A life in the fast lane

A life in the fast lane

Cricket : A fast bowler needs to be fit and perform when conditions don't suit him, says Aussie great Thomson

A life in the fast lane

One of the fastest bowlers ever to have played the game of cricket, Jeff Thomson sent shivers down batsmen’s spine, a sight that “thrilled” him. The Sydney-born 65-year-old struck a wonderful association with his compatriot and another fast bowler Dennis Lillee to blow the opposition batsmen away with aggressive approach and fearsome pace.

Thomson finished with 200 scalps in 51 Tests and with 55 wickets in 50 ODIs but his reputation as one of the meanest bowlers of his time overwhelmed his statistics. In Bengaluru as part of the KSCA-IDBI Federal Life Insurance Bowling Foundation, the Aussie great took some time off his coaching schedule for a chat with Deccan Herald. Excerpts.

What did fast bowling mean to you?

Fast bowling for me was a definite thrill, being at the bowlers’ peak, frightening people… To physically beat (batsmen) when I was at my peak… I was too fast for their reaction. I mean you could see they couldn’t handle it. It was just good to be able to do that. It was awkward even for the best batsmen.

From your time to now, how has fast bowling transformed in terms of attitude and approach to the craft?

Nothing has changed about fast bowling, you still got to bowl. They get a bit more restricted at the moment because of the bouncer rule. But it doesn’t restrict me if I played now. I will test the rule a bit. You know what I mean… It might be a no-ball but it will still serve the purpose of scaring the guy. So yeah, that part of it has changed a bit.

Wickets change from time to time and I think the only thing that hasn’t really developed in cricket is the ball. The fast bowler has got the same ball since I was playing — 40 years ago to now. And sometimes the ball is not so good. Yes, just a few rule changes but fast bowling is fast bowling — same mentality, you got to be tough and it’s hard work if you are playing Test cricket. It’s not so hard if you play T20 cricket, you got only four overs though you got to be a bit wary obviously in T20. That’s the only changes I can see.

If you had to point out one important requirement to be a fast bowler what would that be?

To be a fast bowler you got to be fit, you got to be able to perform when things don’t suit you. Everybody can be good when things are easy. When you are playing well and the conditions don’t suit you, it’s when the team appreciates it. So it’s the performances when things aren’t right that’s more rewarding than when they are easy. I played the flattish wicket in Sydney because the curator wouldn’t make it quick enough for me. I got used to it and then when I got a better wicket, it was a picnic.

You struck a great partnership with Dannis Lillee, talk us through that association. Was there a sense of competition with him?

Of course there was (a sense competition). When I first played Dennis he didn’t know who I was and I was out there to show I didn’t care who he was! I was out there to show him that I was better. He appreciated that and when we got together it made it so much easier. And when we played, if he got a wicket, I wanted to get a wicket too; I didn’t want him to get all the wickets. I wanted to show I could do what he did and vice versa. So when you get two good guys together that sort of competition makes it easy for everybody. It was good to play with Dennis, you learned a lot of things.

Like two batsmen batting together, how important is it for the bowlers too to have good a relationship with each other to succeed?

It is important… Sometimes the batsman doesn’t suit you and you get him off-strike, so you got to work in pairs, you just can’t face it yourself. I will say ‘hey I will get that guy to your end and you get him out’… So it helps to communicate with unlike batters. If a batsman is struggling (against a bowler), you should get to the other end and other batsman should wear that bowler down. So you get through that bowler without losing a wicket but it doesn’t happen often, they just look after themselves. A bowler, on the other hand, wants to get the team out. I think the bowlers tend to work more together.

What’s your take on sledging?

I never sledged much, I don’t agree with that to a great deal. It’s usually the (fielding) batsmen who sledge. If you notice when you are out there, it’s always the batsmen or the wicketkeepers that do all the talking while the bowler worries about his bowling. You do see some bowlers say stuff but it’s usually the opposition batsmen having a go at opposition batsmen while fielding at close-in positions and yapping. I think it’s (sledging) a weakness because it’s a distraction. To me it would have been a distraction — you talk about what are going to do rather than doing it. Why don’t you just shut up and do it.

What’s it with modern day fast bowlers and frequent injuries?

I don’t know, I really don’t know because I don’t know of any injuries in our academy. I don’t really know what those guys have been doing and who is doing what. They do play a lot more cricket but I used to get away from cricket and play football. You can’t do that anymore. For players these days it’s only one sport, can’t have time to play two sports like I did. Cricket is a side-on game — you bat side-on, you bowl side-on… So you need to be even not to get injured. I think people need to work that out.

You once hid your injury to play…

You needed to get out there… In our days you didn’t get paid if you were not playing, so a lot of guys played with strains and all that. You just didn’t worry about that, you just got on with it whereas now, if you have a little injury, they don’t play because they get paid anyway.

We don’t see many express fast bowlers these days…

There are no express fast bowlers, there are only fast bowlers and that’s (after) looking at false radar reading. It’s totally different timing. I don’t know why there are no express fast bowlers, maybe because of the amount of cricket they play but it’s like Shane Warne; you don’t produce them every year or every five years or 10 years… If you are lucky, you might get one in 20 years or in 50 years. That’s how it happens, they don’t grow on trees. It’s like Usain Bolt, it’s like Tiger Woods. They don’t come every couple of years, if you are lucky maybe in a life-time.

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