Cricket: When the Typhoon blew hot

Untried fast bowlers can win the Ashes, as Tyson proved.
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The Independent Online
It was as dramatic an ascent to sporting legend as there has been. The phrase zero to hero was not abroad then but it could almost have been coined for the events which transpired on the cricket fields of Australia that summer 44 years ago. England not only won the Ashes, they did so largely because of the startling emergence of one of the fastest, most fearsome bowlers in history.

Frank Tyson earned the eternal designation Typhoon and those who were around to witness him maintained that it hardly did him justice. Together with Brian Statham, he formed a devastating partnership which broke Australia. They were born in Lancashire 11 days apart and if Tyson inflicted the greater damage his threat was heightened by the presence of Statham, a fact he continues instantly to acknowledge. "Fast bowlers always have been at their best hunting in pairs," Tyson said. "I recognised it then and it still holds good. Brian Statham was one of the most wonderful bowlers and there was no let-up. He was unyieldingly accurate. In that series as a pair we were at the height of our physical and mental powers."

The unlikely, gripping sequence went something like this. In late July of 1954, Tyson, a 24-year-old bowler with a reputation for high speed in his first full season as a professional cricketer, was an unexpected selection in England's touring party ahead of Fred Trueman. He was subsequently given his Test debut in the final home Test of the summer against the embryonic Pakistan side (touring parties were announced early in those days). England lost.

"I think I was surprised to be going," Tyson said. "There had been some speculation about it, but I hadn't played many county games. The general reaction to the party as a whole was one of shock because while there were some long-standing England players it still seemed an experimental sort of side."

On the boat taking the squad to Australia, the captain, Len Hutton, called aside Tyson and Peter Loader, another of the young bowlers picked ahead of Trueman, and said they could not expect to play much part in the Test series. He was half right.

Tyson generated early pace on Australia's responsive pitches and made the side for the First Test. He was fast, but too wayward, and took 1 for 160 as Australia won by an innings. Hutton and England did not panic. The captain summoned Alf Gover, the estimable coach, who was in Australia as a reporter.

Before the Second Test, Tyson remodelled his approach by shortening his run by 12 yards to 15 yards - "cutting out the first hop and starting from the second hop," as Gover put it. Tyson took four wickets in Australia's first innings but was then knocked unconscious by a Ray Lindwall bouncer while batting.

It might have ended his tour or his life, but Tyson recovered and on the final morning he took six wickets and England were home by 38 runs and level in the series. Tyson, abetted at every stage by his companion, then proceeded to cut a swathe through Australia's batting. In the Third Test there were allegations of sharp practice by the home side, which involved the illegal watering of a deteriorating pitch. Tyson made light of it all. In a blistering spell on the fifth day in which his yorker was prominent he took 7 for 27, the last six in 51 balls. At the end as fielders prepared to applaud Tyson in he immediately took Statham by the hand, linked arms and ensured they left the arena together.

"Len's tactics as captain were sometimes criticised but he was matchless when it came to the psychology of the game. And he knew that Australia had gone then. I felt it as well. I thought that we had finally worn them down. They had never experienced pace like this against them and they didn't quite know how to react."

England clinched the rubber and retained the Ashes at Adelaide. Australia's disarray was no better exemplified than on the final morning. The pitch was crumbling and giving considerable assistance to spin. Hutton threw the ball to Tyson and Statham. This was perhaps their zenith. Their figures were not spectacular but they were in perfect unison and finished off Australia for 111. "It was a magnificent moment," said Tyson. "To beat Australia in Australia must be the ultimate achievement for any English professional cricketer. I would say that to do it you have to raise your game by 10 to 20 per cent."

Tyson was never to prosper so substantially again. Injury and a desire to become a teacher persuaded him to fulfil his intention to retire at 30. He emigrated to Australia, eventually became a coach and still lives there in retirement. But in a few devastating months he became a symbol of what brutal fast bowling can do. He still is.