Genuine fast bowlers are a rare and endangered species and now after Shane Bond and Brett Lee's departure from the test arena, there is just one genuine fast bowler left in the entire world. This makes them more endangered than the tigers of India. 1411 times more endangered than the Indian tigers!
Fast bowling is a unique art, that captures everyone's attention, but an art that only a handful know. Fast bowlers have an legendary aura around them. They make the best of batsmen dance, and can hurt the batsman badly, if he is not to careful. They have pace and when I say pace I mean express speeds, and add to this consistency, bounce and the ability to swing the ball - you got yourself one hell of a fighting machine!
Fast bowlers are known to rip through batting lineups and the two teams that have dominated world cricket in their times had some of the fiercest fast bowlers of all times. The West Indies had Micheal Holding, Curty Ambrose, Courtney Walsh and Andy Roberts while the Australian's had the demon pace duo of Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thompson. The success of these teams was largely due to the contributions of the bowlers mentioned above.
In the 1990's there was Ambrose, Waqar Yonis, Walsh, Allan Donald, Ntini and the then young McGrath, but now with the retirement of the greats fast bowlers are even rarer. Brett Lee, Dale Steyn, Ntini, Flintoff, Akthar and Malinga were the genuine speedsters of the 21st century. Now after Bond and Lee's retirement, there's only Dale Steyn left in world cricket as a genuine pace bowler. Ntini's declined as a fast bowler, and Akthar and Malinga fail to find themselves in their teams wearing white. While Akthar still talks of his comeback, Malinga seems to have resigned to the fact that his fitness is not good for five days. Flintoff has bid adieu after innumerable injuries.
Kemar Roach and Fidel Edwards are left, but for Roach it's still early days and Edwards is still to find his way around. Aamer is another fascinating talent, but even he is young and has already had his share of injuries. Shaun Tait is a bowler who could consistently hit the 160 Km mark, but even he has announced that his body cannot take the torments of test cricket. Dirk Nannes is another who has followed Tait's route and Australia are left with Mitchell Johnson as their only genuine speedster. But he is still not all that super fast.
Why are fast bowlers so frighteningly rare? The question has a very simple answer. It's mainly because of the heavy workload of a fast bowler and the amount of strain it produces on the body. Any coach will tell a young fast bowler that he will have his share of injuries and even after retirement, the effects of bowling will still ring aloud through the body. Fast bowlers require not only plenty of mental stamina but also lots of physical stamina. Fast bowling is physically demanding and after every spell, the bowler goes through pain. Bowling at such high speeds takes toll on the body. If a fast bowler's run-up to bowl is slowed down to 250-300 frames a second on cameras that Bio-mechanical people have, one can see just how unnatural a fast bowler's body is. There is so much force that goes through the ankle. Fast bowlers slam up to 20 times their body weight on to their front foot in delivery. An average man weighs about 82 Kilograms, and the force experienced on his front foot alone is 1640 kilograms! That is the front foot alone. There is also wear and tear on the ankles, knees, back and the shoulders. That is why it is so difficult to become a fast bowler.
A fast bowler must have a large pain threshold if he is to survive. He must battle sore legs, muscle throbs and sprains and an ever aching lower back. Even a young quick bowler of ten years will experience lower back pains. And on top of all this, he'll have many injuries and muscle tears, and blood clots. Making the life of a fast bowler just as much discomfortable as the batsman at the receiving end of his quicks. It's living hell and often these problems go long after retirement.
The rarity of these genuinely quick bowlers is a worry. The amount of matches has taken a toll and it's time for ICC to make a more understanding schedule. I conclude by quoting Ian Chappell, "Test cricket needs genuine pace bowlers to fully live up to its reputation of being the only thorough examination of a player. However, a youngster would be unwise to head down that career path if he doesn't possess a big heart, a capacity for hard work and a tolerance for pain."
Let's just hope that the fast bowling species doesn't become an extinct species.