Pace pair serve up a treat

Following the retirements in the last decade of world class quick bowlers such as Curtley Ambrose, Courtney Walsh, Allan Donald, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, and Glenn McGrath, there has been a dearth of similar quality, a general lack of pacemen to strike fear into the heart of any batting line up.

So it was heartening for the cricket lovers that so enjoy the sight of genuine speedsters making batsmen work hard to survive, in every sense of the word, to see two men of that ilk recently named men of the series for the damage they inflicted on their respective opposition. The pair produced displays that will once again have opening batsmen sleeping just a little uneasily.

I am, of course, referring to Australia’s Brett Lee and South African Dale Steyn.

When Glenn McGrath called a halt to his magnificent career at the same time Australia lost the wizardry of Shane Warne, Brett Lee became the leader of the Australian attack, and with that comes the added pressure to perform. If he did feel the pressure, it certainly did not show against a Sri Lanka side that never really got to grips with the pace, bounce and accuracy that Lee now has in his armoury.

His run up and action were fluent, consequently he looked in excellent rhythm, swinging the ball, both conventionally and by means of reverse, at speeds of up to 155kmh (96.3 mph). He looked like a man that has gratefully accepted the baton of strike bowlership from McGrath, and this was exemplified by his 16 wickets in the two Test series.

Dale Steyn had the distinct advantage of firing his particular missiles at a New Zealand side that looked seriously unequipped to cope with such attacks, and as a result, inevitable devastation took place.

Steyn was perhaps rushed into Test cricket and had to learn his trade in the harshest and most unforgiving of environments which is Test cricket, yet the signs are that he has come through those early examinations and is now looking to flourish at the top level. There will be more severe questions asked in times ahead, yet if he maintains his brisk pace, away movement and accuracy he will trouble, with all due respect, more feared line-ups than that of New Zealand.

He hurried the Kiwi batsmen on more than one occasion, and the unfortunate Craig Cumming will testify to Steyn’s speed, as he was unable to get out of the way of a particular nasty short ball that resulted in the opening batsman needing metal plates inserted into his cheekbone.

Steyn was exceptionally raw when he first came on the scene but he is continuing to grow into his role within the South African side, and in the two Tests against New Zealand, the fast bowler recorded the quite remarkable series figures of 56-10-184-20.

Both Lee and Steyn are wholehearted performers and will not flinch if they are required to charge in for large portions of the day, while they both operate at their peak in shorter hostile bursts, roughing the batsmen up and not without a series of menacing glares and even the odd word or two.

Steyn has now taken 71 wickets in his first 15 Test matches, costing 24.38 each, not totally dissimilar to Brett Lee’s record after the same amount of games (Lee took 65 wickets at 23.43).

Both these quickies have forced their way into the ICC Test bowlers rankings top five following their recent feats. Steyn is sitting in third position with Lee two places behind him in fifth.

The fast bowling resources in international cricket is currently incomparable in both depth and quality to decades gone by, but these two are proof that the cupboard is not entirely bare. If you also throw Shane Bond (when fit), Shoaib Akhtar (when well behaved), Makhaya Ntini and the consistent Stuart Clark into the mix, it indicates there are a number of excellent seam and swing bowlers in the world to ensure batsmen do not have it entirely their own way. Whilst not forgetting the steady experienced campaigners in Shaun Pollock (although South Africa appear to have), Chaminda Vaas and Matthew Hoggard, who rely on numerous attributes, pace however, not being at the top of the list.

Another reason to be optimistic for the future of quick bowling is the potential shown by some of the younger bowlers, for example Mohammad Asif, Lasith Malinga, Sohail Tanvir, Stuart Broad, RP Singh, Mitchell Johnson and Jerome Taylor, all of whom have whetted our appetites for the future and are all (except Johnson) under the age of 25.

Many former Test players are of the opinion that batsmen these days have it much easier than it was in their day, who knows, maybe this next crop of quick bowlers will have Ambrose and co rubbing their hands with glee at the sight of the batsmen once again being made to look rather foolish.

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