Pace proves the key in a great week for the fast bowlers

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.

100mph......nuff said

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.

The Future of Fast Bowling?

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.

That rare thing: Young, English and quick

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.

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Shaun Tait’s return provides a welcome boost for Ricky Ponting and Australia

So near and yet so far, one wicket, one ball, one chance was all that Australia needed to put this one day series back in the balance. Yet now, they must reflect on another defeat, and for the first time since 2007, a one day series defeat to England.

Whereas the previous two games had been strolls in the park for England, with a weakened Australian bowling attack lacking significant fire power to worry English batsmen, this game was much closer as Australia’s attack had a cutting edge which had been sorely missing.

The key was Shaun Tait, making his first appearance in the one day team since February 2009 after a variety of injury and off-field problems.

While he was only capable of performing in two-over spells, his speeds-at times touching 97 miles per hour-were remarkable, and so for once was his accuracy, with his penchant for spraying the ball all over the place forgotten.

His first ball-a jaffer to Craig Kieswetter-set the tone, before he later added the wickets of Kevin Pietersen and Michael Yardy to mark a successful return, though not ultimately for his team.

His captain Ricky Ponting said: “It’s really encouraging to have him back in the side and it’s always exciting when you’ve got someone who can bowl like that.

“Having someone like that, who’s got that firepower and that bit of unpredictability in your team, is always nice to have. I thought that with the exception of a couple of wides that he bowled today, everything else was very, very good. It was a welcome return for Shaun.”

Certainly, Ponting and his team will have welcomed any silver lining they could have taken from this series.

There are plenty of concerns regarding their batting line-up, specifically the inability to post significant scores, while the reliance on Nathan Hauritz and the inexperienced Steven Smith as the sole spin options with a sub-continent World Cup looming is a worry.

But the sight of Shaun Tait, running in hard and getting wickets is certainly a welcome boost-and potentially a significant one. After a series which has so far been pretty gloomy for the tourists, Australia may just have a reason to be cheerful.