Ryan Harris (left) and Graeme Swann have been the two best bowlers in the 2013 Ashes © Getty Images
By Bharath Ramaraj
Over the years, in some of the most wondrously titanic battles played between old enemies England and Australia, innumerable cricketers have beguiled, and bedazzled cricket-lovers with moments of near-impossible, soul-lifting masterpieces. It is all about looking to break well-defined boundaries and take their game to regal heights for the sake of their beloved country.
So, in this article, the writer tries to look at five bowlers who have enthralled the audience with their sizzling bowling performances in the just concluded Ashes series held in England.
5) Peter Siddle
The Victorian fast bowler, Peter Siddle, isn’t going to send the crowd into a tizzy by hooping the red-cherry around the corners or by bowling with scorching pace. The whole-hearted cricketer though, by marrying unfailingly resilient self-belief with energetic industrious stamina, just doesn’t give any respite for the batsman.
In the Ashes series, Siddle took 17 wickets. Statistically, his best performance came at Trent Bridge when he took eight wickets in the match. But it was at Old Trafford when he really captivated the imagination of cricket fans by snaring four wickets in the first innings on what was a good deck for batting.
The way Siddle bowled at Old Trafford rekindled the flames of passion of Merv Hughes, taking up the gauntlet of leading Australia’s pace-attack at Lord’s, two decades ago in the absence of injured McDermott. Even the willowy-master Kevin Pietersen wasn’t able to get on top of Siddle’s bowling at Old Trafford.
Peter Siddle perhaps wasn’t at his best at Durham and The Oval, as he took just one wicket in those two Tests. However, he has no doubt come a long way from the days when he was just an honest-trier. Nowadays, he relies on smartly using the crease to prey on the unsuspecting batsman. If not for anything else, he is a great advertisement for vegetarianism and bananaism.
4) Stuart Broad
The Nottinghamshire and England seamer, Stuart Broad, left an indelible mark on the series with a rich-haul of 22 wickets next to his name. The tall seamer isn’t one of those ultra-consistent bowlers who can churn-out fine performances day-in and day-out. However, when he is bowling with good rhythm, he can win matches single-handedly for his team.
In the fourth test match at the Riverside ground in Durham, Broad did something similar by taking a 11-wicket haul and helped England clinch the series 3-0. On a track that can be described as a seamer’s paradise, he extracted monstrous seam movement to floor the Australian batting line-up. When a bowler bowls crackerjack deliveries time and again, a batsman can only pray to god and hope for the best.
In the second innings of that fourth Test at Durham, he reserved his best for Australian skipper Michael Clarke. As the jaws dropped and eyes protruded in sheer disbelief, Broad produced a ripper of a delivery that angled-in, before it sharply changed direction to hit top of off-stump. Interestingly, until the fourth Test match, Broad had taken just six wickets in three Tests.
3) James Anderson
On expected lines, the Burnley Bullet and England’s spearhead, James Anderson, was able to deliver the goods in the Ashes series by taking 22 wickets. He was at his absolute best in the first Test at Trent Bridge, where he took a 10-wicket haul in the match. In fact, at Trent Bridge it was a complete bowling performance from England’s talismanic bowler.
At Trent Bridge, Anderson hooped the new ball around the corners, reversed the old ball and found appreciable seam movement too. His marathon 13-over spell on the final day will be etched in one’s memory forever. Finally, in his second spell just after lunch, he delivered the final nail in Australia’s coffin by snaring Haddin’s wicket with a well-disguised off-cutter. In short, it was a virtuoso performance of endurance and high skill.
If Anderson at Trent Bridge had the red ball seemingly on a string and it looked like he could do whatever he wished to do, he was below-par at Old Trafford and Durham. At Old Trafford, Anderson seemed to be overly bothered by the foot-holes. At Durham, he perhaps experimented too much. Those long and heart-stirring spells at Trent Bridge might have also taken the wind out of Anderson’s sails.
Anderson though, was able to wade through the marshes and swamps that came in his way and did well in the final Test at Oval. In recent years, it has been a joy to watch the transformation of Anderson from a young tyro to a street-smart bowler conquering lofty peaks.
2) Graeme Swann
With 26 wickets next to his name, England’s premier spinner, Graeme Swann, was arguably their most consistent bowler in the series. The old war-horse, Swann came into the limelight with a nine wicket haul in the second test at the well-manicured and hallowed turf of Lord’s cricket ground.
On a dry track and with Swann bowling into the rough to left-handed batsmen from around the wicket, he proved to be unstoppable. Even in the third Test at Old Trafford, Swann took a well-deserved five-for.
Swann isn’t your quintessential modern day off-spinner, as he doesn’t have the fancy doosra. But by bowling with exemplary control and his uncanny ability to bowl quicker through the air yet, generate sharp turn makes him a difficult proposition to handle. Here is a bowler who has reaped the rewards for keeping it simple.
1) Ryan Harris
With 24 wickets next to his name in just four Tests and that too at a highly impressive average of 19.58, Ryan Harris was rightly adjudged the Man of the Series for Australia. He consistently bowled incisive spells and troubled every English batsman. Harris, popularly known as ‘Rhino’, also assuaged the fears over his fitness problems by playing four Tests.
In all the Tests he played, Harris bowled with a great heart. At Lord’s, he took a five-for in the first innings. He teamed up with Siddle to keep the English batsmen on a tight-leash at Old Trafford. But it was at Durham when he touched that rarefied zone in terms of bowling.
In the fourth Test at Durham, with an eclectic mix of rip-snorting seaming deliveries and sharp bouncers, he was at his magisterial best. Poor Joe Root must have wondered whether he was hit by a 440-volt electric shock after he was cleaned up by a jaw-dropping delivery from Harris that angled in, before it seamed away sharply to take out his off-stump. Unfortunately for Harris, Australia’s batsmen couldn’t step up to the plate at Durham.
Harris has been more of a late developer, as until the 2007-08 Australian First-Class season, he wasn’t rated highly. But he has honed his skills and when fit, Harris is Australia’s best bowler going around.
Riding on the wings of their brilliance in the just concluded Ashes series, the likes of Harris, Swann, Anderson, Broad and Siddle would look to reach stratospheric levels of performance Down-Under.
Other bowlers like Tremlett, who resembles a giant from the fantasy land of Brobdingnag; the forgotten man of English cricket in Graham Onions; and Australia’s tearaway quick, James Pattinson, too would be itching to make a huge impression Down-Under. Interesting times lie ahead!
(Bharath Ramaraj, an MBA in marketing, eats, drinks and sleeps cricket. He has played at school and college-level, and now channelises his passion for the game by writing about it)