England’s surrendering of the Ashes at the earliest opportunity inevitably brought out the doom-mongers. In all fairness, the “send them all home” narrative has not been used as regularly this time as it has in the past. There are many that offer opinions on where England have gone wrong and Australia have gone right but, rightly, it is the England batsmen’s inability to turn good starts into big scores (until Alistair Cook’s knock in Melbourne) and it is their bowlers inability to take twenty wickets in a match. The latter issue in particular has warranted considerable discussion and the blame has seemingly been placed on our seam bowler’s apparent slowness in comparison with the battery of pacemen sent out by Australia. If only England’s bowlers could bowl 5mph faster, we would surely have competed much better. This simplistic argument that extreme pace is everything does not really wash with me.
There needs to exist acknowledgement that pace in isolation is rarely effective. When it is, it is the hands of those around the 100mph mark like Jeff Thompson, Shoaib Akhtar and Brett Lee. The better batsmen like pace on the ball. What they do not like is pace combined with any of the following; bounce, movement and consistency.
To highlight this, we can examine the careers of two specific bowlers, one English and one Australian; Devon Malcolm and Glenn McGrath. Devon Malcolm was seriously quick. Few will forget his incredible nine wickets in an innings performance against South Africa in 1994, arguably the greatest performance by an England fast bowler in history. Given this one astonishing performance and his undoubted extreme pace, one might wonder why the name of Devon Malcolm is not talked about among the great pacemen of history. Devon’s unfortunate problem was one of consistency and when batsmen know a bad ball is coming, pace is unimportant. In mitigation, it should be noted that Devon had the relative misfortune of bowling at a time when batting line ups were particularly strong and there are many who question the way he was coached by England at the time but, unfortunately for him, he offered little in addition to his hostility which is why he failed to qualify for greatness, despite him being well regarded by teammates.
Glenn McGrath would, on average be 10mph slower than Devon Malcolm in his pomp but yet Glenn McGrath is regarded as an all time great. There are numerous differences between the two bowlers but McGrath’s ability to blend pace, bounce, just enough movement to cause problems and consistency that perhaps no other bowler in history has been able to match. It should perhaps be noted that he had the good fortune to play with many great players, notable Shane Warne but few who watched McGrath would doubt his greatness.
In examining England’s current strike pair of Anderson and Broad, it should be acknowledged that they have nearly a thousand test wickets between them. Both in their time have been capable of hitting the seemingly magical 90mph mark but it is not their pace that is their major weapon but movement. In Anderson’s case especially, his ability to swing the ball both ways is special to watch. Broad is much more of a “hit the seam” bowler but both benefit from the favorable conditions which Australia does not tend to provide. The experiment of a day/night Ashes Test did provide Anderson an opportunity to show his capabilities but, ultimately to no avail. They are far from the first England bowlers to struggle in Australian conditions.
England does have some 90mph pace bowlers, unfortunately Mark Wood is injured and Tymal Mills can only bowl in shorter formats. Liam Plunkett is seemingly only in favour for limited over’s cricket. Others are also starting to come through and it will be interesting to watch how they develop. They should be encouraged to firstly, look after themselves as the additional aspect of bowling 90mph is staying fit enough to do so but also to study what makes the great fast bowlers great.
Bowling fast might get you somewhere but if you can blend that pace with bounce, movement and consistency then, to paraphrase Kipling, yours will be the Earth.