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According to Frank Chester Larwood was the finest fast bowler he ever saw – that evidence, coming as it does from a man who stood in something like 50 tests from the end of the Great War to the mid-fifties must be given considerable weight – he did, however, rate him as only the second fastest – he reckoned the quickest was one W B (Billy) Burns who he played with at Worcestershire before the Great War – looking at his figures on cricinfo Burns looks like a distinctly useful all-rounder although according to his obituary in Wisden 1917 (he died in action) “the fairness of his action was often questioned – not without good reason” – strong words from Wisden in those days and no doubt the reason why he is a forgotten figure - of course Chester would never have seen Kortright
Larwood in his book "Bodyline?" writes a quait bit about fast bowlers.
I have heard it said that some years ago when a company of cricketers in Adelaide was discussing as towho was the absolute fastest, someone turned to Jones (Ernest) for his opinion. His reply was laconic and instant.
"Kortwright was first and I was second." said he, and went on with his tea.
Last edited by SJS; 10-03-2009 at 01:13 PM.
I am not to be drawn into a discussion on the subject of who was the fastest of them all but if stories from authentic sources about the pace of Mr Kortwright are not legends then the rest of must certainly play second fiddle. At all events, I have never knocked a stump out of the ground and sent it twirling over the wicket keeper's head, he standing twelve yards back, as Mr Kortwright did at Lord's - a feat for the verification of which there is ample obtainable evidence in the persons of the bowler himself, and of Mr Percy Perrin, who was playing in the match.
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When CB Fry collaborated with Beldam to produce two remarkable volumes of more than a thousand action photographs of the leading cricketers of the day, Barnes was had just started to make a mark outside league cricket. He still devotes this bit to the great bowler.
Without having played in first class cricket in England this bowler was selected to go to Australia and achieved considerable success there. Subsequently he played for a short while for Lancashire; and then left first class cricket. Some of his performances were remarkable and on his days he was at least one of the best if not THE BEST bowler in England. In the matter of pace he may be regarded as a fast or a fast medium bowler. He certainly bowled much faster on some days and on his fastest day was distinctly fast.
He obtained his pace from a peculiarly loose, long circular swing; he did not put much body weight behind the ball, and, unlike most bowlers of his pace, he obtained very little power from the bend of his back. The life of his bowling came from the liveliness of his swing. At the same time he had a remarkable power of hand, and worked the ball with his fingers at the moment of delivery in a manner which is very uncommon in bowlers of more than medium pace. He is usually regarded as being able to break from leg as well as from the off, his leg break being similar to that of a slow bowler. But his leg break was not quite of this kind. He had a natural power of bowling a ball which swung across from the leg to the off after pitching, and he increased this cross swing by finger work so that it became more than something merely "going wih the arm' and yet was not genuine break. In any case it was a very difficult ball to play.
When he was bowling well he kept a very accurate length on the off stump, and made the ball go first one way and then the other without betraying any difference in his delivery. As his bowling came very quickly from the wicket he was troublesome even to the very best of batsmen.
Coming back to Larwood, AW Carr feels that he was probably the fastest bowler ever 'off the wicket'. He writes...
I thought Gregory was a hell of a fast bowler but I do not think he was ever so fast off the pitch as Larwood was at his quickest. I very much doubt if there ever has been a faster bowler -off the ground - than Lol.
You have no idea of his pace or power unless you have batted against him or fielded in the slips to him; unless you held your bat very tight he would easily knock it out of your hands, and to catch all the catches in the slips off him you needed a collection of young men on the flying trapeze.
Funny how some people used to think bowlers gained pace off the pitch. Guess what actually happened with the likes of Tait and Larwood was that they didn't lose that much pace off the pitch.
Kortright himself thought the long forgotten Arthur "Timber" Woodcock of Leicestershire to be the fastest ever but as a Gentleman, and doubtless a modest one, I don't suppose we can read too much into that.
What might be more illuminating is that Plum Warner, who thought Kortright the fastest, considered the South African Kotze the second fastest - Kortright's biographer follows that one up with confirmation that Halliwell, the South African 'keeper, was known on occasions to stand up to Kotze and take leg side stumpings!
What I've discerned most from all this is that lots of different people thought lots of different people the fastest and second-fastest.
Only two constants seem to be there - just about everyone seems to place Kortright and Larwood as very fast indeed.
Jack Fingleton considered Larwood, Lindwall and Miller as the greatest fast bowlers he saw. He wrote ...
Of the three, 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. His final stride on the side of it in his delivery had his entire weight skidding along the ground for a yard or more. Thus he got every ounce of his body, perfectly balanced, into the delivery. He had broad strong shoulders and he got this strength from those early days in the coal pit.
Larwood's right hand came down from as high as possible, straight up from his head.
Larwood worked out his run from 12 long paces and added two hops at the end of his measure. He scoffed at bowlers who think they must run 30 yards to work up steam.
With the old ball Larwood could move it late in the air from the leg ..... he brought back a foot to knock over the stumps...
Larwood's pace was terrific. It was best seen as the ball hurtled through to the keeper. If one got runs against Larwood, the muscle between thumb and index finger of the bottom hand would ache for some days from the jolting concussion of ball against bat.
He was the best fast bowler I knew.
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