Like many here, I’m a batsman in my own excruciatingly modest cricketing career and I found that, in most of my cricket viewing, it was the batsmen who got me watching and who I wanted to be. However I’ve found in recent years, perhaps because the game now seems so slanted towards the batsman, that it’s the bowlers who’ve been interesting me. So, let’s hear it for the bowlers through ten moments of flying bails and cart-wheeling stumps.
There were some rules for a dismissal to apply. It had to be from my cricket-watching lifetime and there had to be film of it so it couldn’t be romanticised in the mind’s eye (so no S.F. Barnes bowling Clem Hill with a ball that was reported to have changed direction twice in 1911/12 then!). It had to be in a Test match. (so no Wasim Akram in the 91/92 WC Final). Individual bowlers could only feature once (more on who that excluded below). It helped if a bowler had overcome a worthy performer and if the wicket was emblematic of some wider phenomenon.
So, with that out of the way, ten tributes to the poor bloody bowlers:
- Michael Holding to Tony Greig, Oval 1976.
I’ve written plenty here before about how much the 1976 West Indies’ tour meant to me. There were many great feats on that tour but only one I can say I still haven’t seen surpassed – and that was Michael Holding’s bowling in the final Test on an Oval featherbed.
This was at the end of the tour with the series won and it would have been very easy for the bowlers to be throttling back. However for Michael Holding, there was no question of doing so. Holding these days says that he was too young and stupid to back off – but we all know that in that summer of “grovel” and race riots there was more at stake.
Greig may not have won any prizes as diplomat of the year – but he was a fine Test batsman who played some great knocks against pace (especially at the Gabba in ‘74/75). He’d found some form with 116 and 76* in the previous game. It mattered not. As a tall man, Greig’s vulnerability was against the yorker at his toes. West Indies had got Greig that way several times during the series. Greig, a very fine batsman, knew what was coming – and still could do nothing about it. Stumps flew everywhere, Holding was engulfed and Greig (to his credit) mimicked grovelling as he departed.
Holding took 14 wickets as bowlers as good as Andy Roberts and Bob Willis managed just two wickets between them. Wayne Daniel broke down injured so Holding knew he wasn’t going to get much rest – unless he took a load of wickets……
Wicket at 1:30 here –
- Dennis Lillee to Geoffrey Boycott, MCG 1979/80
For someone of my generation Australian fast bowlers will always mean Dennis Lillee – and should all be like Dennis Lillee. Lillee was not only ferociously competitive and a great showman but one of the most technically pure bowlers of any age. Lillee had taken 11 wickets against England in the Centenary Test at the MCG in 1977 through pace and force of personality – in the post-Packer reunification series in 1979/80 he did it again against a better batting line-up, on an even less helpful pitch and at lower cost. The second time around Lillee did it by deploying all the arts of a fast bowler.
It’s one of the myths of English cricket about Australia that pitches there have been usually fast and bouncy. The MCG pitch at that time was tired and slow. Australia in the match scored nearly 500 against Botham and Willis. Lillee did what we like to think of as a very English thing, cut his pace and bowled a mixture of seamers, cutters and swingers. It was one of the greatest displays of bowling I’ve ever seen.
The wicket I’ve chosen as emblematic of that performance was his bowling of Geoffrey Boycott in the second innings. Boycott was bowled playing no shot. Was Geoffrey ever dismissed playing no shot in another Test innings? I can’t think of one. Lillee had been troubling Boycott with his usual stock away movement when he outfoxed the great man with a ball that hooped in then went even further off the seam. Boycott had been in good form on that tour – he’d made 99* in the First Test, batted superbly in the ODIs and had been looking good in the first innings when Ashley Mallett caught him brilliantly in the gully. There was a great still photo in one of my cricket books of Boycott’s head up just after the dismissal, a look of “I can’t believe that just happened”.
The wicket is at about 4:40:
- Bob Willis to Ray Bright, Headingley 1981
Now, I can be as hipster a contrarian as the best (or worst) of them and should I one day write a ‘Ten of the Best’ for the Guardian music section I’d probably be leaving out all the hits for those ‘C’ sides that were only released in bootleg editions in Hull on a Shrove Tuesday.
But…. but…. some dismissals are so iconic they have to be here. For an Englishman of a certain vintage (I was sixteen at the time), there was only one Headingley ’81 – and there was only one coup de grace when Bob Willis flattened Ray Bright’s middle stump to win the game. Chris Old even dropped Terry Alderman twice to ensure the match got the finale it deserved.
The first days of the match had really been quite dull. I had almost given up on the game the day before and would have gone to a CC game but for rain in the morning in Sussex. The feeling had been that England needed a few more runs that morning but Willis had nicked Alderman to slip so 130 it was.
Brearley opened with Botham and Dilley, hoping their batting heroics would inspire them. Botham got Graeme Wood but Dyson and Trevor Chappell took them to 56/1 before Willis started that famous spell. Chappell got a brute, Dyson was a touch unfortunate, Hughes and Yallop couldn’t cope with the bounce, Marsh had a desperate hook and Lawson a nervous poke.
Bright and Lillee put on 35 in 4 frantic overs, Lillee cutting everything as Willis bowled shorter and shorter and Bright took to Old. Willis finally got one up to Lillee who spooned it to mid-on and the end came….
With the lift Willis had been getting, Bright was lurking on the back foot for the fateful delivery. Willis got the ball full, straight and quick. Bright’s balance was all over the place – and he missed it. Out came the middle stump and pandemonium followed.
England celebrated – and in some ways, repented at leisure. The 1980s became one long ‘hope for a miracle’ and some necessary reforms had to wait another decade.
Wicket at 2:20 –
- Waqar Younis to Graeme Hick, Lord’s 1996
Of the great fast bowlers I’ve seen, I’m finding more and more that Waqar Younis is my favourite. Part of it is his action – the sprint to the wicket , the low arm (especially later in a spell), the celebration (Waqar’s jump in the air always seemed more a spontaneous display of joy than the Lillee or Hadlee turn to the umpire).
But of course, it’s more than that. Lillee, Holding and Marshall were all more classical – and some would say, more complete bowlers. Waqar’s genius is that he found a new way of playing the game. When a game is over a century old, how often does that happen? Like reggae in music, Waqar’s method stood all the received pieties on their head. Attack with the new ball, out-swing is the really dangerous ball to good batsmen, give ‘em some short stuff? Waqar was more dangerous the older the ball got, he attacked with fast, late inswing and the only injuries I can remember him causing were to batsmen’s feet and their pride. Of course like any innovator, Waqar was building on others before him, Sarfraz and Imran in particular, but he took it on to another level. He was also, along with Curtley Ambrose, the best bowler for creating an unstoppable roll that I’ve seen.
He was stellar in the two great Pakistan teams that toured England in 1992 and 1996. Cricinfo ran a recent piece on the earlier team – but I think I’d marginally prefer the latter. Javed had gone from the batting but they’d added Saeed Anwar and Inzamam to their batting and Waqar, Wasim and Mushy were at their peaks.
Waqar had bowled a great spell at Lord’s in 1992. Those who prefer that team might pick a wicket from the spell when he ripped out Lamb, Botham and Lewis. In 1996, he did it again and having knocked over Graeme Hick with a perfect yorker in the first innings, Waqar did him again in the second. Hick had seemed like he was mastering Test cricket in 1994-95 but this reversal was one he never seemed to recover from. A batsman with 100 centuries knows what’s coming and still can’t do anything to stop it.
Wicket here at 2:30 –
- Wasim Akram to Rahul Dravid, Chennai 1999
Wasim Akram didn’t quite have the immediate, visceral thrill of a Lillee or a Holding. There was something about the placement of the feet and knees that lacked elegance. Wasim, after being extremely rapid when he first burst on to the scene, also started to throttle back rather like the mature Richard Hadlee – one can see, the amount of cricket that they played, why they did it but while it appealed to the head it doesn’t grab the heart in the way pure fast bowling does. Wasim also amazingly never took a five-for in England and although he has an integral part of three winning tours, he always seemed slightly to be supporting someone else.
That’s the churlishness out of the way. Wasim Akram was a great cricketer – and by great, I mean “great” and not “very good” or “I have something to sell”. The key to Wasim was of course the arm – no bowler epitomised what’s meant by “a fast arm action” more than Wasim. For England fans, Wasim will always be remembered for the 91/92 WC Final – but elsewhere in the world, it’s another spell that is more remembered and there “the ball of the century” does not conjure up the image of a blonde leg-spinner and a grey-bearded batsman.
Pakistan and India were playing for the first time in Tests in nine years in Chennai in 1999. You want to talk about pressure in sport? That was a pressure game. India required only 271 to win when Wasim delivered his great one-two to Rahul Dravid. Wasim’s first ball was the perfect in-seamer. Dravid survived the LBW because the umpire must have felt he’d hit the ball first – the replay clearly showed Dravid’s pad was the first impact and with DRS he’d have been out. Wasim’s follow-up was to bowl Dravid with just the most perfect away-swinger that started on the line of leg-stump and swung away to clip the outside of off. It’s so sublime you need the replay to gather fully just what he did there.
In-seam followed by out-swing. One of the game’s greats ‘dismissed’ twice in three balls. Rahul Dravid faced more balls in Test cricket than any other batsman:
Only 55 of them hit his stumps. That’s 0.001% of the balls he faced. Pakistan won by 12 runs (and won the series 2-1).
- Shane Warne to Andrew Strauss, Edgbaston 2005
So far, it has been pacemen hogging the scene – but this isn’t any reflection of a lack of regard for spin and more a reflection on the state of the game in the 1980s and 1990s. It also reflects the fact that I can’t find any film of Saqlain bowling Cork and Caddick with two perfect doosras at OT in 2001. The best ‘bowled’ I saw from Murali was in a CC game at Southampton when he bowled Jason Laney with a delivery that pitched so far outside off-stump it was barely on the cut strip.
So then, it is left to Shane Warne to carry the flag for spin. Which one to go for? The ‘ball of the century’? The flipper that did for Alec Stewart? Even bowling KP round his legs in Adelaide?
No, and you didn’t think you’d get out of this with some piss-antsy contrarianism, did you? Because I’m not even going for the more famous bowling of Strauss in 2005 when the batsman shouldered arms – but my favourite Warne dismissal is the one in the first innings at Edgbaston.
There are a number of factors that go into the greatness of this one. For example, in ‘the ball of the century’, Warne was largely unknown, had a helpful pitch (Peter Such took 6/67 on it) and the batsman was past his prime. This Edgbaston dismissal had everything loaded against it – it was the first morning of the game, his captain had won the toss and bowled, his seamers were bowling like drains and he was up against two quality openers at around their career peaks.
One thing I love about the dismissal is how Warne slightly drops his arm to get more side-spin on the ball. Warne’s method (especially post- shoulder op) was to try to get one ball to run so that batsmen would start playing for the spin and his slider would take countless LBWs and bowled. The other thing is how he turns the batsman’s strength against him. Strauss loved hitting the ball to the right of cover off the back foot. He’d seemed to spend the whole winter in SA playing that shot. It’s one thing to get a batsman out through his weakness – but another to play to his favourite shot.
Here at 4:00 –
- Andrew Flintoff to Jacques Kallis, Edgbaston 2008
Well, that’s enough subtlety and back to cart-wheeling stumps….
Day 2 at Edgbaston was one of those mostly unremarkable days of Test cricket, mostly some jockeying for position and rain-reduced, that was lit up by a brief moment when it all ‘clicked’ for a bowler and he produced one of the great short spells.
Andrew Flintoff had been picked very young and for the first four or so years of his career had held down a role as a containing bowler who gave the front-line bowlers a breather. A talk with bowling coach Troy Cooley on the 2003/04 West Indies tour led to a change in how Flintoff saw himself and perhaps how his (new) captain saw him. That’s the official version, anyway. Before Bridgetown in 2004, where he took seven wickets, Flintoff had taken just 55 wickets in 31 games at 45 and a SR of 93; afterwards, for whatever reason. he became a formidable strike bowler for the next four years until injuries cut him short.
Jacques Kallis had seemed to be cruising comfortably in his innings at Edgbaston. What sparked Flintoff into life was perhaps the sense that Kallis was vulnerable as he indicated he was having trouble seeing the ball – and perhaps a sense of injustice that Aleem Dar had turned down a plumb looking LBW shout. Kallis survived several more close calls until an off-stump yorker beat a bat that was very late and slightly inside the ball and the stump was sent cart-wheeling back towards …. quick: who was keeper that day?
Flintoff’s performance is more poignant in retrospect because it was something of a ‘last hurrah’. He played ten more Tests, scoring just two fifties and taking more than five wickets in the match (not the innings) once – in the definite last hurrah at Lord’s in 2009.
- Ryan Harris to Alastair Cook, Perth 2013
So far, it’s been pace all the way with a little wrist-spin thrown in. Time to pay tribute to the yeoman fast-medium bowlers…..
Ryan Harris was one of those cricketers everyone seems to love. I’m reminded of a quote from Ian Chappell’s obituary of another bright but brief Australian bowling talent when he died not long ago – Gary Gilmour was first in the queue when God gave out the talent but near the back when He gave out the luck. Rather like Gilmour, Harris’s lower body couldn’t support the strain of bowling for long (although, unlike Gilmour, that wasn’t compounded by falling in with a drinking culture around Doug Walters). Harris was also an Australian so likeable even Mike Selvey wrote nice things about him – but let’s not hold that against him.
England were of course 2-0 down in Perth and set 500 for the third consecutive time. In that sense, Harris was not under a great deal of pressure as he ran up to deliver the first ball. However he was bowling to a certain opening batsman who’d made 72 in the first innings and was staring to look like he was hitting a bit of form – and he had done quite well there last time he visited. Some might think the enjoyment of the wicket is increased by the identity of the batsman – well…
Harris’s delivery was one of those rare birds that swung one way then seamed the other. It swung in, hit the pitch near but not on a giant crack and seamed away to take the top of off-stump. Cook trudged off with the look of the tour from hell had just got worse.
Harris didn’t bowl too well for the rest of the innings and England made their highest score of the tour (which showed the pitch was not as bad as that crack made it look).
As with Flintoff, there’s a poignancy knowing Harris didn’t have much time left in the game. He played three Tests on the winning tour of SA (bowling Morne Morkel to win the deciding Test with 27 balls to spare) and thrice more against India before the body gave out. He finished with a Test average of 23.5 which some maintain is unachievable for modern bowlers.
- Dale Steyn to Brad Haddin, Port Elizabeth 2014
South Africa went into the Second Test in the 2014 series 1-0 after taking a shellacking at their bastion at Centurion from a Mitchell Johnson inspired Australia. They fought back to level the series on the usual dry, slow PE wicket that the Australian seamers could get little out of.
Australia found themselves needing 448 or holding out for five sessions. Rogers and Warner got them to 126/0 before they lost ten wickets for 90 and lost before the end of Day Four (the Saffer bowlers actually took 17 wickets in that innings as SA dropped four catches and missed three wickets to DRS). At the heart of it was a sustained spell from Dale Steyn that turned a mini-collapse into a rout.
Steyn has been the one indisputably great fast bowler of the last decade in world cricket. No other seamer has taken 150+ Test wickets at under 25. Steyn’s method has been mainly based around fast late out-swing from an unusually straight line. On PE’s slow, abrasive pitch he reversed his method and attacked with reverse in-swing. Steyn was on a roll having ripped out Michael Clarke, caught low down at second slip, and Steve Smith, trapped LBW by a ball angling in. Clarke would score a century in the next match and Smith had scored one in the last match so those were two crucial wickets. In next was Brad Haddin, on the back of an Ashes’ series where he’d averaged 61 on a diet of fast-medium half-trackers.
Steyn’s approach was the opposite of Sakerball. He’d bowled Haddin with an in-swinger through the gate in the first innings, Haddin like Hick two decades before, knew what was coming and was powerless to prevent it. The middle stump was flattened and a pumped up Steyn went beserk in celebration:
The Clarke and Smith wickets, plus a different angle on Haddin, are in this compilation:
- Lakshan Sandakan to Joe Burns, Pallekele 2016-08-30
Gideon Haigh’s ‘Mystery Spinner’ about Jack Iverson is one of my favourite cricket books. The game has seen very few of them and those that have merged tend to burn out quickly (like Iverson) or fade into mediocrity (like Ramadin or Ajantha Mendis). English cricket, with its stout yeoman values and Gosplan-style coaching, has not produced one in fifty years.
The idea that cricket regimes like Sri Lanka (and Pakistan, Bangladesh and probably now the West Indies) can turn their lack of finance into an advantage by not stifling raw talent is a seductive one – and almost certainly delusional. However in the last series against Australia’s chicken-fattened millionaires (thanks Dan Brettig for that phrase), and with their team in crisis following a string of retirements and poor results, they found a left-arm wrist-spinner, one of the rarest of breeds in the game.
Australia needed to 268 to win the First Test in Pallekele. Australia had only ever lost one Test in Sri Lanka and although they’d collapsed against spin in the first innings, it’s only with hindsight that a second collapse appeared inevitable. They’d lost two early wickets but Burns and Smith were rebuilding the innings and at 68/2 were starting to look menacing.
The new ground at Pallekele is not normally massively helpful to spinners. The ball had been turning but was not particularly deteriorating, as SL’s large second innings’ total showed. With his finger spinners stuck, Mathews turned to his debutant, Lakshan Sandakan. I can only think of two other left-arm wrist-spinners who I’ve seen play in Test – Brad Hogg who was as ineffective in Tests as he was excellent in one-dayers and Paul Adams who, despite his decent record, everyone in England can’t help regarded as, frankly, a bit rubbish. Sandakan had befuddled Australia’s tail in the first dig – but surely the front-line batsmen could work him out?
Sandakan pitched it well wide of off-stump. Money for old rope, surely? The batsman, as the saying goes, was caught in two minds – hit it for four or six? The ball hit a foothold, turned…. how much? TV didn’t put a marker on it but (and who doesn’t revert to imperial here?) we’re talking feet, not inches…. and Burns was castled. Australia folded and of course went on to lose both match and series.
Will Sandakan have a future in the game? Stout yeoman will declare every less than stellar match as proof that he’s been “found out”. His figures tailed off in the Third Test as Herath and Perera took over the leg-work. Maybe Sandakan is a shooting star who briefly lit up the cricketing world and will fade? But moments of magic like that, against top opposition at a crucial moment, are what all but the most blinkered of nationalists watch the game for.
Thank you Lakshan, all the bowlers here, and all who have a desire to fling down a cricket ball fast or slow and even in-between. Sorry to all those who didn’t make the cut and had a case to (Harmison’s slower ball, Boult bowling Azhar Ali playing no shot in UAE, Murali bowling Mark Butcher with a massive turner, Donald splattering Atherton in Jo’burg on the 2/4 morning, Shoaib Akhtar’s Yorker-double of Dravid and Tendulkar, Alderman’s peach of an out-swinger to Atherton at the Gabba in ‘90/91, Bruce Reid yorking Robin Smith in the same game – all were on the short list). May those who run the game learn to value you a little more – and may the future be kind to you.