One of the finest sights in cricket is to see a fast bowler running up the wicket swiftly and hurling an array of express deliveries at the batsman who then hops around like a cat on a hot tin roof. Over the past several decades, cricket has given us many a great fast bowler. There are some who shined briefly while some were able to leave indelible marks on the game.Here, we look at eight of the best express pace bowlers to have played the sport.
Note: The list is not just based on the fastest deliveries the bowlers bowled but also on the consistency with which they bowled at express pace through their career.
Shoaib Akhtar (Pakistan): Quite easily one of the most mercurial players to have played the game, Shoaib Akhtar has made his impact on cricket in his own way. Hair flapping in the air, an unusually long run-up, feet thumping the ground, Shoaib Akhtar was the quintessential fast bowler and really knew how to intimidate batsmen with his raw pace and late swing.
He came to the limelight when he got both Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar out bowled in back to back deliveries off reverse swinging yorkers in a Test match at Kolkata in 1999. Ever since then Shoaib established himself as one of the most fearsome bowlers in the world who could consistently bowl over 150 km/h and could get wickets anywhere.
His moment of glory came when he delivered the fastest ball in the history of cricket – 161.3 km/h – against England in the 2003 World Cup. This was the period when Shoaib had really developed as a bowler and was at his peak. However, he could not sustain this momentum and injuries and other controversies riddled his career thereafter.
Eventually, Shoaib just played 46 Test matches and took 178 wickets in them and in 163 ODIs he plucked out 247 scalps. His career would always leave you with the question of what could have been.
Brett Lee (Australia): Undeniably one of the best fast bowlers in the last decade, Brett Lee, despite not achieving legendary status, formed an integral part of the great Australian team of the 2000s. He was fast, furious and could bowl continuously in the mid-150s.
He had a superb yorker and a searing fast in-swinger. He was a real nightmare for the tail-enders who would just hop around his bouncers. Lee’s best form was from around the period 2004-2008. Later in his career, injuries plagued him and he never made the same impression again.
He went on to play 76 Tests for Australia, taking 310 wickets in the process and is the fourth most successful Australian bowler of all time. Lee was a very astute ODI bowler as well taking 380 wickets in 221 matches and also featured in 25 T20Is where he took 28 wickets.
His fastest delivery of 160.8 km/h was delivered against New Zealand at Napier in 2002.
Jeff Thompson (Australia): One of the true legends of the sport, Jeffrey Thompson redefined fast bowling when he was at his peak. With a slingshot bowling action, Thompson could terrify the best in the world with his pace.
Mike Brearley, the ex- England skipper, had once said this about Thompson’s pace: “Broken marriages, conflicts of loyalty, the problems of everyday life fall away as one faces up to Thomson.” This was a true indication of how much fear Thompson instilled in batsmen.
He had a superb cutter and could seam and swing the ball at will. His bouncers were deadly and, at times, unplayable. Thompson played 51 Tests for Australia and got 200 wickets in them.
His returns in ODIs – 55 wickets in 50 matches – were quite meager. Although Thompson believed that he bowled in the range of 180 km/h, his fastest recorded delivery is 160.5 km/h during a fast Test match in 1975-76.
Mitchell Starc (Australia): This young quick has steadily established himself as the fastest bowler of this era and is rapidly taking giant strides towards being the best one as well. The thing about Mitchell Starc is that he is rarely reckless.
He has got oodles of speed and can bowl consistently in the mid-150s, he even clocked 160.4 km/h in a Test match against New Zealand last year at Perth. His ability to swing the ball into the right-hander at a furious pace and at impeccable lengths makes him a very dangerous bowler to deal with.
Starc was at his peak in the 2015 World Cup last year where he rattled almost all the batsmen and was named Player of the Tournament for his 22 scalps – his 6-28 against New Zealand at Auckland being the most extraordinary bowling performance one has seen in a long time.
However, injuries have regularly been derailing the lanky 26-year-old Australian speedster and he also needs to improve in the Test arena. Regardless, there is no denying that Mitchell Starc is the new generation express pace bowler and should go a long way. In the 25 Tests that Starc has played, he has grabbed 91 wickets and in 46 ODIs he has claimed 90 scalps. He has played 20 T20Is and taken 26 wickets in them.
Sir Andy Roberts (West Indies): He was a rare breed was Sir Andy Roberts; calm, composed and almost impassive, he was unlike any fast bowler the world had seen. With sturdy shoulders, Roberts was the one who commenced that great phase in the West Indian fast bowling legacy in the 70s.
His bouncer was exceptionally dangerous and the best weapon in his loaded armory. He also had a lot of variety, including a deft slower one, up his sleeve and was the then fastest to reach 100 Test wickets.
His pace often unnerved the batsmen and he bowled his fastest ball –159.9 km/h – during a speed bowling competition in Australia in 1975 at the WACA. Roberts produced his best through the early and mid-70s but faded out a bit after that. Nevertheless, in the 47 Tests he played, Roberts scalped 202 wickets and also plucked 87 wickets in 56 ODIs.
Mitchell Johnson (Australia): Johnson’s career never quite took the remarkable turn that was expected, but he will still always be regarded as one of the finest express pace bowlers the world has ever seen. At his best, Johnson was fearsome; his late swing at pace, sharp bounce, lethal bouncers and the difficult angles he created for batsmen was wonderful to watch.
However, the burly Australian was very erratic at times and this lead to inconsistent form. Johnson’s peak came in the 2013-14 season, where first he almost single-handedly decimated the England side with his ruthless pace in the Ashes – where he also bowled his fastest ball at 156.8 km/h in the 4th Test – and then wrecked havoc in South Africa.
He had 59 wickets in 8 games during that period. Unfortunately, his form dipped soon after and he decided to call it a day last November. In the 73 Tests that he played, Mitchell Johnson took 313 wickets while in 153 ODIs he grabbed 239 ones. He also played 30 T20Is and managed 39 wickets in them.
Shane Bond (New Zealand): When he burst on the scene, Shane Bond was considered as the fastest bowler in New Zealand after Richard Hadlee. He had it all: brutal pace, ability to swing the ball, inswinging toe-crushing yorkers, and sharp bounce. Unfortunately, Bond’s career would always be known as what could have been.
Riddled with injuries all his career – sometimes for two years at a stretch – Bond could not scale the heights that were expected of him and had to cut his journey short. Regardless, the Kiwi, when at his best, was pure magic to watch what with his smooth, flowing action and ability to rough up the best in the world; a perfect case in point would be his 6-23 versus Australia in the 2003 World Cup where he was almost unplayable.
It was also in the same World Cup where Bond clocked his fastest delivery of 156.4 km/h against India. Bond played only 18 Tests and had 87 wickets in them and in the 82 ODIs he played, he grabbed 147 wickets. He also got to play 20 T20Is and scalped 25 wickets in them.
Dale Steyn (South Africa): Fiery, scary, aggressive, passionate, relentless; these are some adjectives that can describe Dale Steyn when on fire. He is one of those rare fast bowlers of this era who can swing the ball at fearsome speed both ways; his fastest delivery being 155.7 km/hr against New Zealand.
It is this ability of his which helped him garner more than 400 scalps in Test cricket. Initially, it took Steyn some time to settle into international cricket but once he did, he was on fire. He was once the fastest South African to reach 100 Test wickets and was completely destroying batsmen all over the world.
Steyn stayed at the top of ICC rankings and was named ICC Test Player of the Year in 2008 where he took 86 wickets in 14 Tests. Of late, Steyn has been down with injuries and his pace and form has suffered a bit because of it. However, one still hopes to see the best of Dale Steyn in the coming days. In the 82 Tests that Steyn has played, he has taken 402 wickets and in ODIs, he has 175 wickets from 112 matches. He has also got 58 wickets in 42 T20Is.
|Mitchell Starc||Australia||160.4 km/h|
Sir Andy Roberts
|Shane Bond||New Zealand||156.4 km/h|
|Dale Steyn||South Africa||155.7 km/h|