the Forward to Lindwall's autobiography, Flying Stumps in 1957
Trevor Bailey was an England all rounder of much merit who, sadly, is remembered today more for some of his very dour innings in Test cricket than the fine new ball bowler that he was besides being a more than useful batsman and brilliant fielder. After ending his playing career, Bailey turned to cricket journalism and writing and is, in my personal opinion, one of the most insightful of cricketer turned writers the game has known. Every one of the pen-portraits that he has written of players he played with and saw shows his command not just over the written medium but his grasp of the nuances of the game and an ability to put them in words cogently - a rarity amongst cricketers. Here is is writing of the great Lindwall, a contemporary of Bailey.
Ray Lindwall has everything : speed, hostility, change of pace, swerve, stamina and superb control. He was an artist in a trade which all to frequently relies on brute force.
How quick was Lindwall? Personally I would put him in the same category as Wes Hall and Frank Tyson.
I had my first experience of batting against him at Fenners (during Australia’s 1948 tour). Until then I still cherished the hope that one day I might become a bowler of genuine pace myself. Ray Lindwall’s pace compared with my own made the whole idea ridiculous. In addition to the mechanics of bowling, Ray was capable of frightening good batsman and terrifying all but the most courageous or foolhardy amongst the tail because his speed automatically introduced an element of physical fear.
The run up is one of the most important and exhilarating feature of pace bowling. It should start slowly and work up into a crescendo the moment before going into the delivery stride. The ideal body action combines power with grace and gradually fades away into the follow through. Ray more than fulfilled all these requirements and watching him in action was one of the most satisfying spectacles that the game has produced. It is important to note that he avoided the common failing of having an overlong approach, which wastes both time and energy. His run up was just under twenty walking paces and never varied, so that the batsman could never pick up the bouncer or the slower delivery until the very last minute.
None of the English bowlers since the war, except Peter Loader, has possessed a slower ball which would seriously inconvenience the wary player. One reason for this is that it takes a great deal of practice for someone with a full arm swing to disguise a slower delivery and it is a weapon which is far more useful on overseas pitches which are less receptive to movement off the seam.
Lindwall’s slow ball claimed a number of batsmen through the victim being deceived into playing far too soon. In one respect Lindwall might conceivably be criticized for the comparative slowness of his bowling arm. This combined with his long drag meant that he achieved rather less movement off the seam with an old ball and lift than a bowler such as Keith Miller with a higher action and whose arm was perpendicular at the time of releasing the ball.
Ray was, in fact, the first of the post war draggers. At the time this method had a number of practical advantages (in Australia where umpires allowed it) . . . This meant that the dragger was able to release the ball closer to the batsman . . . and at great pace this made a considerable difference. The situation reached absurdity when Rorke, another Australian, managed to break the batting crease with his back foot without being no-balled !!
This and similar cases led to the present (front foot) law.
I have never encountered a genuinely fast bowler who moved the ball in the air as much, and as late, as Lindwall. In consequence, he was the most devastating exploiter of the new ball and in this respect the game has never seen his equal.
At all levels bowlers tend to waste the new ball by not bowling at the stumps. The chief reason is the difficulty in controlling swing. Aim at the off stump and and the ball is apt to swing too early and too much to worry the batsman; switch to the leg stump and the ball refuses to move (swerve) and the batsman plays it comfortably through the many gaps on the on side.
Ray Lindwall, possessed the rare ability to start to swing the ball outside the line of the leg stump and hit the off !I will always remember how he deceived Reg Simpson with just such a delivery at Lord’s in 1953. Reg was very strong off his legs. He attempted to push Lindwall through the on side only to find that the ball had swerved so much, and so late, that it took the outside edge of his bat and he was caught by Benaud in the gully.
As a result of his action and wrist at the instant of delivery, Ray’s natural swing was away from the bat and in common with all great bowlers he made the odd ball come back off the seam. However as a result of a spell in the Lancashire league, he added the in-swing to his repertoire, something I learned to my cost while collecting one of my most lengthy ducks.
I was opening the innings with Sir Len Hutton and after some forty-five minutes in which I had the utmost difficulty in making any kind of contact whatsoever. I decided it was time to get off the mark. There was only one fieldsman (Neil Harvey) in front of the bat on the off side and Ray bowled me a near half volley just wide of the off stump. I attempted a push out in to the open spaces only to find that the ball had dipped in late, careered through an enormous gate and carried away my leg stump.
Every year with unfailing regularity, there is a move to return to the old lbw rule (ball pitching outside the off stump can not claim a leg before) in the hope that it will bring about more off side play. If this ever occurred one important point would be the compensating factor for the bowler in the shape of either a slightly smaller cricket ball or a larger wicket. Some years ago when we were experimenting with a small cricket ball, Ray was asked to demonstrate his skills with one in the nets at Lord’s. He gave a splendid exhibition of his exceptional control by regularly nominating and hitting individual stumps, as well as swinging the ball even more than usual. He made it appear all so simple that I was thankful that he was never allowed to operate with a smaller ball in a match. He was more than enough trouble with a standard type.
If I were asked to sum up Ray’s bowling in one word, I would say, ‘control’. Control over the fundamentals of length and direction. Control over the finer arts of his trade.
- Trevor Bailey in The Greatest of my Time
- to be continued . . .
this is possibly the best thread that I have come across in CW
Hats off to you SJS
Great piece from Bailey.
Wonderful reading that you've organised for us again, SJS.
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