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Saturday, 13 April, 2002, 11:30 GMT 12:30 UK
Fire fight gets hotter
Brett Lee and Shoaib Akhtar
Brett Lee and Shoaib Akhtar are the world's fastest
As Shoaib Akhtar takes a step closer to the 100mph mark, BBC Sport Online looks at the allure of knowing you are the fastest bowler in the world.

Batsmen were always supposed to be the glamour boys of the cricket world.

The stars of the past - Fry and Compton, Trumper and Bradman - were all wielders of willow rather than leather.

And the sight of ball clearing boundary rope is still guaranteed to get the crowds excited.

  Fastest bowlers
99.8 mph, Jeff Thomson (Aus), special study*, 1976
99.1 mph, Shoaib Akhtar (Pak), v SL, Sharjah, 2001/02
98.4 mph, Brett Lee (Aus), v SA, Cape Town, 2001/02
97.8 mph, Andy Roberts (WI), special study*, 1976
96.0 mph, Nantie Hayward (SA, v Ind, Bloemfontein, 2001/02
95.1 mph, Waqar Younis (Pak), v SA, 1993
* Thomson and Roberts were measured in controlled conditions with high-speed cameras
Source: CricInfo
But since the 1970s, the most admired men on the field of play have been fast bowlers.

The West Indian pace quartets of the 1970s and '80s, and the two-pronged blitz of Jeff Thomson and Dennis Lillee, made children want to grow up to bowl as fast as they possibly could.

Shane Warne did his bit to stop that when he emerged onto the Test scene, bamboozling batsmen with his vicious leg-spin.

But the emergence of two firebrands in particular has turned the spotlight back on the men with the long run-ups.

Head-to-head

Since Brett Lee took his international bow in early 1999, with Shoaib Akhtar fighting his way out of a chucking controversy in Australia, these two have vied for the title of world's fastest bowler.

Both have suffered set-backs - Lee was cleared of chucking two years ago, while Shoaib has been called continually but hopes the latest clearance will be the last needed.

Shoaib Akhtar
Shoaib came within 0.9mph of the magic milestone
And no fast bowler's career would be completed without injury trouble - Shoaib has suffered groin trouble and stomach problems while Lee struggled to return from elbow surgery last year.

But right now both are bowling at their best, and a spectacular youngster is making his presence felt.

For just over a month, Lee was king, after he was recorded at 98.4 mph - the fastest ever recorded with an on-pitch speed gun - in the secodn Test against South Africa.

But Shoaib struck back on Friday, with a delivery measured at 159.5 kph (99.1 mph) in the losing effort to Sri Lanka in Sharjah.

Shoaib's previous fastest delivery was recorded in a match against Lee, when he was clocked at 98.2 mph in a one-day international in Cardiff last June.

Breathing down Shoaib's neck is team-mate Muhammed Sami, who already has two international hat-tricks to his name.

Before technology

As the success of older, wiser - and slower - bowlers like Glenn McGrath and Shaun Pollock shows, there is much more to being a successful bowler than simply out-gunning a batsman.

But, while crowds may not be able to understand movement off the pitch or variations in delivery, they will always be able to spot the read-out from the radar gun on the boundary edge.

Frank Tyson
Typhoon Tyson was never clocked on the field
Both Lee and Shoaib have expressed their wish to pass the magic 100mph mark.

But they will first have to pass the record 99.8 mph, set by Thompson in a wind tunnel in 1976.

And they will have to do enough to convince the older generation that the heroes of the past - the men who bowled before technology was available - were not faster than the current crop.

Perhaps the first example of bowlers' speeds being measured was in Wellington, New Zealand, in 1955, when English opening pair Frank Tyson and Brian Statham were clocked at just under 90mph.

"A metal plate was attached to a ball, which was then bowled through a sonic beam," Tyson said.

"It produced a whistle, which was measured and then the speed was worked out according to the distance covered and the length of the whistle."

But the similarity between the tests and real bowling conditions was far further from that enjoyed by Lee and Shoaib.

"We bowled in two or three sweaters," recalled Tyson, "and I cannot vouch for the length of our run-ups."

See also:

09 Jun 01 |  NatWest Series
Speed men suffer rough ride
02 May 01 |  England v Pakistan
Sami's quick to impress
Links to more Cricket stories are at the foot of the page.

 

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