By David de Winter – Sports Writer @davidjdewinter
It could be the fact that I have very few friends or that I’m just a bit of a loser, but my idea of a good night in involves watching classic sport clips on youtube with a glass of wine in hand. Whilst other twentysomethings are busy interacting with other humans and generally socialising, I can be found scouring the internet for footage of Euro 96 or Prince Naseem Hamed in his heyday. There’s something about watching the greats of yesteryear strut their stuff that gets me all teary-eyed with nostalgia – which is why I’ve finally put my nerdiness and lack of social skills to good use and compiled a list of my top-5 cricket fast-bowling performances.
Curtly Ambrose 6-24 (West Indies v England, Port-of-Spain, 1994)
One of my earliest cricket memories is of England’s calamitous collapse at the hands of the mighty Curtly Ambrose in early 1994. Set 193 to win in the fourth innings, the enormous West Indian fast bowler tore through England’s top order with a fearsome spell of 6-24 as England were bowled out for just 46 inside 20 overs. His deliveries to dismiss Robin Smith, Alec Stewart and Graham Thorpe stick in the memory, each time sending the off-stump cartwheeling out of the ground followed by the classic Ambrose elated fist-pump in celebration. Fast-bowling at its absolute best.
Chris Cairns 6-77 (New Zealand v England, Lord’s, 1999)
I have included this spell because a) Cairns was one of my favourite cricketers and b) he bowled one of the great deliveries to dismiss Chris Read. However his whole performance during England’s first innings was also a lesson in how to bowl in favourable English conditions using the Lord’s slope. I remember watching this spell as a young lad and the New Zealander time and again beat the bat with seam, swing and bounce. Nevertheless the Read dismissal was one of the great moments in Test Cricket. The audacity to bowl such a delivery at the home of cricket deserves praise in itself, but to execute it so perfectly was simply out of this world. The look of bemusement on Read’s face caps it all. Brilliant.
Glenn McGrath (Australia v England, Lord’s, 2005)
The first day of the now memorable 2005 Ashes series was seemingly England’s as they skittled the Australians for 190 in their first innings. Glenn McGrath however had other ideas. If Cairns’ display was a lesson, McGrath’s was a masterclass. Bowling down the Lord’s slope from the Pavilion end, he induced Marcus Trescothick and Andrew Strauss to edge to slip in two classic seaming-away left-hander dismissals before the real carnage began. McGrath bowled Michael Vaughan, Ian Bell and Andrew Flintoff in the space of four overs for just three runs to reduce England to 21-5. The manner of the wickets, putting the ball on a length and letting the ball and the slope do the rest to hit the top of off-stump, was magical. The way he utterly bamboozled Flintoff was almost comical. At the time I was watching this spell weeping behind the sofa with my head in my hands but over time I have come to appreciate it as one of the great performances of modern times.
Andrew Flintoff (England v Australia, Edgbaston, 2005)
Same series, second test. With 282 to chase Australia were cruising at 47-0 when Michael Vaughan threw the ball to Flintoff who bowls what will come to be known as one of the greatest overs ever. After Langer defends the first delivery, Flintoff bowls the Australian opener with the second and in strides their captain Ricky Ponting. The big Lancastrian almost has him LBW first ball before inducing an edge that falls just short of Ashley Giles in the gully. Ball number 5 also has Ponting in trouble as he is struck on the pad but the appeal is to no avail. Flintoff then bowls a no-ball but with his seventh and final delivery, roared on by a partisan Edgbaston crowd, he puts the ball just outside the off-stump on a length with just a hint of away movement and Ponting takes the bait, edging to wicket-keeper Geraint Jones. A monumental over which changed not only the complexion of the match but the whole series.
James Anderson 7-43 (England v New Zealand, Trent Bridge, 2008)
Not an obvious choice but just wait until you watch some of Anderson’s deliveries, some of which would have troubled Don Bradman in his pomp. The balls to dismiss Aaron Redmond and Brendon McCullum often result in an underwear change for me and really highlight the late swing which is a hallmark of Anderson’s brilliant spell. The batsmen are expecting the ball, which is angling towards leg-stump, to continue its trajectory so they both set up to play it through the on-side. Anderson however gets such late away movement that the ball veers towards the off-stump, castling the two New Zealand batsmen in the most spectacular way possible in a classic Boycott-esque played-down-Bakerloo-ball-went-down-Piccadilly fashion. It was this spell that re-cemented Anderson’s place in the team and resulted in him eventually becoming England’s best fast-bowler since Ian Botham. Magic.