The Aussie pacemen

THE Australian fast bowlers are a separate breed; aggressive and always at the batsmen.

K. SRIKKANTH

THE Australian fast bowlers are a separate breed; aggressive and always at the batsmen.

True, there have been some remarkable spinners from Australia over the years, from Tiger O' Reilly to Shane Warne, and now Stuart MacGill, who did play a major hand as Australia nailed the Test series at Bridgetown.

While Glenn McGrath is a relentless, pace bowling machine, Jason Gillespie, who is sharper than McGrath, sends down each delivery with tremendous commitment. -- Pic. CRAIG PRENTIS/GETTY IMAGES-

However, if we look back at the series in the Caribbean, it was the Aussie pacemen, on slow, unresponsive pitches, who dented the West Indians psychologically. If one takes into account the dry, hot conditions and slow wickets, the Aussie pace pack deserves a huge chuck of credit for its efforts.

Like the West Indians, the Australians have a great tradition in fast bowling. However, in general, the pace merchants from the Caribbean have relied more on their speed, while the Australians, on line and length and movement.

The Aussies hit the deck, and the movement coupled with bounce often sounds the death knell of the batsmen. There have been some genuinely quick bowlers too, who have turned out for Australia.

Jeff Thomson sent a shiver down many a spine in the 70s, when he was quite the quickest in the business. Now, we have Brett Lee, whose speed in the air makes him a distinct threat. I would also include the under-rated Rodney Hogg among the fastest Aussie bowlers.

We have seen Lee's ability to strike during Australia's current campaign in the Caribbean where his stinging yorkers often crashed through the defence of clueless batsmen.

However, along with Lee, we have Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie, who can be hostile if they choose to, but cleverly bowl within their limitations, making the batsmen play most deliveries, bringing about subtle variations in length and pace.

I have always been a great admirer of Dennis Lillee, probably the most complete paceman ever. This West Australian could do just about anything with the ball, so complete was his mastery over his skills.

If we go back further in Australia's cricket history, we would come across another great pace bowling figure in Ray Lindwall, who made a habit of running through sides. Then there was the formidable left-armer Alan Davidson, a bowler with a bagful of tricks.

When I began my career, Lillee was at the fag end of his career, but even in the evening of his cricketing life he showed glimpses of his astonishing ability. His wonderful run-up and action were followed by venomous deliveries, the leg-cutter being his most destructive weapon.

Lillee was certainly an inspirational figure and many followed his methods. I remember when I first faced the big Craig McDermott down under, during the mid-80s, he was a raw paceman, attempting to hustle batsmen out rather than working on them.

However, when I faced off with McDermott again, during the 91-92 series in Australia, he was a completely different bowler, who seamed the ball around, bowled an off-stump line, and whose short-pitched deliveries were extremely well-directed.

I am sure Lillee's career would have greatly influenced McDermott. For Lillee had begun as a tearaway fast bowler before being grounded by a serious back injury, that needed surgery.

Lillee made a sensational comeback when many felt he had sent down his last over in international cricket. And he emerged a different bowler too, cutting down on his pace, relying more on movement off the wicket, and displaying an ability to spot and exploit a batsman's weakness. Of course, Lillee could still be seriously quick on the odd occasion, but used his pace judiciously.

McDermott was no Lillee, but he followed the same principles. The Queenslander did play a huge role as Australia emerged from a period of slump in the mid-80s to become a world beating force again.

In this phase, Australia was well served too by Merv Hughes with his bustling kind of bowling and Bruce Reid, a fine left-arm paceman, whose career was, rather sadly, plagued by injuries.

Where McDermott left, McGrath took over. In fact, this New South Welshman slipped into the role of the pace bowling spearhead so effortlessly that Australia hardly missed McDermott, as many expected to.

Now McGrath is what I would call a pace bowling machine. Relentless, chipping away on or around the off-stump, his height enabling him to extract natural bounce, which, together with his precise away movement has made him lethal.

The fact that he is not genuinely quick does not make McGrath any less aggressive. But then, this is a commodity most Australian pacemen possess in buckets. McGrath might say words of anger on the field of play, but do not expect his unhappiness to distract him from his job — that is to eliminate batsmen.

Take for instance someone like Jason Gillespie. His has been a career that has been rocked by a variety of injuries, yet he comes steaming in, putting every ounce of his effort into his deliveries.

Gillespie is sharper than McGrath, and on occasions when his senior partner has been absent, has taken on the mantle of the No.1 man in the Australian pace ranks gleefully. He is among the most committed cricketers I have seen.

When you talk of commitment, Andy Bichel has plenty. He is a tireless worker, with the new or the old ball, seldom letting his captain down.

He may not be blessed with the skills of a McGrath or a Gillespie or the raw pace of Lee, but he is a whole-hearted performer, always willing to respond to a challenge.

In McGrath, Gillespie, Lee and Bichel, Australia has a wonderful pace combination of variety and skill. Importantly, the Aussie pacemen work as a team, enjoying each other's success.

They might be fiercely competing for a place, but this does not come in the way of camaraderie and team-spirit. They are mates before anything else.

Given the inherent reserve strength in Australian cricket, I would only expect the tradition in Australian pace bowling to continue. There will just be no respite for the batsmen.