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.