As an 11-year-old I could imitate Frank 'Typhoon' Tyson's action, minus the blistering pace and the extraordinarily long run up; I only warmed to cross-country running a few years later.
Also read: Ex-Aussie pacer Jeff Thomson's fast and furious days
England's Frank Tyson in 1950s and Australia pacer Jeff Thomson in action against England in 1980. Pics/Getty Images
Typhoon decimated Australia in the 1954-55 Ashes series and where I had previously copied the actions of Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller in the backyard, Tyson suddenly captured my imagination. Talking to both Miller and Richie Benaud years later, they were adamant Tyson was the fastest bowler they'd seen.
In the mid-1950's Miller was asked to help a young Mosman (Sydney grade team) fast bowler with his action. After viewing three deliveries in the nets Miller wandered over to the young man and shook his hand; "Ahem, don't worry about being side on son," Keith offered, "you've got something not many bowlers have — terrifying pace. Good luck Gordon."
He was soon-to-be Australian fast bowler Gordon Rorke and after telling me the story, Miller added; "I only saw three men with that sort of pace — Rorke, Tyson and Jeff Thomson."
Ironic then in the week when Tyson passed away I got a phone call from Thommo who was in Mumbai. He's doing some coaching in the Indian city, the same one where Tyson also ran an academy for a number of years.
Thommo and Typhoon had blistering speed in common but they were vastly different characters. One speaks with a laconic Australian twang and a liberal sprinkling of colorful adjectives, while the other was a Durham University graduate whose articulate conversation hinted at elocution lessons and nights poring over the Oxford dictionary.
It's an unorthodox but inspirational choice to woo both to India to coach youngsters in the demanding task of fast bowling. The pace that Tyson and Thomson unleashed is inherent rather than learned but both have worthwhile views on the subject of fast bowling.
They both espoused commonsense in talking about fast bowling. When I asked Typhoon what was the most important ingredient, he replied; "You need to be a good athlete to bowl fast."
When someone asked Thommo to describe his action he painted the perfect picture; "Ah mate, I just shuffle up and go wang." Thommo certainly lived up to Tyson's image of a fast bowler; he was a tremendous athlete. He could run like the wind — he does everything at full tilt — and his unorthodox but extremely practical action was based on an approach he developed as a junior champion javelin thrower.
For his part, Tyson had to be an athlete to run as far as he did — think Michael Holding and then add a few paces — but he was also strong as a bull with broad shoulders and a barrel chest.
Need for speed
It's mystifying that no one since has been as lethal as those two tearaways. In the interim there have been plenty of good, really quick fast bowlers but no one has created such mayhem in a short space of time. If you compare Tyson's short career with Thomson's peak years — after his debut with a broken toe and before his busted shoulder — the statistics are eerily similar; Typhoon took 76 wickets at a strike rate of 45 and Thommo 78 at 46.
For the bulk of their careers Tyson and Thomson tormented batsmen who weren't wearing helmets. What the stats don't show is the broken fingers and toes and the battered psyches of batsmen who, if asked about their career choice, would've wondered why they didn't opt for life as a professional archer.
The fact that no Indian fast bowler has come close to emulating the devastation of Tyson and Thomson, suggests the entrepreneurs who enlisted their services are supreme optimists.
Perhaps those who engaged Dennis Lillee and Glenn McGrath as coaches are being more realistic in their
aspirations for Indian fast bowlers.
Nevertheless, you can't blame the former group for trying. Witnessing the damage — both actual and psychological — that Mitchell Johnson inflicted on the England batsmen who were wearing helmets and protective padding, it's plain to see the advantage to any team in possessing a bowler of genuine pace.