Jeff Thomson: 17 facts about one of the fastest bowlers in cricket history

Jeffrey Robert Thomson, born August 16, 1950, is a former Australian cricketer, widely regarded as one of the fastest bowlers of all-time. Known as ‘Thommo’, he happens to be one of the most interesting and colourful characters of the game. On his birthday, Suvajit Mustafi looks at 17 interesting facts about the bowler who had formed a fearsome fast bowling pair with the legendary Dennis Lillee.

1. Sling-shot action

thomo

Thomson had an unusual sling-shot bowling action. In fact, his father Don bowled with the similar action. Years later one of his sons, Matt, replicated that action. Don’s two other sons didn’t bowl much, but whenever they did, the action was similar to their father’s.

2. One of the fastest

Thomson is regarded by many as one the fastest bowler ever. In a fast bowling contest in 1978, he was pacier than Michael Holding and Imran Khan. Greg Chappell had in fact refused to bat against him. Timed using high-speed cameras in a Test in 1975, Thomson clocked 160.45 kmph. A year later, he clocked 160.58 kmph. Viv Richards, the best batsman of Thomson’s era, rates him as the fastest he has faced. Even Richie Benaud, in 2010, said that Thomson was the fastest bowler he had seen since England’s Frank Tyson.

3. Excess of 180 kmph?

Several cricketers of Thomson’s era claimed that he bowled at a speed in excess of 180 kmph. Wicketkeeper Rodney Marsh, who had to collect the thunderbolts behind the stumps, was one of the many who claimed so. 

4. School and Len Pascoe

Thomson attended the Condell Park Primary School and took up cricket there. From talking to girls to surfing to terrorising opposition team’s batsmen — his partner in crime was pacer Len Pascoe, then known as Lenny Durtanovich. Pascoe later went on to play 14 Tests and 29 One-Day Internationals (ODIs) for Australia. 

5. Passion for boats as a kid

Thomson always wanted a boat as a kid and as a toddler he always wanted toy boats. He loved his beach excursions and fishing. 

6. Cricket, soccer and the punch

In his early years, Thomson was equally good at cricket and soccer. He claims to have chosen cricket because it required less rigorous training than soccer. Once during a soccer competition, Thomson punched a referee as he was unhappy with several of his decisions as a result of which he was banned. 

7. Bowling to a 70-year-old Don Bradman

Thomson happens to be few of the living bowlers to bowl to the great Don Bradman. It was a rest day during a Test at Adelaide in 1978 and Thommo got the opportunity in backyard cricket. By his own admission, he thought, “I had just better bowl my leg-spinners as it wouldn’t look too good in the newspaper if I killed Don Bradman in a game of backyard cricket.” The 70-year-old Bradman faced him without any protection and smacked him. Thommo reckons that Bradman is the most remarkable batsman he bowled to. 

8. Encounter with gun-toting robbers

Thomson worked with Commonwealth Bank and once encountered robbers with guns. Unlike other bank managers, the speed king stayed calm. About the incident, he said, “The manager and the second officer and three others of us were there on a Friday afternoon so it was going to be drink time anyway. Then these idiots came in with guns. The only reason I wasn’t nervous was I was used to guns and we’d been shooting in the bush. Cops came from everywhere and I had to sign all these statements for the second officer and the boss — they were nervous wrecks.” 

9. First encounter with Dennis Lillee

Thomson was quite a character. When the first time he came across Dennis Lillee, he bounced him and sledged him. Despite his teammate Doug Walters’ warning, Thomson would only listen to himself. Later, the duo formed a lethal bowling pair — one of the greatest, fastest and most feared. 

10. ‘Ambassador to Sri Lanka’

In the World Cup 1975, Thomson once again proved his lethalness and this time against the minnows — Sri Lanka. Sunil Wettimuny and Duleep Mendis had launched a counterattack and this only infuriated Thomson who hit both the batsmen all over the body — targeting boots and ribcages. He sent both the batsmen to hospital. Wettimuny, hit on the boot was hobbling around in pain and Thommo famously said him, “Look mate, it’s [foot] not broken. But if you face up to the next ball, it bloody well will be broken!” After the match, Australian captain Ian Chappell introduced him as ‘The Ambassador to Sri Lanka.’ 

11. Concerned policeman, the Sri Lankans and Thomson

Mendis was absolutely bruised and battered after that innings. A policeman who had heard of the Thomson assault came to Mendis’ room the next day and asked him, “Do you want to press charges against Mr Jeff Thomson?” 

12. World Cup final 1975

Lillee and Thomson had almost won Australia the inaugural World Cup final with the bat as they weaved a 41-run tenth wicket stand. One of the interesting instances that took place during the partnership was a catch taken off a no ball. The crowd thought the game was over and they rushed on to the field and the batsmen kept running as many they could. When the normalcy was restored, the umpire said that they could get only two runs. An angry Thommo retorted, “Pig’s arse! We’ve been running up and down here all afternoon.” 

13. Mike Brearley’s famous words

England skipper Mike Brearley had once famously described Thomsons’ pace: “Broken marriages, conflicts of loyalty, the problems of everyday life fall away as one faces up to Thomson.” 

14. The famous wedding

Thomson, a charming personality himself, married the pretty model Cheryl Wilson. The wedding flowers were supplied by the legendary Ray Lindwall. 

15. Unaided but unfazed

The Australian national side had a tough time during the World Series Cricket (WSC), having lost the cream to the league. Thomson could not feature in WSC and was among the senior players who played in the national side and had to shoulder a lot of responsibility without enough support. He didn’t compromise on pace and aggression, and continued to be menacing. He helped Australia win a Test series against India in 1977-78, taking 22 wickets at 23.45. 

16. Thommo’s advice to cricketers

Here’s Thomson’s famous advice to all cricketers: “Never refuse a young boy an autograph for he might have an older sister!” 

17. Had planned a comeback at 42!

With Thomson, one expected the unexpected but on this occasion he had pushed the limits. In 1992, more than six years after his retirement from First-Class cricket, he was the coach of the Queensland side and often bowled in the nets. Carl Rackemann, Craig McDermott and Allan Border wanted him to make a comeback in First-Class cricket as they felt he was still the fastest around. He was 42 and wanted to make a point that fast bowlers do not have to burn out early. However that bid was foiled by the state selectors who revealed that he can’t play because of the side’s youth policy.

(Suvajit Mustafi consumes cricket for lunch, fiction for dinner and munches numerous other snacks throughout the day. Yes, a jack of several trades, all Suvajit dreamt of was being India’s World Cup winning skipper but ended up being a sports writer, author, screenwriter, director, copywriter, graphic designer, sports marketer, strategist, entrepreneur, philosopher and traveller. Donning so many hats, it’s cricket which gives him the ultimate high and where he finds solace. He can be followed at @RibsGully [Twitter] and rivu7 [Facebook].)