Medium pace quickly disappears

As cricket obsesses over pure pace, many teams overlook the skills of the slower men

Two, or maybe three, AM, in a random London bar I was chatting to a former cricketer. We'd never met before - or since - but we meshed as cricket nerds. And before long he was talking about his role as a scout for the ECB.

Cricket has never had scouts, which is absurd. We created the selectors early on, and hung to them. Even as we went professional, we still use amateurs often. And we don't use enough specialists. I'm not saying a batsman has no opinion on what makes a competent spinner, just that spinners will notice technical or strategic strengths and weaknesses better.

Cricket can improve, and England and some IPL teams seem to be taking us in that direction.

So that is what I wanted to ask about. There is no point sending out an old player unprepared, you need to give them a detailed plan of how to rate talent and all the other things that come along with good scouting.

They gave this guy a list of four bowlers to go look at; he was asked to rate them on a few different metrics, and then look at who might be a success at the higher level.  He thought three of them were ok, but nothing special. The fourth he liked a lot, but they showed no interest in him, he pushed with them again, "this is a legitimate talent", and again they moved him back to the others. After that, he didn't want to be involved anymore.

The bowler was Jamie Porter.

And if you didn't already know Porter before, you probably learnt his name from the fact that they ignored him from the best 55 international prospect list by the ECB.


England having to pick their 55 players, gives you an authentic look into what they are thinking. Plunkett is past it, Hales is still in the naughty bin, and they don't rate Benny Howell's world-beating stats at all. Perhaps they're wrong on all three of these points, but they've taken those decisions. They have also made another big point in the omission of Jamie Porter, and Ben Coad.

Medium fast bowlers need not apply.

This is also not just an England thing, it's worldwide. There has been a push for faster and taller bowlers and there is sound cricket logic in this. Take Vernon Philander and Ryan Harris, Philander averaged 22.3 with the ball, and Harris 23.5. Once you factor in that Philander bowled on more seam friendly pitches in South Africa, I'd say that's pretty close. But once George Dobell and I were asked on #PoliteEnquiries who we would pick first, we both chose Harris. And we both gave the exact same reason, pace.  We had seen Harris bounce out England once, and he'd done it in shield games, both times on flat surfaces with nothing else happening. Not that he is better than Philander, as his stats don't show that, it's that he's more versatile.

Philander might be the best new ball bowler in cricket, and in conditions that favour him, he's incredible. But outside the start and when conditions don't favour him, he has nothing to offer you.  He was the world's best single-use bowler, and probably by a distance.

But Philander was a success in Test Cricket, even away from home he averaged 28. Sure he couldn't bowl bouncers, nor even an uncomfortable length, he wasn't made to blow away the tail. But as long as those things are covered in your attack already, it doesn't matter.

Now if two young players were coming through, and one could do what Harris could do and the other like Philander. We know which one would be chosen first almost every time.  And then even if you are Philander, to remain as first choice, you need to keep racking up the wickets at a level a faster bowler would struggle with.

We only ever see Tim Murtagh play three Tests, but he'd have never gotten with England, but it was Murtagh who destroyed England at Lord's.

Mohammad Abbas was dropped despite 75 wickets at 20.7 from 18 Tests. One bad Test at Adelaide  -  Adelaide, that known friendly pitch for bowlers - and he's gone. What of Bhuvi Kumar, who has a Test bowling average of 26, and yet has 21 Tests in eight years.

And these guys were lucky enough to prove themselves. They took wickets straight away had they not, they'd have played a Test, or three, before being gone forever. Australia's Trent Copeland struggled in his first three and now adds to his 300 odd wickets at 25 in first class cricket. Or Chadd Sayers, who played post sandpapergate for his one Test, and now clutches at his 300 at 25 as well.

You see these guys come in a lot, Raymon Reifer, Imran Khan or Pankaj Singh. They dominate first class cricket, and then they're given a match to prove that they are worth it. While bog ordinary batsmen with little more than recent form or youth on their side seem to get much more.  And if a medium-fast guy fails, it is always the lack of pace that is the problem.

What special skills these guys have in first class cricket that allow them to take more wickets than fast bowlers that won't work at the next level?

Let's be scientific, basically to beat a batsman you either need to move the ball very little at a quick pace, or you need to move it a lot, at a slower speed. That's how it works. Even as cricketers get faster and stronger, those basic rules will always apply.  If you can get more movement - for longer - you are as much of a threat as a consistently quick bowler. Creating wickets on flat surfaces through mind games, repetition or guile, it doesn't matter what speed they come at.

And the other maddening thing about all this is that these kinds of bowlers usually take wickets early. People see that as a negative "oh, he's just a new ball bowler". From a basic cricket point of view, the single best way to ensure the opposition doesn't make huge scores is to take early wickets. But, it's used as a negative.

All of this is more interesting because England will always produce these kinds of bowlers.  Their conditions incubate them, and their vast array of top quality coaches mould them. The same way Australia will make tall bowlers, and Asia will find players who can handle spin.

You could make a valid argument that this kind of bowler is not always all-purpose. But then generally only the best are useful all the way through an innings, in all conditions against the top order or tail. Anil Kumble and Jimmy Anderson both struggled away from home for much of their career, but that doesn't mean they aren't automatic selections. And even if these medium pacers are more limited, England is putting together a bowling attack that platoons quicks for when they are needed. More like a bullpen in baseball. Meaning a bowler with a Liam Neeson's skill sets could be very handy.

But how good is Porter, well he's taken 329 wickets at 24.3, last two years he's taken 120 wickets while striking every 47 balls. You know, he's good. It's not like Porter hasn't been tried yet, he's had eight England Lion games and averaged 28 in them, so even when tested at the slightly higher level, he's done well.  His economy is at 3.2 runs an over, that's higher than you'd want in this kind of bowler, and the speed of the ball he bowls. And the England coach was his Essex mentor, so perhaps this is a case of they've seen him, and are convinced he can't step up. They might be wrong, but they have looked him over.

And I think we need to have a Darren Stevens rule, because no one is calling for the 44-year-old all rounder who bowls cute medium-slow wobblers to play for England as a Test bowler. Even though he averages 19 in the last two years for Kent. We can push numbers all we want, but all of us have a cut off when it comes to who can take wickets at Test level, for most that is Stevens, for some it was Porter.

But it isn't just Porter. Ben Coad has only played 36 first class matches, and hasn't played at the higher level at all yet. But in those matches he has a bowling average of 21 and he's only going at 2.8 runs an over. But there are players on this list of 55 whose record are a different species than Coad's.

I get that fast bowlers are handy, but I also know that there isn't as much correlation between pace and wickets as you'd expect there to be. Otherwise every bowler at this level would be over 90MPH. Really faster bowler's don't dominate the Test wicket-taking lists unless they're also quite skilled. And yes, that's the dream. Like you'd prefer a spinner who can turn it sideways at decent pace, but spinners take wickets lots of distinct ways. If you don't move the ball much off the straight, or can't hit a good area a lot, bowling 90 miles an hour is handy, but won't get you many red ball wickets.

Fast bowlers make sense, we all get it, but wicket-takers do too. If you are consistently taking wickets then there is clearly something in your game that should be tested at the next level. That doesn't mean either will succeed, but it means you have before.

But if we don't select for records, we project what we think will work. And we overlook the many 80 milers out there taking wickets by the wheelbarrow full, for the quick bloke who just ruffled some feathers on a flat one at Hove.


There is an art to being Stuart Clark, Mohammad Asif or Tim Southee. Watching a fast bowler move a batsman around the crease, not through fear, but with manipulation and skill, is a wondrous experience. Sure, we like bouncers, and a quick bowler in full flight is exhilarating. But every time our game gets more monochrome, one dimensional.

But this isn't about aesthetics, once you decide that one style of cricket isn't needed, it actually has a wider impact. Development coaches and junior selectors get the hint too, they start to only look for faster bowlers. Before long you find that can't create as many of these players. The problem isn't for Jamie Porter, or Ben Coad, they still have a chance. It's whether you can keep producing the next guys like that.

And if you don't look, you don't find. The ironic thing is until you make these calls, you don’t realise how fast these bowlers can disappear.

House keeping - work you may have missed from last week.

I invented the MIP Test award for my first ever video essay.

The 3rd episode of Double Century on hitting behind (the fourth episode drops today sometime).

Wright Thompson was on Red Inker. Seems ridiculous to drop the world’s biggest sportswriter so late into this list, but it’s been a big week and I don’t have the energy to move him.

There was my piece on T20 changes.

And I made a video on why it’s horrible to bat at number four in T20s.