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A history of fast bowling

Starfighter

International Coach
For this thread, what I'd like to do is present a rough history of fast and fast-medium bowling from 1905 until some time in the sixties, using the newsreel footage on British Movietone and British Pathe, as well as other, more succinct sources when I can get them, such as random compilation clips (though do be aware these are often subject to deletion). The aim is to have roughly in place a demonstration of fast bowling prior to the television era that most people will already be familiar with, all in one place. I'll go off youtube-available clips and then later on put in bowlers who are not on there as needed from other sites, so things won't be in perfect order.

Please don't post other videos or photographs in this thread.
 
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Starfighter

International Coach
We start off with the oldest footage that exists of anyone considered a fast bowler. This is 37-year old Arthur Mold bowling to 'Monkey' Hornby in 1901, after he was called for throwing by Jim Phillips. It displays features of Mold's bowling noted in writing, especially the short run. Nonetheless, I'm not sure how much to draw from it. Hornby, aged 54 at the time, is clearly having no trouble dealing with these deliveries on a relatively uncut grass surface, so therefore it's reasonable to assume that he isn't sending it down full pace. Unfortunately, it's hard to infer what 'fast' was considered then because of this, especially as the only other footage of a known contemporary, Richardson from 1897, has been lost.

 

trundler

Hall of Fame Member
The early generations of fast bowlers possessed a delivery called the 'break-back'. It sounds like an off-spun delivery. Not sure if that's what cutters were called in those days or simply the line between spin and pace was blurrier, as exemplified by guys like Noble and perhaps even Lohmann. Curious about what Ernie Jones and Richardson bowled though.
 

Starfighter

International Coach
Moving onto 1905 we have a more solid footing, with footage of Albert 'Tibby' Cotter, who was generally considered the fastest Australian bowler between Ernie Jones' peak and the war. Some people would consider that Australia did not find a faster bowler until Gilbert. This from the Lord's test in 1905. The footage at 5:38 shows him bowling in the actual match, I believe this is the first ever film that shows the actual play in a test match.

Cotter displays a style that seems to be very typical of the era. His run is short at about ten paces (when stated all such distances include delivery). I believe this was considered a little on the short side for the era, but not exceptionally so. (As a point of interest, in his rather loosely ghost written book on Bodyline, Harold Larwood states that the average length run up was 12-13 to 17-18 was normal, but my own observations indicate 10-14 was normal).
He bowls with a distinctly slinging action with a very low arm, reminiscent of Lasith Malinga. Note how extreme the extension of his shoulder is, the match footage is filmed from long-off and his arm seems to point out towards deep extra cover. Fast bowling in general seems to have relied more then on flexibility to generate a large, javelin-throw type swing, and a rotary motion of the body, and less on the the transfer of momentum and forward flexure of the body. Other typical traits include the very short penultimate stride and there being very little in the way of a modern-style leap.


Other things worth noting in that film are the medium pacers Laver, Howell and McLeod. Bowling essentially flat off breaks with short, dashing runs of five or six steps. This was what medium pace was considered back then. Also note the very low, forward pointing front arm. This is quite common for spin bowlers and some medium pacers up until World War II.
The last is the technique of the keeper Jim Kelly when Cotter is bowling. Note how close he stands to the stumps, how upright he is and how he shapes to gather the ball on the rise. The squatting stance had not yet become popular.
 
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Starfighter

International Coach
The early generations of fast bowlers possessed a delivery called the 'break-back'. It sounds like an off-spun delivery. Not sure if that's what cutters were called in those days or simply the line between spin and pace was blurrier, as exemplified by guys like Noble and perhaps even Lohmann. Curious about what Ernie Jones and Richardson bowled though.
It's just an old term for an off cutter or off break. Back before swing every bowler worth their salt, no matter the pace, spun the ball in some manner or another. It was the only way of getting it to move, especially as with only one ball per innings seam movement couldn't be relied upon. Fred Spofforth actually differentiates between 'spinners', delivered with a twist of the fingers and wrist, and 'cutters' which he describes as being like applying english to a cue ball in billiards, where you apply the force only to one side of the ball. I think that it's a continuum and really splitting hairs a bit.

If you look at this picture of J.J. Kotze, who was considered the fastest South African bowler of the time (and for decades afterwards, it seems), you can clearly see a grip with the thumb behind the ball, intended to make it turn from the off.

 

Starfighter

International Coach
The next bowler we have was considered almost universally the greatest of all time, Sydney Barnes, bowling in I believe about 1930. He was only considered fast at the start of his career before slowing down to what at the time was called fast-medium, with the keeper up. His style of leg breaks delivered with the wrist back ('like unscrewing a light globe') has never been emulated, although other bowlers such as Bedser did manage to achieve impressive movement in that direction at times. Barnes star grew as he aged, in Cricket, edited by H.G. Hutchinson in 1903, Digby Jephson, one of the last underarm bowlers, describes him simply as being, with Thomas Wass, as being an otherwise ordinary bowler who could get a break from leg in favourable conditions. However his exploits on both hard, unfavourable Australian pitches and the grippy coir matting in South Africa would earn him his place. In 1929 at age 56 he took 8-41 in an innings playing for Minor Counties against a non-too-shabby South Africa. This footage is fuzzy but shows his technique with the lack of body swing.

 
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Starfighter

International Coach
The last pre-war pace bowler than I am generally confident in identifying in footage (though there are some guesses) is Surrey fast bowler Bill Hitch, who played both sides of WWI, seen here in 1920. His test career was a failure but he took wickets for many years at domestic level. His rather messy run was noted for its skipping, hopping paces, adding up to about sixteen in all. Newspapers in Australia in 1911/12 described it as being so unusual that members of the crowd would actually burst out laughing when seeing it for the first time.


Also note how gratuitously slow the high speed footage is. I find it so frustrating that they had cameras that capable yet never thought 'let's rule some lines on a board and have these guys bowl in front of it so see how fast they are'. Photogrammetry is such a simple yet potentially accurate method and it's annoying that it was not until 1975 that we have the first definitely recorded instances of it being used. All the tools existed for measuring bowling speeds since WWI, they just weren't used.
 

Starfighter

International Coach
Now we move on to bowlers of a distinctly post-Great War vintage, with Ted McDonald. 30 when he played his first test, McDonald was probably the fastest bowler to play for Australia between the wars (although that's not saying much as it was a terrible era for Australian pace bowling). He, together with Jack Gregory, formed one of the first bowling combinations really known for intimidatory bowing, leaving behind a trail of bruises and the odd broken bone in England in 1921. He soon faded from the test team but settled in Lancashire to strike fear into opponents there instead.

He was reputed to have the most beautiful action of any bowler of his age. He still had a relatively short run (12-14 paces) and with perhaps shorter strides than a modern bowler. One notable feature is that the run is sharply angled, this doesn't seem to have been as common then as in the sixties-eighties. Otherwise it is gentle and smooth. He leaps a little more than Cotter, who skids into the crease, but is still earth-bound compared to a modern bowler. Another noticeable feature is the way he leaves his legs hanging even as he crosses and uncrosses them in the air. Bowlers in this era did not tuck their legs up nearly as much as modern bowlers. Last of all the arm and body action. Notice who far the arm extends and trials behind, only whipping forward as the shoulder comes around. You'll be seeing quite a lot more of this. In this day and age 'slinging' actions are considered very unusual, and for those good at them advantageous as the arm is concealed behind the back. In McDonald's era they were very common and many a batsman would have seen the arm poking well out from behind the back.

A great proportion of the available footage of McDonald is in the following video with the terrible modern electronic filler music that I rather detest:
 
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Red Hill

The artist formerly known as Monk
A great proportion of the available footage of McDonald is in the following video with the terrible modern electronic filler music that I rather detest:
This footage is from the DVD "The Cricket Archives", with ****ty music overlaid for no good reason
 

Starfighter

International Coach
This footage is from the DVD "The Cricket Archives", with ****ty music overlaid for no good reason
Nope. There's one or two clips from that, but also some from 'Great Bowlers', and at least three from films / newsreels, which are definitely not on either of those documentaries and make up the vast majority.
 
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Red Hill

The artist formerly known as Monk
Nope. There's one or two clips from that, but also some from 'Great Bowlers', and at least three from films / newsreels, which are definitely not on either of those documentaries.
Ah ok, I only got as far as the Jack Egan commentary in the first clip and assumed from there someone had just overdubbed it with music for utube copyright reasons and then I bailed out because of the music...
 

Migara

International Captain
What could be easily noticed is that the action is flawed. Not much use of left arm, open chest, no follow through. Even a bowler bowls with reduced effort the follow through is evident, because that is the single most important factor avoiding injuries. My take is that Arthur Mold, even at his full cry likely to be medium or medium fast with that action.
 

Burgey

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What could be easily noticed is that the action is flawed. Not much use of left arm, open chest, no follow through. Even a bowler bowls with reduced effort the follow through is evident, because that is the single most important factor avoiding injuries. My take is that Arthur Mold, even at his full cry likely to be medium or medium fast with that action.
Or maybe, as with others nearly a century later, he altered his action as required for the filming.

Wait til you see noted military medium pacers Mike Procter and Colin Croft's actions...
 

Starfighter

International Coach
And now we have Jack Gregory, the other half of the fearsome pair. Gregory represents a complete contrast to his compartriate. Whereas McDonald is smooth and elegant, Gregory is abrupt, even violent. The size of his famous leap at the crease is not exceptional by modern standards, there are many who leap higher and longer now, and it has perhaps been exaggerated in some accounts. But after a short but wild run, with arms swinging furiously, the flailing limbs certainly had their effect on the batsmen's psyche in 1921, and Gregory is usually the one pointed out for bowling short, although I think McDonald may have struck more batsmen (don't quote me on that). I think Wisden put it best "McDonald struck one as being really the finer bowler of the two, but Gregory was by far the more alarming". His stressful 'hopping' technique, heaving himself off the ground after landing with both feet nearly simultaneously may have contributed to the knee injuries (not helped by lack of modern medical support) that lead to his rapid fall as a fast bowler, with a displaced cartilage ending his career on the first day of the 1928 Brisbane test.

From 1926

From the fourth test, 1924/25

From the first day of the first test, 1928/29

These films also show two other notable figures. At the end of the first is Sam Everett. He was a bowler who was peripheral to the test team. He was selected late for the 1926 tour of England despite never showing any great form, and didn't get near the test side despite Gregory playing a much smaller role as his was injuries troubled him. He was also touted as a possible selection in 1928 after Gregory was forced out, but did not play then either. His run and bowling action are a notable copy of Gregory's.

The other one is visible in the second two videos. The unassuming looking bowler from the opposite end, bowling away from the camera, is Charles Kelleway. A useful bowler, fast-medium by the standard of the day, and a dour bat, he would not be high anyone's list of entertainers but he was one of the best allrounders of the era. Today he is an obscure figure.
 

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