Frank “Typhoon” Tyson was regarded by many observers as one of the fastest bowlers of his generation. Indeed, some rate him the fastest ever. He played only 17 Tests for England but took 76 wickets at an average of 18.56. He also took 525 wickets in 170 matches for Northamptonshire (average 20.94), but his whiplash bowling action took a heavy physical toll and he was forced to retire at the age of 30.
He was born in Farnworth, near Bolton; his father worked for a bleach company. He went to grammar school and graduated in English Literature from Durham University – his later reading on tour would include Chaucer, Woolf and Shaw, and the story is told, possibly apocryphally, that his version of sledging consisted of quoting Wordsworth to opposing batsmen: “For still, the more he works, the more do his weak ankles swell”.
He did his National Service in the Royal Corps of Signals as a keyboard operator – he also played plenty of cricket at various Army levels. His grounding took in club cricket, with Middleton in Lancashire and Knypersley in Staffordshire. He also bowled to Len Hutton in pre-season warm-up game at Redcar: “Who the hell's this?” his future England captain wondered aloud after the first over.
After being turned down by Lancashire Tyson joined Northamptonshire, having to wait a year to qualify by residency. He made his debut in 1952 and his mark – emphatically – the following year, when he knocked the touring Australians all round Northampton's County Ground. His first exposure to Test-standard cricketers had come against the Indian tourists: after his first ball they immediately moved the slips back five yards.
In 1954 came his national call-up: he believed he got his chance when two former England captains, Gubby Allen and Norman Yardley, saw him break Bill Edrich's cheekbone at Lords following a mistimed response to a typically penetrating Tyson delivery. His England debut came against Pakistan at the Oval, where he took 4 for 35 and 1 for 22, and the day after he was awarded his county cap he was picked for the winter Ashes tour to Australia – at the expense of Fred Trueman, who was controversially left at home.
Had Tyson proceeded to underperform the controversy would have reignited. But he was in his pomp, and he took 28 wickets at an average of 20.82 to propel England to a 3-1 series win.
He began slowly in the series, taking only one wicket in the first Test, in Brisbane, which England lost by an innings. “We went back to our hotel, and Len [Hutton] called for champagne all round,” he recalled. “'Don't worry,' he told us all, 'we may have lost this Test match, but we're going to beat them. This is the first time I've ever been with an English side where we have the quicker bowlers.'”
Tyson's deeds backed up Hutton's words, and he claimed 10 wickets in the second Test, in Sydney – a 38-run England victory – and then 7 for 27 in the third, at Melbourne, which England won by 128 runs. Australia's captain, Richie Benaud, a peerless cricketing judge, said Tyson's bowling in the final Test was the fastest he had ever seen. It was a judgement seconded by the greatest batsman the game has ever seen, Don Bradman.
Tyson's cricketing brain was seen at its best in the second Test, when he was felled by a short-pitched revenge delivery from Ray Lindwall, who he had bowled for a duck in the first innings. He left the field with a large bump on his head – but his revenge was more deftly taken than Lindwall's.
Knowing that the Aussies would expect a barrage of bouncers to come their way when it was Tyson's turn to bowl again, he sent down a series of controlled but venomous full-length deliveries that caught them unprepared and left their stumps redistributed around the pitch. For years afterwards, Lindwall's teammates ribbed him that Australia would have won the Ashes if only he had not hit Tyson on the head.
Tyson played only 11 more Tests, though: while his cricketing brain remained as keen as ever, his body couldn't cope with what he called his “glad animal action”. He retired in 1960 with 767 first class wickets to his name and a couple of years later emigrated to Australia, having married a Melbourne girl, Ursula Miels.
There, he taught at a grammar school and eventually became a headmaster. He also did commentary for Australian television and wrote for newspapers both there and here. He remained active within the game, running an indoor cricket school, and in 1975 he became coaching director for Victoria, later doing the same job for Queensland. From 1982 he fulfilled the same function.
His love of literature stood him in good stead: apart from his well-regarded cricket journalism, he wrote several well-regarded books, including an account of the 1954-55 Australia tour, In the Eye of the Typhoon, and his highly praised autobiography, A Typhoon Called Tyson. In it he wrote of the sheer delight he'd taken in doing what he did best: “What power there is in bowling fast! What a sensation of omnipotence, and how great the gulf between this sublime sensation and ordinary, mundane everyday existence!”
Frank Holmes Tyson, cricketer, teacher, broadcaster, journalist and author: born Farnworth 6 June 1930; married Ursula Miels (two daughters, one son); died Gold Coast, Queensland 27 September 2015.Reuse content