The sight of a genuine pace bowler terrifying all and sunder may be becoming a rarer and rarer occurrence in cricket; it was an oddly refreshing week to be a pace bowler.
Pace bowlers in Test Cricket have found life strangely difficult, bar the honourable exceptions of Mitchell Johnson and the fantastic combination of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, while the recent retirements of the likes of Andrew Flintoff and Shane Bond did suggest that perhaps pace bowling could become a thing of the past.
After this week, you could not be more wrong, as the wondrous joys of pace bowling have once more been on show for the entire cricketing world to see.
It was appropriate that at the ‘Home of Cricket’™ , Shaun Tait-a pace man capable of delivering them as quick as anyone out there today-albeit in small doses-ripped the beating heart out of a resurgent England with a terrific spell of bowling which had the pundits harking back to the truly great spells of Ambrose, Marshall and Lillee.
Reaching the mythical 100mph mark, he sent Andrew Strauss’ stumps flying and then followed it up with Michael Yardy’s. It was a truly awesome display, and one from which England never recovered, and it had Ricky Ponting fending questions about possible Ashes’ comebacks.
But if that wasn’t enough, just a matter of days later, Tait’s Australian team-mates found themselves on the end of some similarly speedy stuff.
Pakistan cricket may have been in turmoil, but their ability to get genuinely threatening pace bowlers fit and firing is arguably second to none.
This week it has been the sight of the old and the new. The old-Shoaib Akhtar, more a huffer and puffer these days, but still capable of bowling genuinely quickly. He was the original 100mph man, and while he didn’t reach that this time, in his second game he bowled with genuine menace in a spell which harked back to those great days at the start of the decade when he ran amok.
The others were the new guard, the ever-reliable Umar Gul whose brand of high speed Yorkers continue to make him such a devilish prospect in 20/20 cricket.
Then finally there is, arguably the star of the show, Mohammed Aamer. 18 years old, capable of bowling mid-90s with consistency and plenty of variation. He truly is a remarkable talent, and Rameez Raja rather scarily admitted he was better than Wasim Akram was at the same age.
Whether he can emulate the feats of Akram is another thing, but certainly the future for Pakistan cricket, and indeed fast bowling itself-looks in safe hands.
Finally, a week of extravagant pace bowling was rounded off with a more domestic feel as one young English pace bowler served notice that perhaps there may be genuine pace bowlers lurking within the County scene.
England’s bowling attack has plenty of talent, variety and skill, but in terms of fast bowling, they tend to stick more to the fast medium side. James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Graham Onions, Steven Finn and Ryan Sidebottom all touch 90mph but rarely ever exceed it. Even the top fast bowling prospects, Chris Woakes, James Harris and Nathan Buck are medium to medium fast at best.
Indeed, since the departures of Andrew Flintoff, Steve Harmison and Simon Jones, raw pace is the one thing lacking from England’s attack.
The alternatives, if you call them that, are hardly an inspiring bunch. The leading candidate-hence is rapid rise to England contention-is Ajmal Shahzad who is capable of firing down mid-90’s balls with a solid repeatable action. The only other genuine quick bowler is Sajid Mahmood-a bowler who shows little signs of improving on his early promise and adding accuracy to his speed.
Given the far from promising scene for English quick men, perhaps it’s comforting to see 22-year old fast bowler Maurice Chambers rip through Nottinghamshire with genuine speed.
10 wickets in any match is a remarkable feat, but doing so with pace bowling, menace and no little skill, is a wonderful sight. While talk of international honours maybe premature, a Lions call-up could be in the offing.
While in the grand context of this week’s events, Chambers feats mean little compared to those of Tait, Aamer and Akhtar, it simply capped a great week to be a pace bowler.