By Faisal Caesar
Fast bowlers are a breed apart, which was best exemplified by the pacemen from the Caribbean. In the ‘50s and ‘60s West Indies hounded batsmen around the world with men like Wes Hall, Roy Gilchrist and Charlie Griffith. In the late ‘70s and the whole of ‘80s, the West Indian factory of pace bowling produced some breath-taking pacemen to send shivers down the batsmen’s spine with pace, bounce and guile. It was primarily due to the unrelenting terror struck by the high-quality fast bowlers that West Indies were such feared force in world cricket.
Clive Lloyd rotated four fast bowlers to ensure that there was no respite for the batsmen. Such was the quality of these fast bowlers that the nature of the wicket did not matter in asserting their authority. Though there was no stopping the West Indies fast bowling production line, but four men left a lasting mark in the history of the game - Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Joel Garner and Malcolm Marshall, the nuclear weapons on whose strength Clive Lloyd maintained the West Indies’ aura of invincibility.
Andy Roberts was first in the line of great modern West Indian fast bowlers. After the decline of Hall and Griffith, there was a vacuum which undermined the traditional West Indian strength. Then a fast bowler emerged from Antigua, unsung and unheard till he started getting wickets in plenty cracking skulls and messing up faces. Roberts announced his arrival on the world scene. He was the spearhead of the Caribbean pace attack who was genuinely quick and could swing or cut the ball either ways. He had two shades of bouncers – the traditional one and the other where he kept the bowling fingers across the seam which left the best batsmen guessing.
In his first Test series against the Australians in 1975-76, Michael Holding wept as many of his appeals were turned down. But Holding came back from Down Under a wiser man. And in the Test series against England in 1976, he annihilated the Englishmen with the kind of pace that the world had not seen in a very long time. On a flat track at The Oval, his pace, control and guile is now part of Test cricket’s folklore. Holding’s run-up was poetry in motion and his silky run-up was deceptive. Holding earned the sobriquet “Whispering Death” because of his ability to ‘kill’ batsmen with grace.
Joel Garner, an imposing figure at 6 feet, 8 inch and 17 stone, generated speed and yet was astonishingly accurate. Garner was able to generate steep bounce from good length by virtue of his great height to make life miserable for the batsmen. To compound agony, Garner had the most lethal of yorkers - swinging in with a distinct buzz and threatening to rip apart the toes. Garner was mostly a stock bowler who came in after Roberts or Holding or Marshall had done much of the damage.
By the ‘80s, Malcolm Marshall had developed into a lethal weapon and was hailed by many as the greatest fast bowlers in the history of cricket. He was not the stereotype fast bowler. For a West Indian fast bowler, he was just five feet ten inches. Again, he was even slender in comparison to the giants with whom he used to bowl. He generated speed with his rhythm, balance athleticism rather than strength. His run-up was not that long; it was sprint from the top of the top of his run-up culminating in a windmill kind of delivery action that made him astonishingly nippy in the air and off the wicket.
If Colin Croft wasn’t banned for touring the then apartheid South Africa, then the story of Malcolm Marshall may possibly not have been scripted.
These were Lloyd’s main weapon of terror who caused legalized mayhem around the world.
(Faisal Caesar is a doctor by profession whose dream of becoming a cricketer remained a dream. But his passion is very much alive and he translates that passion in writing about the game)