Even for such a proud cricketing nation, the West Indies have produced some of the finest fast bowlers in the sports history. While they might not quite be of the same standard in the modern age, a look back in the archives displays a frightening array of talent that terrorised batsman for decades. Known for their speed, accuracy and sheer brutality at times we round up 10 of the best from the West Indies past:
10. Ian Bishop
Ian Bishop is one of the more modern players on this list, having played for his country from 1989 until 1998. He was a really special talent and reached 100 wickets in only 21 Test matches. He allied his pace with a great deal of outswing to leave batsman bamboozled as to what the ball would do. He was also a tall player and used this height to get extra bounce into his deliveries.
Originally from Trinidad and Tobago, Bishop made his first class debut for Derbyshire in 1989. He would stay there for five years until 1993 whilst also playing for his hometown team until 2000. He played 159 games in all at that level, taking a total of 549 wickets and leaving some very confused batsman.
His Test debut came in 1989 against India and he was a success straight away. His use of seam and swing caused all sorts of problems for the Indian batters who couldn’t handle that along with the pace he bowled at. Unfortunately, severe back injuries were to cut his cricket career short. He was out injured for a period in 1991 but made a comeback in 1992 after modifying his action. However, injury struck again and substantially reduced a very promising career. Although he carried on until 1998 for his country it really is a tale of what could have been.
9. Charlie Griffith
When we talk about great fast bowlers this man deserves a mention. He bowled so fast he once sent down a ball that hit batsman Nari Contractur on the head and fractured his skull. He played in the same team as Wes Hall and they were a lethal bowling duo. Griffith was very fast and had a knack for bowling on a length that batsman felt they had to play. This meant he took a lot of wickets from edges or nicks.
Griffith was born in Barbados in 1938 and took up cricket at school. Originally a slow bowler he changed to fast during one school match and ended with 7 for 1 hence his switch to being a paceman.
He made his first-class debut in 1959 and this went brilliantly as he dismissed three opponents (including Colin Cowdrey) in two overs. He played his entire first class career in the Caribbean and totalled up 96 matches with 332 wickets.
At a Test level he made his debut in 1960 against England and played until 1969 when he bowed out against New Zealand. He clocked up 28 matches in all with 94 wickets taken at an average of 28.54. Hi most successful Test series was against England in 1963 where he took 6 for 36 in the first innings of the Headingley Test. He finished with 32 wickets overall in that Test series and this shows how lethal he was with ball in hand.
8. Wesley Hall
Wesley Hall is a name from the West Indies past and one that pre-dates others on this list such as Roberts and Holding. In some ways he laid the foundation for them in terms of what a fast bowler for the West Indies should be. Hall was a tall man and bowled with genuine pace. He was noted for his long run up but was able to bowl for long spells also.
Born in Barbados, he grew up playing cricket but initially as a batsman/wicket keeper. Eventually his potential as a fast bowler was spotted when he played for his work Cable Cricket Club team. Hall played most of his first class career in the West Indies but did have a couple of spells in Australia where he was very popular.
He was included in the West Indies squad to tour England in 1957 despite having only played one first-class match before then. His full test debut came in 1958 against India and he was instantly successful. His bowling partnership with Roy Gilchrist was dynamite and worked straight away. In the second Test of the series he finished with 11 wickets against his name. He carried on this good form into the next year when he became the first West Indian cricketer to take a hat-trick of wickets when playing Pakistan.
Hall continued to tour for the West Indies and played a key part in what is perhaps the most famous Test series ever, the 1960/61 series against Australia. The first Test in particular was a thriller as it went to the last over with the West Indies needing three wickets to win and Australia four runs. Hall was handed the ball and managed to stop the Aussies getting the runs to tie the match. His finest hour next to this was the series against his old foes India after this in 1962. The Windies won the series five to nil and this was in part thanks to Hall’s devastating pace and power.
7. Anderson Roberts
Sir Anderson Montgomery Everton Roberts was born in Antigua in 1951 and is another member of the feared late 1970’s / early 1980’s team to make our list. He is one to have a short Test cricket career also, having played his last Test in 1983. He was famous for using the short delivery to get batsman out, usually sending a slower one down first which he followed up with a quicker one to surprise them.
At first-class level, Roberts played for Hampshire from 1973 to 1978 and then Leicestershire from 1981 until 1984. He amassed a total of 228 games across both clubs, taking 889 wickets at an average of 21.01.
His Test career began in 1974 against England and it was against them that he considered he had his best spell. This was in 1976 at Headingley when the Windies toured England. Roberts sent down a barrage of deliveries and took three wickets although he maintained he should have had one more. English batsman Peter Willey played back to a fuller ball from Roberts and looked to have been trapped LBW but it wasn’t given.
Although his test career was relatively short, his figures show what a talent he was. He played 47 times and took 202 wickets at a 25.61 average which bears comparison to other great bowlers. He also took 10 wicket hauls in 2 separate matches which not many bowlers can do. Such was Roberts pace and use of the bouncer, Imran Khan considered him to be the quickest bowler he’s ever faced.
6. Colin Croft
If you say the name Colin Croft to any West Indian cricket fans who remember him, they will surely smile. He was an amazing player for them and ranks up there with the best bowlers ever. He possessed an unusual style, bowling wide of the crease and over the wicket which meant he angled the ball into right-handed batters. He was also very quick and aggressive, not being afraid to send a bouncer or two down to let the batsman know who was in charge.
Croft grew up in British Guiana and was instantly recognised as a talent from a young age. He progressed in his career in the Caribbean and eventually moved to Lancashire to ply his trade at first class level in 1977. He played 121 matches overall and took 428 wickets which is a pretty decent return I think.
He made his Test debut in 1977 against Pakistan although he was another player who didn’t have a long international career. The phrase short and sweet comes to mind as the period he did play, he shone bright. An example of this is in his first series against India in 1977 when he took 8 for 29 to rip through their team. He finished up playing 27 tests and taking 125 wickets at an average of 23.30 which shows what a top player he was for them
5. Joel Garner
Joel Garner was a member of the highly successful late 1970’s / early 1980’s West Indies team. This was a magnificent side and contained some top class fast bowlers including Michael Holding, and Anderson Roberts. They were such a great side in that period they didn’t lose a Test series for 15 years!
Garner was raised in Christ Church, Barbados and got the nickname Big Bird due to his tall 6ft 8in frame when fully grown. He was a fast bowler who, like Curtley Ambrose, used his height to great effect. He would generate such pace and bounce especially off hard pitches that batsman found it hard to cope. He also developed a very nice Yorker that was hard to defend.
In the first class game, he played for Somerset from 1977 to 1986 and took a very respectable 881 wickets in 214 games. He was a key player for them and was even handy with the bat, scoring 2964 runs over the course of his first class career with them.
After impressing the selectors with his form, Garner made his Test bow in 1977 and turned out to one of the greatest players ever to pull on the whites for his country. He played a total of 58 Test matches in all, taking 259 wickets at an average of just over 20. These are pretty special figures and show why he is such a revered figure in West Indies cricket. He was also very effective in limited overs cricketer for them, returning One Day International figures of 98 matches played and 146 wickets taken. All in all, a batsman’s nightmare!
4. Courtney Walsh
Courtney Walsh is the next name on our list. He was a teammate of Curtley Ambrose and together they formed a lethal opening bowling partnership for the West Indies. He was the quicker of the two but also very accurate which made them such a great duo.
He was born Courtney Andrew Walsh during 1962 in Jamaica and loved cricket growing up, playing locally for the Melbourne club. He then joined Gloucestershire where he played from 1984 to 1998. Clocking up 429 matches for them, he took 1807 wickets at an average of 21.71 which is quite remarkable.
He made his test debut in 1984 against Australia where he took 2 wickets for 43 runs. This paved the way for him to play against New Zealand and Australia in a test series the following year. The next two seasons were where he made his mark taking 29 wickets from series against Pakistan and New Zealand.
The test series against India in 1987/88 was perhaps his greatest moment though due to the amount of wickets he took. In the first match he took 6 for 67 and then followed it up with 5 for 54 in the second test. The Indians just couldn’t cope with his length, pace and accuracy.
Walsh is one of only three bowlers to have bowled over 5000 overs in his test career which is quite something for a fast bowler. He is also in a select band to have taken over 500 wickets in his test career which is testament to his talent and skill. He was also noted for being a clever bowler who caught many a batsman out with a change of pace.
3. Curtley Ambrose
Sir Curtley Elconn Lynwall Ambrose was another great West Indies bowler who batsman hated facing. While not as fast or aggressive as a Marshall or Roberts, his control and height made him every bit as difficult to face. The bounce he got made it a nightmare for batsman and he often took wickets due to edges. He took 405 test wickets in his career at an average of 20.99 which shows how devastating he was.
Ambrose was born in Swetes, Antigua in 1963 and started off playing basketball due to his height. Due to this he came to cricket late, only being spotted by coaches at the age of 20. He finally began his first class career with Northamptonshire in England where he stayed from 1989 to 1996. After this he returned to Antigua to finish his first class career before retiring.
Making his Test debut in 1988 against Pakistan, it became clear Ambrose was going to be a top class bowler as he reported figures of 4 for 39 from 10 overs. Another notable game was the fourth test against England in 1990 when the English team went into the last hour of the game with five wickets in hand. Ambrose was given the ball and skittled all the batsman out for just 18 runs to give his team the victory. His accuracy and bounce were the key factors here and during his whole career. He also developed a very effective Yorker which accounted for many batsmen when he played.
Further to this, he went onto be considered the leading bowler in world cricket at the time. His control and rhythmic action drew the batsman into playing at balls even if they should have left them alone. This enabled him to pick up many wickets and become a truly fearsome opponent. He was also a very economical bowler who could be relied upon to keep it tight.
2. Michael Holding
This guy has one of my favourite nicknames of all time – ‘Whispering Death’. Just the sound of it conjures up what it must have felt like waiting for him to send a delivery down. He got this nickname due to his quiet yet deadly approach to the crease in his run-up. Holding is recorded as one of the fastest bowlers ever to play Test cricket and he used this pace to terrify batsman.
Born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1954 a young Holding was destined for a future in the game due to being enrolled at the local cricket club by his father. He spent his youth playing cricket at the local club and watching the games at Sabina Park, close to where he lived.
Holding made his Test breakthrough in November 1975 against the famous Australia team containing Dennis Lillee. He showed enough promise in this six-test series to be considered the natural opening bowling partner of Anderson Roberts. The Windies then embarked on a four match tour of India where Holding did well, making figures of 19 wickets for around 20 runs each overall.
He really shone on the world stage when they visited England for a Test series in 1976. Although not a household name when the series started, anticipation around Holding was building. News had come through of this young fast bowler and his delivery that left Dennis Amiss needing stitches in a warm up game did little to dampen this. He went on to have a fantastic series and the fifth test in particular was special. Holding finished with figures of 14 wickets for 149 runs, which is a record to this day.
Following this, Holding continued to use his pace and length to help West Indies to many more victories over the years. He retired in the late eighties and went on to run a successful garage in Jamaica before selling up to concentrate on commentary and media work.
1. Malcolm Marshall
This guy truly needs no introduction as he is one of the most famous names in fast bowling history. He is also my personal favourite quick bowler. Marshall had it all – lightning quick, perfect length and deliveries that were just unplayable. He also had aggression and seemed to like roughing the man at the crease up.
Born Malcolm Denzil Marshall on 18th April 1958 in Barbados, he grew up being taught cricket by his grandfather. Initially he worked at Banks Brewery in Barbados and started his career playing for them. His form paved the way for a first class move to Hampshire where he stayed for most of his career from 1979 to 1993. Hampshire fans will always have a place for him in their hearts due to his figures of 1651 wickets in 408 games at an average of 19.10.
He had made his full test debut in 1978 against India in the second test at Bangalore. He didn’t make a spectacular impression in the three tests he played but he did enough to get his move to Hampshire as their overseas player.
He first came to international recognition in 1980 when he took the wickets of Mike Gatting, Brian Rose and Peter Willey whilst playing England. He ended with figures of 7-24 which flagged his talent to all watching. Perhaps his most amazing achievement was taking 21 or more wickets in each test series for seven successive series from 1982 to 1986. This turned him into a superstar and the world’s premier fast bowler. Interestingly enough he turned down an offer of $1 million around this time to join a rebel West Indies tour to South Africa.
Sadly, he passed away in 1999 due to colon cancer but he will always be remembered as a true legend of the game. His final test figures of 20.94 as a bowling average and 376 wickets from 81 games are proof of that.
As you can see from the above list, the West Indies seemed to have the golden touch in being able to produce quick bowlers with unerring regularity. They sent a shiver down the spine of any batsman who went to the crease to meet them and, in some ways, beat them mentally before sending a delivery down. What is for sure is that the modern day player will be glad to not come across any of these men in their prime!
Image Credit: Naparazzi