Frank Tyson    Getty Images
Frank Tyson Getty Images

Whether Frank Holmes Tyson, born June 6, 1930, was the fastest bowler of all time is debatable. What is beyond debate is the fact that he was very, very fast, the fastest of his era, and was feared by batsmen all around. His 76 wickets from 17 Tests came at an average of 19 and a strike rate of 45, both numbers being among the best in history. With 28 wickets from 5 Tests Tyson was Len Hutton s spearhead when England brought The Ashes back in 1954-55, all this while often reciting Shakespeare or Wordsworth on his way to the bowling mark. Unfortunately, just when he was set to conquer the world, injuries caught up with him, and flat tracks at Northampton did not help his cause. Abhishek Mukherjee recollects 20 facts about the man they called Typhoon.

Frank Tyson was not the first great fast bowler. Neither would he be the last. He was certainly not the only one who could wreak havoc with sheer pace, knocking batsmen and stumps at will.

But Frank Tyson was probably the only international cricketer to recite Wordsworth while walking back to the mark before doing all that. Or maybe quote Shakespeare to the batsman. It is not every day you get bowled by someone who would give you a send-off in Shelley.

Okay, I exaggerated the last bit, but you get the general message, though given his literary taste it was hardly surprising. Indeed, his bedtime reading on the historic tour of 1954-55 consisted of Wordsworth s Prelude and Chaucer s The Canterbury Tales.

Tyson faded out as abruptly as he rose into stardom, but not before he performed deeds, great deeds on the field. To begin with, Tyson claimed 76 wickets from 17 Tests, which is about 4.5 wickets a Test. If one puts a 75-wicket restriction on post-War bowlers, Tyson ranks first in both average (18.56) and fourth in strike rate (45.4). Additionally, he took 767 wickets at 21 and a strike rate of 50.

But then, towering over everything, there was the speed…

1. How quick was Tyson?

Both Don Bradman (one must remember he had faced Tyson s idol Harold Larwood, and had led Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller) and Richie Benaud thought Tyson was the fastest they had seen.

Fred Trueman thought Tyson was faster than him; the opinion was shared by Godfrey Evans, who gave Tyson the choice of ends ahead of Trueman in a Gentleman vs Players match.

EW Swanton wrote that Tyson was as fast as any man has ever bowled ; Tom Graveney, who stood at slip when Tyson bowled, used two words to describe Tyson s pace words that have been overused by commentators of the television generation: tracer bullets .

But how quick was he, really, compared to the later speedsters?

After the sensational Ashes win in 1954-55, the English visited New Zealand for the second leg of the tour. The researchers at Wellington Aeronautical College got curious, and strapped metal plates to a cricket ball. Tyson and Brian Statham were then asked to hurl the ball.

Both men were timed. Tyson s speed read 89 mph (143 kph), while Statham clocked 85 mph (137 kph). These numbers do not make sound astounding, but there was a catch the men were wearing two sweaters each, and bowled without run-up (Statham was even bowling in grey flannels ).

That, my dear reader, was quick more so if you consider that Tyson usually bowled off a 25-yard run-up. When he was at the top of his run-up, the distance between him and Keith Andrew, the regular Northamptonshire wicketkeeper, was estimated at 72 yards.

2. The matriarch

Frank Tyson s mother was no Martha Grace, but she played a role alright. Frank s father was a foreman-bleacher in Manchester, where the Tysons a family of four that also included his brother David lived together.

The problem arose in backyard cricket, for David was eight years older, and was not quite keen on playing cricket with his kid brother. So the mother had to leave her household work to bowl at her younger son, who would burst into tears if she left him to his old devices.

This continued till Frank found his first cricket opposition in a local boy called George.

3. Timber truth

Tyson went to Fleetwood Grammar School, and after a year, moved to Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, Middleton. His father insisted he had a college degree, more as a backup career option than anything else. So Tyson went to Hatfield College, Durham University, and got his BA on second attempt.

Tyson drew attention with his skills at school level, and played competitive cricket from a young age, under the tutelage of one Tom Heywood. Tyson was brilliantly stumped in his first match. There was nothing unusual in that, he thought, till he found out after the match that the wicketkeeper had a wooden leg!

4. Operator Keyboard and Cricketer

Tyson was too young for World War II, but joined The Army nevertheless when he came of age. He became an Operator Keyboard and Cipher (OKC), but seldom spent any time in the barracks (there were rumours that he hated firearms, and intentionally missed while taking aim at The Army).

Seven weeks passed by, and Tyson played as much cricket as he could, including five matches in five days for five different teams.

Then a Sergeant-Major came along, and asked Corporal Tyson exactly what he was doing in his squadron.

When Tyson responded he was a part of the squadron, the other man was genuinely surprised, for he had never seen Tyson since he joined.

5. May Day

Tyson never played a Test at Lord s. His first appearance at the ground was for The Army (against RAF) in 1949, and a fortnight later he turned out again, this time to play Royal Navy.

Batting at No. 4 for Navy was youngster of Charterhouse School, whom his coach George Geary had already marked as a future Test player. The boy, a Writer in the Navy, was no match for Tyson s pace. He got 5 runs before a scorcher pegged his off-stump back.

The scorer wrote down bowled FH Tyson against the name of Peter May. Over a decade later, Tyson would be ticked off by manager Freddie Brown for addressing May by his first name instead of calling him Skipper .

6. The Lancashire snub

Tyson rose through the ranks quickly, playing for Manchester Schools. He was even selected to play for Lancashire Second XI against Northumberland. Unfortunately, he was playing Yorkshire for The Army the day before the match, at York. The match got over, Tyson packed his bags, and left for York Station to find out there was a train strike.

It took Tyson several modes of transport 8 hours to traverse those 80 miles (129 km) from York to Manchester. He reached Manchester Station at 3 AM, walked 5 miles to his home (with the kit on his shoulder), and fell asleep.

He turned up at Old Trafford 10 minutes late, but was in the line-up. Brought on first-change, Tyson pulled a muscle after bowling 5 wicketless overs and hobbled out of the ground.

He did not get a Lancashire contract, which, in hindsight, turned out to be detrimental for both Tyson and the Red Roses. While Lancashire lost the perfect man to partner Statham, Tyson spent a career languishing on docile tracks of Northamptonshire (they called them cabbage patches ) a team placed in the lower half of the table and often happy to get away with draws. It did not help that Northants often went in with an army of spinners, and used Tyson as a stock bowler.

7. The sorry tale of Jakeman

Tyson made his First-Class debut in 1952, against the touring Indians, who had already been tormented by Fred Trueman and Alec Bedser in the Test. Facing him was Pankaj Roy, whose scores in the series read 19, 0, 35, 0, 0, 0 at that point (he would score a golden duck in his only other innings, making it 5 ducks in 7 innings in the series and 4 on the trot).

The first two balls passed outside off. Then Tyson decided to let one rip. The third, pitched on off, was too quick for Roy, despite the fact that he had already faced Trueman several times in the series.

The ball flew to Fred Jakeman in the slip cordon. Unfortunately, poor Jakeman, used to mere mortals, had stood five yards too close and had no time to react. The ball made a crunching sound as it hit his kneecap.

He stood back five yards to Tyson since that day.

8. Tyson goes sight-screening

Did Lancashire matches add a yard or two to Tyson s pace? Alas, we will never know, but one must go back to the Old Trafford match of 1953. The distance between wicketkeeper Francis Parr and the batsman was considerably more than that between the two sets of stumps as Tyson steamed in. On smaller grounds Parr might have been manning the fence with the big gloves on.

Note: Roy Tattersall (who was playing for Lancashire that day) erroneously recalled Andrew as the wicketkeeper.

The ball pitched once, soared over Parr s head and thudded into the sightscreen. This had been achieved by only Charles Kortright till then.

9. Edrich retires, Compton backs out

By the time 1954 arrived, Tyson was already a Test prospect. However, it was the Middlesex match at Lord s that catapulted him into stardom. He began with a whirlwind 60 not out, helping Northants reach 409.

Middlesex captain Bill Edrich walked out at 13 for 1. He got a solitary run before Tyson let one loose. Edrich went for the hook, but Tyson was too quick. Edrich fell, unconscious, his cheekbone shattered.

Denis Compton, next on the list, was taken aback, and sent poor Peter Delisle in: Cor, just think how fast he will be at Sydney! Sorry, Peter, I m not ready; you have to go in.

A month later he made his Test debut, against Pakistan, taking 4 for 35 (3 bowled, 1 caught-behind) and 1 for 22. He was ready for Down Under.

10. Ashes 1954-55 Part 1: The Gabba

Tyson did not start off on a high as England lost by an innings and plenty. His figures read 1 for 160 bowling off a 38-yard (!) run-up, but his pace was evident as he hit Arthur Morris and Neil Harvey all over. He also hit his Test best of 37 not out.

But more significantly, he peppered Lindwall with bouncers. It was the beginning of a chain of events that would decide the fate of the urn.

11. Ashes 1954-55 Part 2: SCG

Tyson took 4 for 45 (bowling off a shorter run-up on the advice of Alf Gover) as Australia were bowled out for 228, but with Bailey also taking 4 for 59, the spell went unnoticed. More importantly, Australia had secured a 74-run lead.

But there was that one a steep one that climbed Harvey, flew off his bat, and went to Colin Cowdrey. And once again, he bounced Lindwall ( I would soon show him who was the boss , wrote Tyson in his autobiography).

This was no less than war. When Tyson walked out, Lindwall bounced, and Tyson ducked. Unfortunately, as he ducked, he instinctively turned his back towards Lindwall, and the ball smashed on to the back of the skull.

Tyson collapsed on the pitch, and was carried off for an X-ray, with faint recollections of non-striker Edrich exclaiming My God, Lindy, you ve killed him!

Australia s target was 223. At stumps on Day Four they reached 72 for 2, Tyson returning in time to take out Les Favell.

Then Tyson unleashed a brace of yorkers, too quick for Jim Burke and Graeme Hole: both crashed on to the stumps. Then he took a tumbling catch at square-leg to send Benaud back. And after lunch he knocked back Ron Archer s off-stump.

With Alan Davidson also falling, out walked Lindwall; Tyson had his revenge, bowling him with another yorker. And though Harvey and Bill Johnston scared the tourists with a 39-run last-wicket stand, Tyson rounded things off by having the latter caught-behind.

12. The Ashes 1954-55 Part 3: MCG

There was no stopping Tyson from there. Cowdrey held fort at MCG, scoring 102 out of England s 191. Tyson took 2 for 68 as Australia led by 40. This time England set them 240. Tyson had Morris caught at short-leg; Favell fell to Bob Appleyard; but Benaud and Harvey stood firm, and Australia finished Day Four on 75 for 2.

The next morning saw Tyson at his fastest. Evans started the day by converting a leg-glance from Harvey to a spectacular catch, but after that it was all Tyson. Benaud fell to a bouncer, trying to hook and bottom-edging it to the stumps.

Then Tyson unleashed what he called the fastest ball I ever bowled . It hurried on to Miller s blade, took the edge, and Hutton took a leaping catch at slip. Len Maddocks was bowled by a yorker. Lindwall, playing across the line, was trapped leg-before.

With Statham taking out two wickets at the other end, Tyson needed only one more, and he achieved that by having Johnston caught-behind. Australia collapsed to 111.

Tyson s 7 for 27 (6 for 16 from 6.3 eight-ball overs the fifth morning) won him accolades from media, fans, teammates and opposition. However, it also earned him the wrath of MCG caterers, for Tyson wrapped up the Australian innings before lunch!

13. The Ashes 1954-55 Part 4: Adelaide and SCG

Tyson had match figures of 6 for 122 at Adelaide (England won by 5 wickets, thus retaining The Ashes) and 2 for 66 on a turner at SCG (Australia needed 32 to save innings defeat with 4 wickets in hand when stumps were drawn).

He took 28 wickets in the series. It was the only time England would win The Ashes in Australia between 1932-33 and 1970-71.

14. The Ashes 1954-55 Part 5: The other Melbourne match

It was at Melbourne on this tour that Tyson met Ursula Miels, a fashion salesgirl six years younger to him, at a party at Ursula s place. They met again when Ursula went on a private nine-month trip of Europe in 1956.

The Age (Melbourne) of March 8, 1957 reported that Tyson had sent Ursula a ruby, in a cluster of diamonds, ring from South Africa. They got married on November 22 that year, and parented three children, Philip, Sara, and Anna. They also had three grandchildren.

15. The Ashes 1954-55 Part 6: The Calypso

To round off the fairytale saga, Trinidadian Calypsonian Aldwyn Roberts aka Lord Kitchener released a single, Tyson taught them a lesson that can t be forgotten.

16. Hutton s prediction

On the second leg of the tour, Tyson took 3 for 23 and 4 for 16 at Dunedin, and England won by 8 wickets. In the second Test at Eden Park, Tyson took 2 for 41 in New Zealand s innings of 200, but the hosts hit back; Tyson joined Hutton at 164 for 7.

Hutton greeted him with the words stick around for a while, Frank, we may not have to bat again. Stick around he did, for an hour and a half, adding 37 with Hutton, 17 with Appleyard, and 28 with Statham. He remained unbeaten on 27.

England led by 46. New Zealand were bowled out for 26 (Tyson 2 for 10), still the lowest Test score.

17. Wrath of (fermented) grapes

It is well-known that John Arlott was a wine connoisseur. Whether that played a role in his theory that Tyson bowled fast after a night involving substantial red wine is not known, but Tyson admitted that Arlott requested him the same in the Trent Bridge Test of 1955.

England had scored 334. South Africa had followed-on after folding for 181, but were 46 without loss at stumps on Day Three with Jackie McGlew and debutant Trevor Goddard batting serenely.

Then Tyson took over on the fourth morning. From 78 without loss (and 101 for 2) South Africa collapsed to 148, Tyson taking 6 for 28 (4 bowled). This included a burst of 5 for 5 in 7 overs.

18. Peter and Repeater

Astonishingly, two other fast bowlers dared to bounce Tyson despite the Lindwall incident. One of them was Peter Heine, in the Old Trafford Test of 1955 (which was also Bedser s last Test).

Tyson played only one Test that summer, and did not find a chance to get back at Heine. He finally got his opportunity in the Scarborough Festival match.

Tyson was in no mood to relent, but Heine had other ideas. Tyson unleashed the fastest bouncer he could muster, but he had probably not noticed Heine, who had already moved towards the leg-umpire. It ended in a laugh.

Peter Loader (the first to take a Test hat-trick after The Wars) was not as fortunate. To quote Tyson, I shall never forget his [Loader s] pale appearance when he came to the wicket … and how his set expression went slowly green when the retaliatory bumper hit his bat handle right in front of his eyes!

19. Only the faintest shadow or no shadow

A year after all this took place, Tyson was breathing fire down the necks of a group of hapless Essex batsmen at Peterborough. He had already taken out Doug Insole and Bailey (both bowled). Geoff Smith had to be stretchered out, LBW off the first ball of an over, after his kneecap was shifted out of alignment.

Now Barry Knight walked out. Tyson had five balls at him. There were two bouncers, a beamer, and two that whooshed past him, one outside off, the other outside leg. There was nothing unusual in batsmen being beaten barring the fact that Knight turned and looked, afterwards. When the five balls were flying at him he could make out only the faintest shadow or no shadow.

20. Aftermath

Tyson followed his idol Larwood s footsteps and settled down in Australia after retirement in 1960. He taught English, French, and history in Carey Baptist Grammar School, Melbourne, and was later promoted to Head of Languages.

He coached University of Melbourne CC before being appointed Director of Coaching by Victorian Cricket Association. Victoria won Sheffield Shield twice during Tyson s tenure. He also worked at the Indian National Cricket Academy and for Mumbai Cricket Association.

He wrote for Empire News, Manchester Evening News, London Observer, The Daily Telegraph, The Age (Melbourne), and The Cricketer International. He also worked as a commentator, working at ABC for 26 years and Channel Nine for seven years.

He penned at least 20 books, some authored, some co-authored. While his autobiography A Typhoon Called Tyson is considered among the best written by a cricketer, The Test Within: Talent and Temperament in 22 Cricketers provides superb analytical insights.

He settled down in Queensland s Gold Coast, and made oil paintings of cricketers and cricket grounds. He passed away at 85.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor at CricketCountry and CricLife. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)