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Curtly Ambrose Vs Dennis Lille Vs Wasim Akram
Yes, as the title suggests this is a three way comparison to decide the greatest fast bowler the world has ever seen. I would like to clarify at the outset that if it were not for the concern about the length of the article I would include a few more bowlers in the list for comparison. This includes Michael Holding, Malcolm Marshall, Fred Truman, Alan Donald etc. There are some bowlers who were as good as these three but who do not qualify as fast bowlers, for example, Richard Hadley. India produced a great medium fast bowler in Kapildev. He used to say that the only thing he lacked in his repertoire was real speed. I mean real speed when I say fast bowler, meaning the bowler can consistently bowl over 143 km (90 miles)/hour. There’s nothing like real pace to boost your bowling aspirations. The world has seen many good bowlers who were not penetrating enough when needed because they did not have the pace to destroy the opposition enough times.
Big Curtly Ambrose was the most powerful fast bowler I ever saw. He could tear the heart out of your batting line-up with a variety of arsenal that is unmatched in the history of cricket. The initial impression anyone had when watching Ambrose for the first time was that this guy meant to bounce. On the green peaks of Kingston, he would be by your side all the time. But that wasn’t always the case with Ambrose. See videos of his golden years and you can see a clever bowler changing his length, controlling the amount of bounce to get the ball swinging in and out of the batsman’s foxes. This doesn’t mean he couldn’t get the bounce. You can rest assured that he could bend his back when needed and chin music could be heard loud and clear. That unbelievable period at the WACA against Australia when he took 7 wickets for 1 run shows the man’s talent in its brilliance. The iorgons, in swinging deliveries, The steep leg-cutters bounced; it was all there to see. He is 6 feet 6 inches tall which naturally forced the batsman’s mind to move on his back foot. He would see this as clever and change the way he would deliver the ball to a bit slower when swinging a delivery not bouncing over the top of the stumps and getting the batsman trapped LBW. However, he was lucky to find a clever patient and partner on the other end in Courtney Walsh who could still plug away day after day and was a mean customer in her own right. Correct, unplayable and only unstoppable when in the form that was Sir Curtly Ambrose! A bowler that every captain dreams of and the sheer ability to run through the opposition while defending a small score was a nightmare for the opposition. He seemed to specialize in bowling opponents in low-scoring affairs.
Dennis Lille was a tough, mean and aggressive fast bowler. When the history of fast bowling is written it will start and end with Lille. Absolutely perfect fast bowler! When you talk about Australian cricket a discussion of sledding is not too far away and Lille was a Ph.D. in it. This also means several events against opponents. The one against Javed Miandad immediately springs to mind and there were many others. He said in one of his interviews that he is ready to die on the field to get your wicket. That pretty much sums up his approach. However, unfortunately, he is remembered more for his antics on the field than the many brilliant displays of fast bowling he produced. For every Australian winning the Ashes is the main goal. And England has suffered a lot from Lille in this effort. Once they decided to prepare tame wickets for Australia on their visit to the UK, thinking that this will give them a chance against the great bowler who was backed up by another bowler even quicker and more troubled o’ the name Jeff Thompson. But it didn’t quite happen as Lille dropped their pace a bit, focused on bowling cutters who moved both ways and once again cut the UK innings in half by taking fivers in both innings to win the match for Australia. The West Indies team in the 70’s under Clive Lloyd was considered one of the best teams of all time with many great players. But this team suffered a humiliating 1-5 defeat in a test series in 1976 while playing for the Frank Worrel trophy. The main destroyers were Lille and Thompson. This duo is also considered as the greatest fast bowling pair of all time. The worst part from the batting point of view was that he could bowl long spells too and just be with you all the time without any break. Lille was established during this period where the wicketkeeper supported the great bowler to secure the victories. There used to be great discussions among Brits about how to tackle the speed duo of Lille and Thompson and the famous joke made in circles at that time. An old woman listening to the discussions asked how England’s batsmen could be traumatized by a woman called Lillian Thompson. He had to suffer many injuries which threatened his career at one point. But thanks to the vigorous rejuvenating programs, he revived his career and came out more determined, albeit, a little slower in terms of speed.
I first saw Wasim Akram in 1985 in Australia in the Benson Hedges Cup which India won by the way. There was very little first class infrastructure in Pakistan at that time and the Pak captains and senior players mostly used to pick up the talented cricketers from the nets. Javed Miandad had picked this lanky, awkward left-arm pacer and my first reaction was what kind of bowling is that? But one thing that was clearly evident was that he was an awkward customer from the batsman’s point of view. Similar to the two stalwarts discussed above he was versatile. He could bowl six different balls in an over without changing his expression. He was called the sultan of swing. A real master! Not only were his yorkers and dips effective but they were delivered with such precision that the clean bowling batsman left the crease with an air of disbelief on his face. How on earth could the distribution swing like that and so late? This was the time when the world was becoming aware of back swing. Wasim was also the best batsman out of these three and he was a real batsman. He was instrumental in Pakistan’s first world cup win in 1992. He literally carried Pakistan’s bowling on his shoulders with injured fast bowling partner Waqar Younus and former mainstay Imran Khan. The short period before the crease and busy bowling gave batsmen no time to react. To top it off the delivery itself was late swinging and fast bowling. If you didn’t have the technique to face such hostile swing bowling you were almost dead as K Srikant found out on India’s tour of Pakistan in 1989-1990. He was the best one-day international bowler of all time in my opinion because of his ability to quickly restrict the batting team within a few overs. He took 23 four wickets in ODI cricket. He also took 4 hat-tricks in international cricket 2 in tests and 2 in ODIs. He also has a Test match double hundred to his credit. A stunning talent and one of the best bowlers the world has ever seen.
Now for my opinion who is the greatest fast bowler of them all? In ODIs, I think Wasim Akram is the clear unification number without any competition. In tests, I will go with Curtly Ambrose and Dennis Lille as combined number 1. I can’t say which one was better and who I will choose in my team. They bowled at different times and were great bowlers in every way. One talked a lot and the other not much, that’s probably the only obvious difference. But scary bowlers all the same! Wasim Akram will be a close third in tests in my opinion.
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