Cricket’s image as a leisurely, village green game is rather ill-deserved.
When you look at some bowlers and the smoking speed that they generate, often to terrifying effect, their sport leans much more towards extreme. Imagine how it feels to have a cork-core leather cricket ball flung at you at searing velocity. Perhaps over 80 mph.
Here’s a look at some expert fast bowlers who reached or topped that speed. In fact, they bowled so fast that they forced batsmen to start playing deliveries before they even happened.
And you thought football was hard.
1. Jeff Thomson
Top speed: 100 mph +
Nicknamed “Thommo”, Aussie quick Jeff Thomson is a byword for lightning bowling.
“I was once timed at 99.97mph, but that’s rubbish. I was miles faster than that,” Thomson once said.
Just to make him even more menacing, he partnered with fellow fast bowler Dennis Lillee. Their combo was one of the most daunting in Test cricket history.
Former England bowler Frank “Typhoon” Tyson said that Thomson is so fast and human reaction time so slow that the batsman had to begin playing a stroke against him more than .062 of a second before Thommo unleashed.
Thomson was capable of bowling a bouncer that hit the opposite sight-screen on the full. His technique shows how he generated formidable leverage.
2. Shoaib Akhtar
Top speed: 100.2 mph
Pakistan paceman Shoaib Akhtar is widely seen as the fastest bowler in international cricket history.
Akhtar was dogged by scandal but capable of astounding performances.
Akhtar’s best game came against India in 1999. Then, Akhtar captured eight wickets in the Asian Test championship match at Calcutta. His staggering tally included the scalps of Indian batsman Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid off successive deliveries.
3. Mohammad Sami
Top speed: 100 mph
Pakistan paceman Mohammad Sami was initially dubbed the modern Malcolm Marshall by supreme Pakistani all-rounder Imran Khan. That is saying something, given that, according to ESPN, Marshall was perhaps the finest of the West Indies’ many formidable 1980s quicks, “endowed with fierce pace, swing, cut, a vicious bouncer, and above all, the ability to outthink any batsman”.
Mohammad Sami duly began with a bang. In his Test cricket debut against New Zealand in 2001, he nabbed 8 wickets for 106 runs in the match. He never looked back.
4. Waqar Younis
Top speed: 95 mph
Waqar Younis had the nifty ability to reverse-swing a cricket ball at blazing speed.
During his heyday, Younis was a machine: absolutely unstoppable. In fact, he could bowl so fast that he broke stumps in half.
The reverse-swing king is widely seen as one of the greatest bowlers of all time. Even more impressively, according to ESPN, Younis has the best strike rate for any bowler, with over 350 Test wickets.
5. Dennis Lillee
Top speed: 96 mph
Aussie quick Dennis Lillee was a legend. His piratical swagger sharpened the menace of his dazzling deliveries. Together with Jeff Thomson, he struck terror into the hearts of the old enemy, England, unleashing hell on its batsmen.
Better yet, Lillee was involved in the maddest moment in the history of sport. In 1979, British cricketer Peter Willey caught Lillee off the bowling of another quick Graham Dilley.
6. Michael Holding
Top speed: 96 mph
Nicknamed “Whispering Death”, West Indies quick Michael Holding played during a golden age for his team. He was one of four pacemen who regularly terrified, paralyzed and devastated all-comers, making the Windies routine world champions.
In 1981, Holding bowled the “fastest over of all time” to dismiss England stalwart Geoffrey Boycott.
“Holding’s seemingly languid run-up was grace personified, but — as his nickname suggests — it generated deliveries of frightening speed,” says the UK’s Daily Telegraph. Watch the Whispering Death steaming in.