Fast bowling in cricket

I was reading about the large number of baseball pitchers who suffer serious elbow injuries that require something popularly known as Tommy John surgery so named after a famous pitcher. Something known as the ulnar collateral ligament in the elbow gets frayed, stretched, or torn during the pitching motion and has to be replaced. These injuries, along with rotator cuff injuries, can occur in even young children playing in Little League games.

Although fastball pitchers in baseball reach speeds that are the same as those of fast bowlers in cricket, these types of injuries are unknown in the latter game. This is because throwing is not allowed in cricket bowling. The ball has to be delivered with a straight (or almost straight) arm, eliminating the sudden jerk at the last moment that causes the problems. In order to generate high speeds with this straight-arm delivery, the bowler has to generate speed using his whole body and this requires them to have a long run up. Reflecting this difference, injuries to bowlers tend to be in the lower back, hamstring, knee, and ankle. These injuries tend to slowly develop and are rarely of the sudden, career-ending variety.

There is something particularly appealing about watching genuine fast bowlers in action in cricket. To bowl consistently at speeds close to 100 mph for long periods of time in hot weather is not easy. The truly great fast bowlers, those who had long careers at or near the top, usually had very graceful actions consisting of a smooth run up and a fluid delivery and follow through that minimized the wear and tear on their bodies.

My first exposure to a great fast bowler was as a young boy when the West Indies played an exhibition game against a Sri Lankan team, at a time when cricket teams would travel by ship and they would stop in Colombo because it was a convenient port of call. The great Wesley Hall would begin his run up near the boundary and charge up and deliver the ball at tremendous pace, no doubt terrifying the Sri Lankan batsmen who had no experience with dealing with such speed since this was long before they became a major force in cricket and they had no one at home capable of coming close to that speed. This was also in the days before protective padding and helmets, but no one got hurt because I suspect that the West Indians avoided bowling the dreaded bouncers in what was after all a friendly outing and they did not want to injure their hosts.

My big regret is that West Indian Malcolm Marshall, who is widely regarded as one of the greatest fast bowlers ever, reached the peak of his test career between 1983 and 1991, a time when I was in the US and unable to see cricket on TV or the internet and so I missed seeing him in action. He arrived on the scene towards the end of a period when West Indies seemed to have an inexhaustible supply of fearsome fast bowlers but even among that illustrious crowd, Marshall stood out.

But thanks to the internet, I can see bits of his performance and he has a truly beautiful action, usually bowling off a relatively short, angled run-up and generating fierce pace and bounce and swing despite the fact that he was not as tall as other fast bowlers.

Here he is in action against England in 1988 and you can see the smoothness of his delivery. The first commentary voice you hear is the inimitable Richie Benaud.

He died of colon cancer in 1999 at the young age of 41. Here are some highlights of Marshall’s career, along with tributes from some of the top batsmen who faced him.


  1. says

    There’s another major diference between cricket bowlers and baseball pitchers: how many there are on the field. There are (I’m told) usually five bowlers on the field at any one time, and they switch repeatedly thoughout the game to give each other a rest or to face specific batsmen. Cricket players, including bowlers, can be substituted for and later return to the same game, with restrictions.

    In baseball, however, a starting pitcher throws continuously for six or more innings. It is very unusual for another fielder to switch positions with the pitcher. Thus, a pitching change almost always means the pitcher leaves the game. A baseball player who leaves cannot return to the same the game, even if it goes beyond nine innings.

    Regarding Tommy John surgery, a far scarier and ludicrous mentality exists in Japan, the desire to see “monster” pitchers. MLB pitchers are usually pulled after a hundred pitches (60 and 80 in pre-season games), and younger kids in the US pitch far less than that. At some levels, there are strict pitch count limits and penalties for exceeding them But in Japan, teenage children are encouraged to throw hundreds of pitches. In 2013, a 16 year old named Tomohiro Anraku threw 772 over three days. That’s not “heroic”, it’s stupid and abusive.

    Surprisingly, Tomohiro wasn’t hurt and suffered no long term damage. He was drafted this past year and now plays professionally in Japan.

  2. lsamaknight says

    Regarding limitation on bowling in cricket.

    In the one-day format of the game, bowlers are specifically restricted to a maximum of ten overs each so to get the full fifty overs in a team needs at least five bowlers (more is possible but not required, though you could theoretically get away with fewer if the innings has been cut short due to rain). I’m fairly certain Twenty20 has a similar rule but I’m not sure what the exact number is.

    Regardless of the format of the game, no bowler bowls consecutive overs anyway. They’re constantly alternating between two different bowlers, bowling from opposite ends of the ground.

  3. Mano Singham says


    Twenty20 allows just four overs per bowler, again requiring a minimum of five bowlers to be used.

  4. Mano Singham says


    In cricket, any given bowler cannot bowl more than six consecutive deliveries (called an ‘over’). After that another bowler (who must be one of the eleven players on the field) must bowl the next over. The original bowler can then deliver another over and so on. In theory, it is possible for two bowlers to alternate like this throughout an inning but in practice each bowler is rested after a ‘spell’ of overs. Slow bowlers can usually bowl for much long spells than fast bowlers.

    In the limited over games, each bowler has a maximum number: 10 in the 50-over game and 4 in the 20-over game. But in the five-day Test matches there is no restriction on the number. A bowler, even a fast one, may be called upon to bowl over 30 overs (or 180 deliveries) in an inning. The most deliveries ever bowled in one inning was 588 (98 overs!), by Sonny Ramadhin of the West Indies. He was a slow bowler. I went down the list to try an identify the most bowled by a fast bowler but there were no clearly identifiable fast bowlers in that list that stopped at 420 deliveries or 70 overs. Such a high number would be hard on a fast bowler.

  5. fentex says

    I was a slightly quick bowler in my youth (best outing 5/22) playing for St. Albans in Christchurch (Richard Hadlee’s club -- bit of advice; don’t hit him to the boundary in a friendly game if you want it to stay friendly).

    I didn’t play enough to feel ill effects but I’ve a few friends who did. While I limp about because of the damage I did myself playing football those friends of mine who did a lot of bowling have sore backs I think I prefer my bad knees to -- at least when it gets bad enough they can replaced, not so much a spine.

  6. Mano Singham says


    You played with/against Richard Hadlee? In my opinion he was one of the best all-rounders in the game and a fearsome fast bowler. Must have been quite an experience!

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