Jeff Thomas presents the 10 tearaways who shook the scene all too briefly before speeding away in the blink of an eye.
10) Alan Ward (First-class span 1966-1978; 5 Tests, 14 wickets, average 32.35)
As the swinging 60s came to a close, England captain Raymond Illingworth was lauding the arrival of a new age. Not disco or women’s lib, oh no. This was the Snow-Ward era. England’s skipper was confident that the perfect new-ball partner for John Snow had been unearthed in the guise of Derbyshire quick Alan Ward. The pair arrived in Australia for the 1970/71 Ashes amid a deluge of hype, but while Snow was instrumental in England’s successful campaign (31 wickets at 22.83), injury meant Ward returned home without bowling a single ball. Constant niggles and run-ins with authority followed (Ward was ordered off the field by Derbyshire captain Brian Bolus during a Sunday League match in 1973 for refusing to bowl) and his potential remained unfulfilled.
9) Atul Sharma (no first-class appearances)
For all their talented batsmen, gifted spinners and canny medium-pacers, one thing India have never produced is a genuine tearaway quick. So when rumours started to circulate in the latter part of the last decade that English seam guru Ian Pont had discovered the world’s fastest bowler, and he hailed from Varanasi, a billion or so folk started to get rather excited. However the tale of Atul Sharma is something of a cautionary one. For while the teenage javelin thrower had the physique of a fast bowler, crucially he had never really played the game, and was something of a cricketing experiment. Could Pont take the raw ingredients and create a fast bowling monster? Well, no. Despite, amazingly, being given a contract by the Rajasthan Royals in 2009 without ever bowling a competitive delivery, Sharma has since faded into obscurity. Maybe one day Pont will prove Mr Holding wrong, but for the moment we’re sticking with Mikey: “Fast bowlers are born, not made.”
8) David Lawrence (1981-1997; 5 Tests, 18 wickets, average 37.55)
While ‘Syd’ Lawrence had a relatively lengthy county career, 16 years if you include the aborted comeback attempt in 1997, he will always be remembered as one of England’s unluckiest bowlers. The Gloucester man, who had shared the new ball with Courtney Walsh at Bristol, was finally beginning to make his own impact on the Test arena when fate dealt him the most horrendous of hands. Running in to bowl at Wellington in 1992 in just his fifth Test, his patella cracked mid-delivery stride, effectively ending his career on the spot. It was a harrowing injury to witness with spectators at the ground reporting the sound of the knee giving way as akin to that of a pistol being shot. Twenty years on it still makes us shudder. A terribly sad end for one of the game’s most popular figures.
7) Len Pascoe (1974-1984; 14 Tests, 64 wickets, average 26.06)
What Australia wouldn’t give for one of their latest young guns to make an impact similar to the opening salvos of Len Pascoe’s career. The Yugoslavia-born schoolmate of Jeff Thomson roared onto the scene in the Aussies’ 1977 Ashes campaign, taking 41 wickets at 21.78 on the tour, including 13 in his three Test appearances. Unfortunately Pascoe, who once famously remarked that “a tiger never changes its spots”, failed to shake off his injury-prone tag and was forced into retirement in 1982 with only 14 Test appearances to his name, which, for those who are interested, was originally Leonard Durtanovich.
6) John ‘The Dentist’ Maynard (1991- 1999; 13 first-class matches)
Big, broad and hauling a folklore all of his own, The Dentist, so called for his gnasher-rearranging qualities, was the most famous non-Test playing West Indian quick of his era. Hailing from the tiny island of Nevis, he gained a reputation for serious physical intimidation. “If you can’t get them out,” he once said, “you gotta hurt them till they get out. I think I’ve pretty much broken every part of the body so far, from the teeth to the jaw, to the nose, to the ribs, to the arms and the toes. I never worry about hurting them at the time.” He didn’t play much first-class cricket, and after getting passed over for the West Indies team, he turned his chilling attentions to quaking Englishmen, bestriding the shires of club cricket throughout the Nineties and wreaking Biblical havoc everywhere he went.
5) Simon Jones (1998-2013; 18 Tests, 59 wickets, average 28.23)
When Simon Jones ruptured his cruciate ligament on the lush Gabba outfield on the first day of the 2002/03 Ashes, many feared his international career, like Lawrence’s, had ended on an Antipodean stretcher. However, by 2005 the Welshman had forced his way back into the England side which captured the Ashes for the first time in 18 years, picking up 18 gorgeous wickets before an ankle injury ruled him out of the decider. Ankle and knee injuries have plagued the remainder of Jones’ career and he has not featured in an England shirt since, retiring from first-class cricket in 2013 to concentrate on the white-ball stuff. His most significant achievements post-2005 have all been off the field – being voted ninth sexiest man in the world by readers of New Woman magazine probably the pinnacle.
4) Mohammad Amir (2008-; 14 Tests, 51 wickets, average 29.09)
History will no doubt look back on Pakistan’s ill-fated 2010 tour of England and focus squarely on the corruption and the criminals. But it’s worth remembering that before Salman Butt, Mo Asif and Mo Amir ended up in Wandsworth nick some unbelievably good cricket took place. Heading into the final Test at Lord’s Pakistan were looking to square the series and having reduced England to 102-7, thanks largely to teen sensation Amir’s spell of 6-29, few would have bet against them. At 18, Amir became the youngest bowler in the history of the game to reach 50 Test wickets and a career similar to his idol Wasim Akram beckoned. Unfortunately we all know what happened next. Whether he returns to the international scene on completion of his ban remains to be seen, but he is certainly young enough to come again.
3) Roy Gilchrist (1956-1963; 13 Tests, 57 wickets, average 26.68)
Being angry is widely regarded as a prerequisite for most successful fast bowlers. In Jimmy: My Story, James Anderson admits to having to work on being nasty. One man who had no such necessity was the perpetually hostile Roy Gilchrist – his aggressive bowling a seamless extension of an already troubled and antagonistic personality. Predictably Gilchrist’s Test career ended both prematurely and in controversy after being sent home from the West Indies 1958/59 tour of India, thanks to his liberal and apparently deliberate use of the beamer. He never featured for the West Indies again, and the man who Sir Garfield Sobers dubbed as “the most dangerous cricketer I ever played with”, saw out his playing days terrorising batsmen in the Lancashire leagues.
2) Shane Bond (1996-2009; 18 Tests, 87 wickets, average 22.09)
Had injuries not blighted Bond’s career there really is no telling what he might have achieved. His ability to produce pinpoint yorkers at searing pace (156.4kph in the 2003 World Cup) meant that, when fit, he was arguably the most feared bowler of his generation. However, an ill-advised stint in the rebel Indian Cricket league ended in a two-year ban, and a recurring back injury meant he sadly missed more matches than he played during his brief international calling. Within a year of his 2009 return from exile, Bond was forced to concede defeat with his injury battles and called time on his stop-start career. Bond retired with a Test match strike rate of 38.7, a figure bettered only by Englishman George Lohmann, whose medium dobbers bamboozled batsmen before the turn of the twentieth century.
1) Frank Tyson (1952-1960; 17 Tests, 76 wickets, average 18.56)
“So wise so young, they say do never live long.” Richard III
When Fred Trueman was controversially left out of the 1954/55 touring party to Australia, England pinned their hopes on the raw talents of a 24-year-old Durham University English Lit. graduate called Frank Tyson. Known to loathe sledging, he instead was frequently overheard quoting Shakespeare and Wordsworth at his adversaries.
While figures of 1-160 from 28 overs during the first Test at Brisbane may well have had young Tyson pondering that “Expectation is the root of all heartache”, he soon turned things around, taking 10-130 in the second Test, while his spell of 7-27 in the third was reported at the time, and still regarded by many, as the fastest and most frighteningly sustained spell of fast bowling seen in Australia.
‘Typhoon Tyson’ took a stunning 52 wickets at an average of 15.56 in his first nine Tests, but was plagued by a persistent heel problem thought to be caused by ill-fitting boots and was forced to retire in 1959 aged just 30. He finished up with 76 wickets from just 17 matches, his average of 18.56 is the seventh lowest of any bowler to have taken 75 wickets or more.
Considered by many, including Richie Benaud amongst others, to be the quickest of all-time, Tyson himself once outlandishly claimed he could bowl at 119mph. While the exact speed may be up for debate, ‘The Don’ was adamant: “He was the fastest bowler I have ever seen.” And that lad knew a thing or two about such matters.