Ricky Ponting talks to Justin Langer

The first cut is the deepest: Harmison drew blood early at Lord's in 2005

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High Fives

Nasty, brutish, short

How many of these five classic bouncers do you remember?

Scott Oliver |

The statement of intent
Steve Harmison to Ricky Ponting
Lord's, 2005

If ever you should find yourself trying to explain to heretics, ignoramuses or our new galactic overlords why cricket isn't an unfathomably tedious snoozefest, then a good place to start would be with a YouTube compilation of bouncers (ideally, with the sound down and the comments disabled), the visceral, adrenaline-thrumming appeal of which should help dispel any notions of the game's cucumbery effeteness. The game is dangerous, and despite the tragic death of Phillip Hughes and the soul-searching it prompted, it's all the better for it.

The thing with a bouncer is that its "meaning" isn't confined to that delivery alone, that solitary dot in the scorebook or gloved single to a vacant leg gully. It works just as well when it isn't bowled as when it is, its threat - implied or expressed - designed to reverberate along a chain of deliveries: an over, a spell, a match, a series, maybe longer.

And so it was at Lord's on the opening morning of the 2005 Ashes, a time when there still were Englishfolk of legal drinking age who had not known victory over the Aussies. David badly needed to load up his slingshot and notify the baggy-green Goliaths that the previous eight series meant nothing; that they would be coming at them, and hard. Step forward Steve Harmison for rather the better of his contrasting diptych of tone-setting Ashes opening salvos.

First - bosh! - Justin Langer, one of cricket's more pugnaciously competitive souls, cops one just above the elbow. Next - kerpow! - "Haydos" wears one on the scone. Third - klonk! - the fabled "Punter" Ponting, greatest hooker and puller of the age, has one climb sharply at him, snaking back down the slope, before crashing into his grille. There's claret, but not even a trickle of sympathy. Ponting being physically scarred might be the exact moment England's mental scarring finally healed. Sure, they will be routed by McGrath the Merciless and lose by plenty, but this bouncer said things were going to be different. And everyone knew it.

Eat this: Walsh gets stuck into Smith later in the match in Antigua where he cracked Smith's jaw

Eat this: Walsh gets stuck into Smith later in the match in Antigua where he cracked Smith's jaw Patrick Eagar / © Getty Images

The barrage
Courtney Walsh to Robin Smith
Antigua, 1990

The tradition of Jamaican pacemen terrorising teak-tough England batsmen had long been consecrated by MA Holding during that famously ferocious assault on Brian Close on a dicky Old Trafford pitch in 1976 (the old man didn't grovel but he did return to the dressing rooms looking like a Rorschach Test). Among its most memorably gruesome iterations was Walsh's spell to Smith in Antigua during England's first ever overseas Test series to be televised live.

Much as the dawn of colour TV would sear the 1970 Brazilians' samba football into the collective consciousness, here England's supporters suddenly became palpably aware of the Technicolor violence of cricket in the Caribbean.

Astonishingly England won the first Test, in Jamaica. A rain-affected draw, an abandoned match, and a home win in Barbados meant the teams headed to Antigua for a do-or-die decider. Time to tickle some trauma. Cue Walsh, not far into a long and willing career of dead-eyed enforcement, for which he was both physiologically and temperamentally equipped (just business, man), and on the first afternoon he needed no second invitation to tear into Robin Smith, who had batted for almost ten hours at the Kensington Oval.

Smith ducked and swayed and hopped through the onslaught until the penultimate ball before the tea interval, which emerged from Walsh's angular, gangly action, arms crossing each other like a man doing air traffic control in high winds, then climbed from the docile pitch, jagged back sharply, and thwacked into Smith's unprotected jaw, which immediately started to swell. A posse of concerned fielders surrounded Smith, who was hardly the type to let a broken jaw disturb his bubble. Satisfied the batsman's fettle was fine, Walsh loped to his mark, hurtled in again, and signed off with another vicious bouncer. The crowd erupted. Smith grinned. Walsh didn't. This was Guantánamo Bay cricket, and they weren't quite done with him yet.

The violent historian: Malcolm celebrates getting Kirsten

The violent historian: Malcolm celebrates getting Kirsten © PA Photos

The loosener
Devon Malcolm to Gary Kirsten
The Oval, 1994

More than a few fast bowlers have felt that the best way to get a stiff body cranked up was to bang one into the middle of the pitch first up and take things from there. The batsman probably won't expect it, and in any case will be unlikely to take on the hook shot on the basis that you need to have a look at one. Very few of these balls carry real menace. It's shadow-boxing.

Not at The Oval in 1994, it wasn't. This was full-frontal attack from the first bell.

You know the backstory: a Fanie de Villiers bumper - perhaps in revenge for Malcolm having hospitalised Jonty Rhodes - knocked the England badge off his lid, leading to the perhaps apocryphal retort, "You guys are history." Talk having been talked, walk was then duly walked, to the tune of the eighth-best innings figures in Test history. Big Dev, whose wonky radar so routinely disappointed us embattled England supporters, a guerrilla faction desperate for some heavy weaponry to use in our various asymmetrical wars, only to discover that the rocket launcher we'd bought off that dubious Azerbaijani middleman had a few technical glitches. So much of a struggle was it for Dev to find the proverbial half-decent areas that it often seemed he was bowling in a blindfold. Not here, though.

The pitch was white-lightning quick, although Allan Donald had been taken for 30 off two overs the previous evening as Phil DeFreitas and Darren Gough launched a merry counterattack that left the game in the balance. Devon spent the interval in something approaching a trance, then absolutely roared in with the new ball. Gary Kirsten was the unfortunate soul taking strike, and all he could do to the innings' opening delivery - Dev's "loosener" - was jerk his head back like a Hollywood star pretending to take a punch. The ball screamed into the gloves of Steve "Bumpy" Rhodes, standing not far short of Vauxhall Bridge. "I think Devon means business," deadpanned David Gower on commentary. He wasn't wrong.

Kirsten was bounced out two balls later, taking his eye off the ball. Then Uncle Peter panicked, top-edging to long leg, before Hansie Cronje was bowled middle peg - beaten on the outside edge - leaving the Proteas 1 for 3 and Devon smelling blood.

Lillee knocks Kallicharran out in the Perth Test of 1975

Lillee knocks Kallicharran out in the Perth Test of 1975 Patrick Eagar / © Getty Images

The alpha confrontation
Dennis Lillee to Viv Richards
Gillette Cup, Perth, 1976

Lillee liked to say the bouncer should be used as a shock ball, not a stock ball. But what if the only way to truly shock your adversary - the greatest batsman in the world, coming off the back of compiling the most Test runs ever scored in a calendar year - was to use it as a stock ball? Such was the scenario when Western Australia took on a Queensland side featuring Richards in the semi-final of the 1976-77 Gillette Cup - a game so mythical that it spawned a book, The Miracle Match - and Lillee would be compelled by his team-mates' ineptitude and his own 100-proof rage to begin the innings with one of cricket's greatest sequences of I-don't-give-a-shit-who-you-are-mate bumpers.

Rod Marsh later said only one of the four was any good, which slightly missed the point. This was about Lillee's deranged warrior-genius spirit. To bounce the purple-capped maestro first up - albeit high and down the leg side - might have been considered a nod to the notion that you're not going to lie down, even defending 78. The second - better, straighter - still seemed almost comically aggressive: good old Dennis, the mad bastard! By the third - right on the money, nearly taking the Master Blaster's gloves as he was late on the hook - you sensed the atmosphere had changed. It was game most definitely on.

The fourth ball was again banged in, Viv ducking underneath it as though having seen the announcement in that morning's paper. Lillee received a reprimand from the umpire, and offered a cursory apology as he made that brisk, duck-footed walk back, Fremantle Doctor billowing a shirt whose buttons lay largely unused. Two balls later, Viv was bowled - top of off, feet nowhere - and Western Australia would go on to win by 15 runs.

Age ain't nothin' but a number: Gibson gets his man

Age ain't nothin' but a number: Gibson gets his man © Getty Images

The ego-pricker
Ottis Gibson to Kevin Pietersen
Friends Provident Trophy final, Lord's, 2007

Some bouncers are less about the ego of a bowler keen to assert his dominance over a cowed batsman, than about a canny bowler exploiting the towering ego of the batsman. For instance: your team has just posted 312 in a Lord's final, and you, their veteran opening bowler, in your final year as a professional, have nicked off Michael Lumb with the first ball of the reply, followed second ball by the identikit dismissal of another leftie, Sean Ervine, who edges to Michael Di Venuto at second slip: 0 for 2 off 0.2 overs.

Into the swelling catastrophe bounds the imposing figure of Pietersen, barely having had time to neck his customary Red Bull. If he isn't yet abuzz, Lord's certainly is. Watching Pietersen attend to his rituals, his knee bends and box adjustments, Gibson stands patiently at the top of his run, wondering what to send down for the hat-trick ball. Attack the poles, right? Or maybe a wide length ball, given the batsman's need to feel bat on ball? What will KP be expecting? Durham pull in a third slip, and let him ponder the reasons.

Finally, the superstar batsman is ready. The 38-year-old journeyman seamer, who five years earlier was playing club cricket, now glides in and bowls - no, you're kidding me - a bouncer! Not even a straight bouncer, either, but a high bouncer, two feet outside off! It's an ego ball, a ball for KP, who, being KP, takes it on - has to take it on - splicing a pull shot just wide of mid-on. It's a ball of left-field genius.

Gibson nailed Pietersen lbw in his fifth over and, at 17 for 3, that was pretty much that. He was named Man of the Match and a few weeks later retired.

Scott Oliver tweets @reverse_sweeper

 

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LOGIN TO POST YOUR COMMENTS

  • POSTED BY ARUP on | March 17, 2017, 11:23 GMT

    What about Allan Donald against Mike Atherton?

  • POSTED BY Pavan on | March 8, 2017, 5:26 GMT

    Should have included Sreesanth's delivery to Kallis and World cup QF spell of Wahab Riaz to Shane Watson Gold standard that is.

  • POSTED BY Rimtu on | March 7, 2017, 13:55 GMT

    @Adeel Rayhan on

    Just because the batsman was clueless on how to play short pitched bowling does not make that a ball worth mentioning. A decent player of short pitched bowling would have pulled that silly ball from Abbot to the boundary in a flash.

  • POSTED BY Rimtu on | March 7, 2017, 13:52 GMT

    Okay hardly a mention of the WIndian greats like Sylvester Clarke etc. known for their brutality on the pitch.

    Also no mention of Mitchel Johnson? Actually for me Johnson wasn't a good enough all around bowler, but in the right condition (mostly at home) with the right state of mind (rarely but sometimes yes), he was one of the most brutal of the modern fast bowlers. Name one other bowler who caused so many opposition specialist batsman to cut short their career. I am talking about Jonathan Trott (permanently devastated after 1), Graeme Smith (who actually retired before he had to face Johnson again) etc. These are no chumps, averaging around 50 in their otherwise respectable career. Johnson not finding a mention in an article about "Nasty, brutish, short" is a bad miss by the author.

  • POSTED BY muhammad on | March 7, 2017, 7:46 GMT

    Shoaib's bouncer to Sachin in Karachi in 2006. I don't remember the innings.

  • POSTED BY cdthor2925457 on | March 7, 2017, 6:10 GMT

    I suppose I'm showing my age if I recall John Snow bouncing Terry Jenner at Sydney in 1970/71. It was a delivery that led to a near riot, a walk off & almost cost England the Ashes. Was Oldfield felled by a bouncer in the bodyline series?

  • POSTED BY Karthik on | March 6, 2017, 12:15 GMT

    Sreesanth Vs. Kallis deserves a mention. Kallis was flawless that innings. Only a bouncer like that could have gotten him out. (2010, 2nd test at Durban)

  • POSTED BY Chris on | March 6, 2017, 11:47 GMT

    from the title, i expected to see roberts to toohey. not a word. in fact, only one west indian, and it wasn't even from their heyday of the 70s and 80s.

  • POSTED BY Manesh on | March 6, 2017, 11:36 GMT

    Sreesant to Kallis in a test...just because it was David vs Goliath. A veteran like Kallis who faced worlds best fast bowlers fell to a fearsome bouncer of an inexperienced fast bowler at that time. He didn't get time to adjust to the ball.

  • POSTED BY Cricinfouser on | March 6, 2017, 10:04 GMT

    Imran's bouncer to Amarnath in the 70s .. or Akram's bouncers to S Waugh in RawalPindi in 95 to which Waugh and Keeper Latif said was the fastest short stuff they had seen .. wisden called it intimidation ... Waqar and Wasim to hathurasingha in 90s .. poor man got hit in multiple overs by both

  • POSTED BY Adeel Rayhan on | March 6, 2017, 10:01 GMT

    i appreciate your effort to remind us those "Nasty" blows, but you missed most of the Best of them, Sean Abbott to Phil. Hughes probably the deadliest of the all time, Akhtar to Kirsten, Akhtar to Lara, Wasim Akram to Srikanth which dis-mental his teeth, Bravo to Pietersen

  • POSTED BY Howard on | March 5, 2017, 23:28 GMT

    What about Johnson's 1st ball to Amla in Centurion 2nd innings? Amla tried to defend the bouncer, but didn't get his bat high enough, the ball went under Amla's left arm and hit the visor. Here is what Cricinfo had to say "He smashed Hashim Amla on the grille of the helmet first ball. He made Ryan McLaren bleed from the side of the head with an accurate bouncer. He jarred Vernon Philander on the fingers, then broke his bat. Those South Africans who merely lost their wickets were lucky."

  • POSTED BY conrad2738119 on | March 5, 2017, 12:09 GMT

    Mitchell Johnson to Graeme Smith.

  • POSTED BY John on | March 5, 2017, 12:03 GMT

    What? No Mitchell Johnson to - well the entire English team. No Colin Croft, Malcolm Marshall and Andy Roberts to - well everyone and no Thommo to , once again an entire English team. What did the West Indies fast bowlers have against the world in general and what do Australian fast bowlers have against the English in particular?

  • POSTED BY roshan4432430 on | March 5, 2017, 11:08 GMT

    That Marshall thunderbolt to Gatting was the stuff of legend and surely has got be slotted in higher than most mentioned here.

  • POSTED BY Rob on | March 5, 2017, 1:48 GMT

    Nasty, brutish and short - surely the perfect description of Sylvester Clarke's bowling. 90 mph chin music from the first ball.

  • POSTED BY Anurag Bhide on | March 4, 2017, 21:16 GMT

    You can't not include Sreesanth to Kallis. Just. Can't.

    Also, Wahab to Watson at the World Cup.

  • POSTED BY snehasis on | March 4, 2017, 19:40 GMT

    Feel sad to see sreesanth vs kalis bouncer here

  • POSTED BY Waseem on | March 4, 2017, 16:46 GMT

    How can an article titled "Nasty, brutish, short" be complete without a mention of The Rawalpindi Express (Shoaib Akhtar) or Brett Lee. They were the world's fastest bowlers; as fast as a human can get, and over the lengths of their careers, they have bowled so many fearsome spells of hostile fast bowling and injuring many batsmen with their yorkers and bouncers. How can a true cricket fan not remember the famous bouncers of Shoaib Akhtar to a certain Lara and Gary Kirsten. Both batsmen were in their pomp and very good players of short pitched balls, however, both were hit by the Shoaib, and Kirsten's face was covered in blood after the blow.

  • POSTED BY Venkatesh Venkatesh on | March 4, 2017, 16:12 GMT

    In the last world cup the brutish ball raising sharply coming towards face of Indian batsman Virat Kahili from Michal Johnson the batsman put his bat knowingly or unknowingly took the high edge of bat and lobbed simple catch to closing fielder that virtually ended India's run in that world cup may be ball of the tournament

  • POSTED BY xxxxx on | March 4, 2017, 13:01 GMT

    ....... and some would have us believe that cricket is only about gentlemen, sipping tea, and "good afternoon Mr Batsman/Bowler". There is nothing like an angry fast bowler to bring a crowd and match to life and Donald v Atherton, complete with heavy verbals, remains in my memory as definitive, pure, essential aggression.

  • POSTED BY Virgil_Hilts on | March 4, 2017, 12:29 GMT

    Ambrose's first-ball leg side bouncer to Atherton in the Edgbaston test of the 1995 series. Went for four wides and early fears about the , ahem, mercurial nature of the pitch were realised. England rolled for 147 and 89, the Test wrapped up well inside three days.