I never thought I would be saying it – but they just were. I can remember at the age of about 12-13 going to the Adelaide Oval in the late 70’s, the start of the era of the Super quicks. The West Indies brought Andy Roberts and Michael Holding – Roberts at 95mph and Holding registering 100mph. Australia had Jeff Thomson,100+mph and Dennis Lillee 95mph.
After Australia amassed 418 in just 88 overs taking on the quicks, without helmuts and on a quick Adelaide Oval wicket, Sir Viv Richards and Roy Fredericks came out to bat and I swear the entire crowd chanted Lillee and Thomsons names as they ran in to bowl and were baying for West Indian blood. It was the most intimidating atmosphere I have ever witnessed on a sporting field and you coud feel the fear. The West Indian batters took on the Aussie quicks but could only muster just short of 300 in their first dig and eventually went on to lose the game on Day 5.
Now why is that in any way relevant to the test we have just seen at Adelaide? Well because only one man in that game was over 95mph and nasty and that was Mitchell Johnson. He was bowling to a group of batters all wearing helmets, chest protectors, arm guards, inner thigh pads and everyone of them in someway was ruffled or intimidated and to be fair I don’t even think he bowled that well.
The difference now is that from 1975-1995 every team had at least one 95mph+ bowler and the West Indies had at least 6 and dealing with super quicks on bouncy, quick wickets, was just part and parcel of test match cricket. In the absence of the protection now available, men had to overcome fear and then find a technique to score runs. Over rates weren’t a concern because there was something happening every ball – it was survival and it was as the name of the game suggests a “real test” and examination of every facet of you as a person and sportsman.
Not many people will know this but the BBC’s Jonathan Agnew toured Australia with England U19’s in 1978 and as an 18 yr old he was already bowling at 90+mph, a speed he rarely ever achieved again after sustaining a back injury, what a pity. I played against him in that series and he was then as quick as anyone we had ever seen from England. The point of the story is that everyone bowled quick. It was exciting, every small boy had a run up far longer than he needed and fast bowlers were both the heroes and the villains.
This is where I deviate from the former players, many of whom maintain that helmets have made the game less attractive and less scary. No they haven’t, its just their aren’t as many quick bowlers around now and that makes it less exciting. I don’t know why we have less fast bowlers. There just aren’t as many and that is why Mitch, is having it off currently. Our guys will learn again how to play fast bowling and right now there will be bowling machines wound up to 100mph for even the tailenders (let me tell you 100mph is not pleasant even when you know where its going) out in Perth and they will be working really, really hard to overcome this problem.
The main thing they need to realise is that when someone is bowling at 95mph+ in Australia there are so few balls that will actually hit the stumps. So for that reason there are so few balls you need to play and nothing wears out a fast bowler more than running in flat out and then seeing the ball harmlessly come to rest in the wicket keepers gloves 6o metres away. When I played Lancashire League cricket I came up against a nasty fast bowler called Ezra Moseley (Broke Graham Gooch’s hand) who really hated me and the mistake he made was he tried to hurt and intimidate me and not to bowl to get me out. Had he decided to bowl his 90+mph in swingers on the sub standard pitches on which we played there would have been little I could do but for him my wicket wasn’t enough – he wanted blood and he suffered because of it.
Sunil Gavaskar, who at 5ft 4inches, faced the very fastest and best the West Indies had to offer said that his pads were the most pointless bit of kit he possessed because nothing was ever going to hit him there, he needed them attached to his ribs. The Indian team once went to the West Indies and on a very poor Jamaican wicket declared 6 wickets down with 2 batters in hospital, 200 behind because Bishan Bedi the Indian captain deduced that both he and Chandrshekar were so poor at batting that not only would they be out quickly but they risked getting injured and India would be without their best two bowlers. It was the right call. In the second innings the Indians had four sent to hospital.
Quick bowling is part of the test and the true test of a batter is when he is examined at 95mph+. Now with all the technology available today can England prepare themselves in just 10 days to show a dam site more ability and resolve than they have shown so far – and I don’t mean the bowlers when they bat – I mean our batters. Problem is we only have 2 test batters when the going gets tough, Cooke and he is woefully out of nick and Bell. The other 4 are either lacking in technique or flat track bullies who cant occupy the crease when it gets tough. Kevin Pieterson’s amazing test record is testimony to how little quick bowling there has been for the last 6 years. So if that’s all we’ve got, we are in trouble and 8/11 about Australia to win in Perth is simply buying money.