Harold Larwood, one of the fastest bowlers who ever lived, stood no more than 5ft 8in. It was quite tall enough to frighten the living daylights out of Australia 79 years ago, but how intimidating he would have been at a foot higher is itself frightening to contemplate.
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Australian batsmen would doubtless have tried to run for cover when they were not dashing to square leg, had they had time. Larwood's lethal bouncer, bowled in the name of Bodyline, was dangerous because it was skiddy and pinpoint accurate.
England of 2011 appear to have come up with a different plan. It still demands the precision of a surgeon but it is based around men who would have dwarfed Larwood. In the second Test against Sri Lanka, which starts at Lord's tomorrow, it is likely that England will field a three-man seam attack the shortest of whom will be 6ft 6in.
He is Stuart Broad. The others are Steve Finn, who nudges 6ft 8in (and may still be growing) and Chris Tremlett, who has around half an inch on Finn. Even by the standards of the day they rank as extremely tall and it gives them a decided advantage over Sri Lanka's batsman. The combined height is almost 20ft but to this can be added their unfeasibly long arms, which are fully extended as they make the leap to the crease.
Their danger, as demonstrated by England's stunning victory in the first Test in Cardiff on Monday, is at least two-fold. The bouncer is utterly intimidating because it comes down from such a height and then rears up. Aim is vital and both Sri Lanka's final wickets, which fell to Broad, were the upshot of balls that reared alarmingly.
The late order batsmen were completely ill-equipped to cope. The fist fended off to Ian Bell at short-leg, the second, trying to take evasive action, swatted a looping catch to Alastair Cook at slip. Like all great, tyrannical fast bowling it was compelling to watch.
But the early breaches had been made in a magnificent spell from Tremlett in which he showed the other, worrying (for the batsmen) strength. The outrageous height of these men means that balls of fuller length have additional bounce and bounce, any batsman will tell you, is difficult to deal with, especially if they might be thinking of going forward.
One of the pioneers of the so-called throat ball, forcing the batsmen to play high up, was John Snow, who wreaked havoc in the West Indies and Australia in his pomp. At 6ft 1in Snow was taller than Larwood, much smaller than the modern trio but he, too, made his opponents jump.
"The thing about a bouncer is that people can duck under it or do what they want to," said Snow. "What you're trying to do is get the batsman doing what you want him to do rather than what he wants to do, get him playing at something he shouldn't be playing at because you have made it bounce a little bit or move off the wicket a little bit when he's committed. You're getting the guy committed to doing something and then coming up with that little variation."
The integral factor in Tremlett's brilliant burst on Monday evening was the pure control. Like Hadlee all those years ago, he was setting the batsmen up, luring them to do something they did not wish to do, permitted because years of practice were paying off.
"In the first innings, I did try to get it up a bit but maybe my execution wasn't so good," said Tremlett yesterday at Lord's after England's practice. "Second innings, my rhythm felt better and I got them coming forward and found the edges. That probably applies to this wicket as well.
"I think playing the Sri Lankans, you always have a slight advantage against any batsman and those guys are used to playing on slightly slower pitches."
Snow is slipping down the list of England's greatest wicket-takers, overtaken by modern bowlers who play more Tests, but that should not diminish his status. In Australia in 1970-71 he did what the present lot failed to do and instigated a pitch invasion by Aussie supporters after one of his throat balls felled Terry Jenner, the leg-spinner and no duffer with the bat, who died last week.
"You don't have to be that quick," said Snow. "It's a fallacy to say you have got to bowl at 90mph but I could bowl it if I wanted to, or as quick as I wanted to do, which was quick enough. Glenn McGrath wasn't the fastest bowler out there, nor was Hadlee.
"By that tour in 70-71 I always felt I could bowl anybody out. Four years earlier I might have ummed and aahed a little bit about it but by that stage I knew I could do it and also had the control to be able to do it and the finesse of bowling. Somebody like Malcolm Marshall or McGrath, there was the finesse of being in control, doing something when they wanted to do it."
It is not yet a done deal that the tall guys will all play tomorrow. Jade Dernbach, newly called up to the squad, is somewhat shorter at 6ft 2in but has various swinging options up his sleeve. Dernbach is fascinating to talk to on the subject and having taken nine wickets for England Lions against the Sri Lankans at Derby is not out of the picture. But what happened on Monday was extravagantly persuasive and Finn will probably play.
As Tremlett said: "The short ball is a great weapon and playing against this team, they are not used to it at times. It was quite hard to execute those balls at Cardiff where it was a slow wicket. We'll see if this wicket has more pace. When I've played here before it has. It could be a plan we'll go with but we'll assess that on the day."
There is one other point about these fellows – and that is the height itself is pretty scary before they get a ball in their hand. Tremlett, especially, is worrying to stand next to and to look up at. His body is in its prime, whereas Finn and Broad are still developing.
"Naturally I'm a pretty wide built guy and I'm a pretty intimidating character to face so that's an advantage. In the last couple of years, I've learnt to deal with that and become more confident and more aggressive on the field. I guess I'm a big guy and bigger than most others."
And that means there is no need to sledge à la Jimmy "Mr Grumpy" Anderson. "I guess I've always been a believer in letting the ball do the talking," said Tremlett. In 2007, I played a Test series against India. I did try to be aggressive but guess it was forced a bit to be honest. I tried to be someone I wasn't and it's difficult to be nasty, I guess." At present every batsman in Sri Lanka probably thinks Tremlett is nastiness personified.Reuse content