By Mike Selvey
We, the old-timers if you will, can be a little protective of the past. For us the Olympic motto of Citius, Altius, Fortius or Faster, Higher, Stronger, represents an ideal, an imploring rather than a statement of fact. Records are there to be broken, it is true, but sometimes it takes time and the increase can be in such minimal increments that it scarcely matters.
Bob Beamon’s 1968 long jump record stood for 23 years, has been beaten only once since, and then by only 5cm. and Roger Bannister’s famous Iffley Road mile, and it lends a perspective on how little things really change. In cricket batsmen unquestionably hit more sixes these days because of bats with bigger hitting areas, shorter boundaries and better hitting techniques. Yet only three batsmen in my experience – Barry Richards, John Shepherd and Mike Llewellyn – have hit the ball on to the top deck at Lord’s. Once I saw John Edrich hit the ball past the end of the stand at the pavilion end at The Oval, out of the ground and on the way to the Tube station, while David Lloyd recalls Clive Lloyd striking the top of Archbishop Tenison’s school building.
And so to fast bowlers. It is the perennial cricket question: who has been the fastest? My answer to this is consistent. There have been some rapid bowlers in recent times, such as Brett Lee and Shaun Tait, with Pat Cummins the latest of them. The fastest single ball I have ever seen live, I will tell my interrogators, was delivered by Shoaib Akhtar: not the fabled first 100mph ball, which was a joke, but one that obliterated in a blink the stumps of Stephen Fleming in the 1999 World Cup semi-final. But I have never, in what is now four decades since, seen anyone bowl consistently faster than did Jeff Thomson and Michael Holding in the mid-70s. I commend to you Chris Ryan’s wonderful piece on Tommo in Wisden a couple of years back and do so without shivering at the prospect of facing him.
But then people older than I have taken up the argument. At one time it is probable that the wonderful former correspondent of the Times, John Woodcock, had witnessed around a third of all Test matches ever played. Later it is certainly true that no man had seen live more Test matches than Richie Benaud. Ah, they said of my argument, that may be your experience but did you ever seen Frank Tyson bowl?
In the famous Ashes series of 1954-55 he touched heights of pace that neither of these eminences, one of them experiencing it first hand, had seen exceeded. And while my own postulation goes back four decades, this was only two decades further back than that. Then, though, they would say how, as Tyson was bruising Australians, there were those who had seen Harold Larwood bowl and would attest that Tyson was no quicker than he was during the Bodyline series.
And so it is possible to conjecture that, whether or not Cummins or Lee or Tait has been a faster bowler than either Larwood or Tyson is open to debate, if they have been, it is by a margin so small that makes no difference to the perception: Larwood and, after him, Tyson, were bowlers of extreme pace.
Here is JM Kilburn, famed correspondent of the Yorkshire Post, on Tyson. “His best pace was nothing short of startling to batsmen and spectators alike. He represented an elemental force obscuring the details of his technique and the highest tribute he received was the gasp of incredulity frequently emitted by the crowd as the ball passed from his hand to the distant wicketkeeper.”
Don Bradman called him “the fastest bowler I have ever seen” while Tom Graveney recounts how he stood 40 yards back at slip.
Now Tyson is no more. His death has come in Australia, the country which welcomed him in 1960, 10 years after Larwood had taken a similar course and six years only since his pace, achieved with a muscular heaving action of little aesthetic appeal but great functionality, had won an Ashes series in that country for Len Hutton, just as Larwood had done for Douglas Jardine.
That series, after a chastening first Test in Brisbane, he changed his run-up by shortening it, having experimented with a longer one, found proper momentum at the crease and was unstoppable. It was at Melbourne, during the third Test that his soubriquet of “Typhoon” was cemented when in the second innings his spell of six for 16 from 6.3 eight-ball overs, and seven for 27 in all, brought a win that had looked unlikely.
From such deeds are legends created. Frank Tyson, a very, very fast bowler: perhaps that should be his epitaph. – [The Guardian]