Column | Formidable bowling pairs in Test cricket

James Anderson and Stuart Broad
James Anderson and Stuart Broad celebrate England's win in the fifth and final Ashes Test. File photo: AFP/Adrian Dennis

The retirement of Stuart Broad from international cricket was the most important event in cricket during the week that went by. This brings to an end a career that stretched for 17 years in the international arena out of which 16 were spent playing the longer duration version of the game. Broad was a self confessed lover of Test cricket as could be seen from the fact that he played 167 matches of this nature picking up 604 wickets, while his returns from One-Day Internationals (ODIs) and T20 Internationals stand at only 178 and 65 respectively. He was in his element when pitted against Australia and the Ashes series invariably brought the best out of him. His best figures as well as most of his five-wicket hauls came when pitted against the batsmen wearing the “baggy green”.

Giving Broad company during most part of his illustrious career was James Anderson, who is still going strong with 690 wickets to his credit in Tests. At 41, Anderson is a good four years older to Broad. The recently concluded Ashes series was not a good one for Anderson as he found wickets hard to come by but he has made it clear that he will not be calling it a day anytime in the near future. But it remains to be seen how long he can keep flogging his body to meet the demands of playing the game at the highest level. More important would be the  degree of his effectiveness when he is forced to take the field without his longtime partner operating at the other end.

Broad and Anderson played together in 138 Tests during a decade-and-a-half, wherein the combined tally of wickets picked up by them amount to a humungous 1038! In other words, in every Test they played together, they bagged, on an average, 7.53 scalps, which would make them the most successful bowling pair in the history of the game. Skeptics may point out that most of these matches were played in England, where conditions favour seam and swing bowling of the type Anderson specialises in and Broad feels completely at home. However, this does not take away credit from their monumental achievement, which included successful spells on foreign soil as well. 

This brings one to the interesting aspect of bowlers hunting in pairs. It is a well known and widely appreciated fact that a bowler is more effective as a wicket-taker when he is backed in this endeavour by a partner who complements his skills. Cricket is a game played as much in the mind as on the field and it is essential for bowlers to keep the pressure on batsmen in a sustained manner to force them to commit mistakes. This can happen only when the bowlers operating from the two ends not only possess the skillsets to dismiss batsmen but also understand and support each other. 

Cricket history is replete with instances of successful bowlers operating in pairs. The combination of Fred Trueman and Brian Statham of England is probably one of the first of its kind in Test cricket. Trueman was a tearaway fast bowler, fiery with the red cherry in hand, and projected aggression and menace in sufficient measure to create trepidations in the minds of the batsmen facing him. Statham, on the other hand, was a gentleman cricketer who bowled fast medium, seldom attempted a bouncer but was naggingly accurate. Trueman and Statham were studies in contrast, yet they complemented and supported each other. While Trueman picked up 307 wickets in 67 Tests, Statham had a haul of 252 scalps from 70 games. Together they spearheaded the England attack through the 1950s and helped their side attain the pole position in international cricket during this period.

Dennis Lillee
Dennis Lillee formed a deadly pace bowling combination with Jeff Thomson. File photo: AFP/Tony Ashby

The most popular fast bowling combination in public mind is the one forged between Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson of Australia during the 1970s. The duo played together only for a short span of time from 1974 till early 1977, after which Lillee went over to the World Series Cricket of Kerry Packer while Thomson sustained injuries to his bowling shoulder that adversely impacted his performance with the ball. Thomson was without doubt the fastest bowler of his times and had a deadly bouncer which he used liberally. Though Lillee started out as a fast bowler, he cut down on his pace following a serious injury to his spine and focused more on using the grey matter to dismiss batsmen. Both were aggressive, unconventional and loved a fight. It was only due to the bowling pair of Lillee and Thomson that Australia could lord over England and the West Indies, then two strong sides, by huge margins during this period.

It took the Indian pair of Erappalli Prasanna and Bishan Singh Bedi to show the world that spin bowlers could also operate in pairs. This duo came together in the third Test of the series against the West Indies in 1967 and and played together for the next four years. In the 22 Tests that India played during this period, they picked up a total of 193 wickets, with Prasanna bagging 117 of them while Bedi had 76 to his credit. The greatness of the achievement of this pair can be understood from the fact that 13 out of these  22 matches were played on foreign soil where pitches were not prepared to help spin bowlers. Prasanna being a right-arm off-spinner complemented Bedi’s left-arm spin though both were essentially attacking bowlers, who believed in flighting the ball and “buying” wickets. Prasanna was the master of the guile who would lure a batsman to his doom in the manner of a smiling assassin while Bedi was a craftsman who possessed all the weapons in the armory of a left-arm spinner, including a deadly arm ball.

The turn of the last century saw the emergence of a combination of pace and spin bowlers who jointly hunted the batsmen. Muttiah Muralitharan and Shane Warne would go down in history as the highest wicket-takers in the game, with the former ending with a tally of 1,347, which included 800 from Test matches alone. Warne did not lag far behind with a total of 1,001 wickets, out of which 708 came from Tests. Both were champion performers who could run through opposition sides on any surface. But neither would deny the fact that they were helped by the presence of a highly competent pace bowler who invariably produced a breakthrough that opened up the rest of the batting lineup for them to devour. Glen McGrath and Chaminda Vas were excellent bowlers in their own right and contributed substantially towards the success of their sides, though they had to remain in the shadows of Warne and Muaralitharan respectively for most part of their careers.

Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram
Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram terrorised the batsmen with their pace and swing. File photo: AFP/Dave Chan

There are many more instances of successful bowling combinations in cricket history. Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis entered the international arena as proteges of the legendary Imran Khan, who nursed them though the early phases of their career. Despite severe personal differences between them and the internecine rivalries that dogged their national side, they combined together on the field and terrorized opposite batsmen. At his best, Akram was easily the best left-arm fast bowler this game has seen while Waqar was not only fast but also possessed a toe-crushing yorker that rarely failed to rattle the stumps. 

Till the dawn of the current century, it appeared that the West Indies had a never-ending production line of top quality fast bowlers. Wes Hall formed a potent combination with Charlie Griffith during the 1960s, though there were whispers about the legitimacy of the action of the latter. The likes of Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Colin Croft, Joel Garner and Malcolm Marshall cannot be said to have hunted in pairs as they tended to descend on batsmen in packs! Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose were probably the last of the great fast bowlers to emerge from the Caribbean islands. They formed an awesome combination that helped the West Indies retain their stature in international cricket during the last decade of the 20th century.

Anderson and Broad belong to the genre of cricketers whose potency, efficiency and menace with the ball increased manifold while bowling in tandem. These are bowlers who complemented each other despite being intensely competitive. They collaborated and cooperated to use their contrasting bowling styles for wreaking havoc on the opposing teams. They suppressed the envy, jealousy and other differences which would have cropped up between any two highly successful sporting icons for a common cause and, in the process, rewarded themselves with better returns and brought laurels to their side. They also enriched the game immensely besides bringing joy to millions of followers of this sport across the world.

Let us await the arrival of many more successful pairs of bowlers to follow in the footsteps of these illustrious predecessors.

(The author is a former international cricket umpire and a senior bureaucrat)

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