Brett Lee wrote:The secret of bowling fast? It's all about rhythm. And angles. And staying fit and getting your body to click. There are certain things that will come naturally - your general coordination, for instance, and snapping your wrist at the point of delivery - and there are other things you can learn about and change. But, deep down, I think bowling fast is something you have to want to do with a passion, because it's very hard work.
This, basically, is how I do it.
In the past couple of months, I've shortened my run-up. I suppose like most kids growing up, I thought you had to have a huge run-up to bowl quick. Most fast bowlers back in the glory days, the Sixties and Seventies, went back a long way, almost pushing off the fence to start their run. We used to mimic them. But my run up now is 21 metres and 30 centimetres. Exactly. And I know it is exact because we use a tape-measure to get it right. It's about 21 paces, as I try to do long strides when I'm stepping it out.
So, I'll put my marker down then walk back an extra four or five paces, so I'm starting from just inside the 30-metre circle. From this point on, it all comes down to one word: rhythm. I've done a lot of work with the great fast bowler Dennis Lillee, who has been a terrific help. To find what suits you best, you get a nice open field, with a stump down one end, you close your eyes and you push off and wait until it feels comfortable, and then run up and just bowl.
Someone will mark exactly where your front foot landed, and you don't worry about where the ball goes. Then you go back and do it again, pushing off the same mark, run and let it go while feeling comfortable, and hopefully you will release the ball at the same point.
You find after doing this about 10 times that you are releasing the ball at pretty much the same spot - perhaps a couple of millimetres out - and then you take the average of all of them and that's basically your best run-up, the one that allows you to best hit a rhythm.
I've found, after I went through that process, that it certainly helped my pace and made me more efficient, a more economical bowler in terms of body movement and energy. You don't want to waste energy in this job because you need it to keep concentration and, obviously, accuracy. And that's why you can bowl longer spells.
After a while, it's all about doing it without thinking. Bowling fast should come naturally if you are going to do it well. It's a very tough discipline, with a lot of stress on your lower body. There's about 15 times your whole body weight going through your knees and ankles and your back each time a fast bowler puts his front foot down at the crease. There is a lot of stress. They say that fast bowlers have to have good coordination. But I'm not a good dancer, so I wouldn't know about that. I do put the work in though. It all comes down to that in the end, practice.
Theories come and go in cricket. When I was growing up, I was told you had to try to get side-on as you got to the crease, to look through the window of the crook in your left arm, that sort of thing. They tried to make you side-on because they figured that was the way to bowl a lot faster, and that you wouldn't get injured because you'd be looking after your back, and you'd bowl massive outswingers. But I think that theory went out the window about the time Malcolm Marshall was bowling front-on and bowling massive outswingers at pretty good pace.
I used to be classed as a mixed-action bowler, which means the lower half of my body was predominantly front-on, with the top half side-on. This developed what they call counter-rotation and that is what basically causes a lot of back injuries among fast bowlers. If you can imagine getting a ruler and twisting it back and forth, at some stage the ruler is going to snap. It's the same with a person's spine.
The first thing I had to work out was whether to change the top half or the bottom half of my body action. After speaking to Dennis, I came to the conclusion that it is very hard to change the bottom half. That's your base. So I had to adjust above the waist. I've moved my arm from having gone a long way across my chest, to make me look through that window, to shifting over to my left, so I'm almost fully front-on now. Not totally, because my back foot doesn't face straight down the wicket, more at 45 degrees. My head and shoulders, though, are in one line. And, if I carry that action through the crease, I take a lot of stress off my whole back. And, touch wood, it's worked so far.
It also gives me confidence, lets me loosen up in the delivery action, knowing that I won't get those twinges, won't risk injury any more. Before, I would consciously be trying to turn side-on, which gave me a lot of pace through the twisting action. Now I run straight through the crease. I'm a lot more explosive at the point of delivery and get a lot more pace, pulling down with my front arm because I'm not worrying about twisting and turning to generate the pace, and I don't have to worry about balance either.
It also gives me a straight line: through the crease, straight at the batsman, lined up with the keeper. So it gives me pace and accuracy too. It makes a lot more sense than twisting and turning.
There are a lot of bowlers out there who have to bowl side-on because their back foot is perfectly parallel to the crease and that comes from the action in the bottom half of their body. You can't change that base easily, if at all. That's why I think I was always meant to bowl front-on. Since I've released the top half, I've put on yards.
Another factor in bowling fast is the angle of the wrist at the point of delivery.
It has a huge part to play. Unfortunately for some, you're either born with that natural wrist action or you're not. I don't think you can teach it easily, because it's very precise. There is no margin for error. They try to teach you growing up but most fast bowlers don't use their wrist, for instance, when throwing the ball. They generate that whippy power mainly from their elbow. So it's hard to add the wrist to the bowling action as well. They haven't come up with a satisfactory technique yet to teach bowlers to use their wrist properly. There are methods to strengthen the wrist, using weights, and that can help a little. Really, though, it's something you're born with.
When I take off at the crease, leaving the ground, my wrist is cocked. When I get my arm back and it comes through nice and high, with my wrist in the perfect position to snap through the ball, that's when it feels right, when it really goes. The accuracy comes with doing it day in and day out. It becomes second nature. When I'm bowling, I don't think about it. If you have to think about it, you'll struggle. If you get that part right subconsciously, you can concentrate then on different grips and angles, to put work on the ball, and make the ball work for you at the other end, cutting or swinging.
As for the bouncer, the fast bowler's ultimate weapon in many ways, you generally keep a little bit in reserve. You don't want to show the batsman too much. It's impossible to bowl at 100 per cent effort all the time anyway. Jason [Gillespie], Glenn [McGrath] and myself, we probably bowl at or around the 90 per cent mark most of the time. You keep the other 10 per cent for the yorker or the really fast bouncer.
I think the fastest ball I've ever bowled was in a spell one day in 1999, playing for NSW against Western Australia. It was at a stage when I felt really fit. It was just one of those days, it was on a fast track, at the WACA, and everything clicked. My captain that day was Steve Waugh, who was also the Test captain obviously, so I was conscious of that too. I just ran in all day and it felt good. I took five-for, I think I hit a couple of guys in the helmet, I broke Jo Angel's arm. Things really happened, all on one day. Unfortunately there was no speed camera there, but Steve and Mark Waugh and a few others all said they'd never seen anything quicker than that on that day.
The fastest I've been clocked at is 157.4 kph, which is around 98 mph. That was in South Africa last year (see table). The second fastest was 156 kph, which was over there again in 2000. It might be something in the air, and South Africa has been a pretty happy hunting ground for me.
During this Ashes series, we've got a fast-bowling showdown in Australia, between myself, Jason, Shoaib Akhtar and Devon Malcolm. There's a lot of media hype about these speed-gun tests, which is fair enough and it's great for the kids, a bit of a show. But the more important thing is to get one type of speed-gun used across the board in match conditions. It shouldn't matter if you're playing in South Africa or Sri Lanka, the measuring device should be the same - and that's not the case at the moment. In New Zealand, for instance, the speed gun is heaps slower. You feel like you're bowling at 160 kph, and you look up at the board and it says you're bowling at 128 kph. You know it can't be right.
I'll tell you this: Devon Malcolm is remarkable. To be bowling consistently at more than 90 mph at 40 years if age is something else. If I'm still bowling at 40 it certainly won't be at 90 mph - and it will be a miracle if I'm bowling at all. Nearly all the Australian batsmen will tell you that the fastest bowling they have faced has been against Devon. He was a bit of an idol of mine, and he's a real gentleman too. Not that you need to be to bowl fast. But he is.
As for the fastest I've seen, I never watched a lot of cricket growing up. It's only been in the past 10 years I suppose that I've gone back over the video-tapes to have a look at the likes of Lillee and Jeff Thomson. The first senior match I ever went to I was playing in. I was 12th man. Some people imagine that most Test players spent their childhood watching Test cricket, going to the grounds and getting autographs, but I have to tell you that wasn't the case with me. I was born about an hour-and-a-half south of Sydney so I didn't get the opportunities to go to those matches anyway. We were always out playing in the back yard, me and my two brothers.
So I never saw Thommo bowl live, for instance. I've watched a lot of footage of him, though, and I reckon he had the perfect action. Yet oddly enough, there's not a coach out there who has tried to get kids to bowl like Thommo did. It's like an unwound coil, spitting the ball out from behind his back almost. But the most important thing about Thommo's action was that his shoulders and hips were virtually in the same line. At some point in his action, his knuckles were all but touching the ground, because he's a very flexible athlete. I was talking to Allan Border about Thommo recently and he said that Jeff could probably still put his legs over the back of his head.
As for fast bowlers going easy on each other, as they reckon used to be the case some time, I don't think that's the case now. I hope not. That might sound stupid but I'd rather be taken seriously as a cricketer, even down the order.
Over the past 10 to 15 years there has been this notion of a fast bowlers' union, with our lot agreeing not to bounce each other etc, but I like to play my cricket very hard. If I've got a bat in my hand, they should treat me like a batsman, even if it's at 8, 9 or 10. If that means copping a few bouncers, that's the way it is. This is Test cricket, after all and you're playing for your country. I expect to get bounced - and I hope they expect to get bounced when they face me.
They say fast bowlers aren't too bright. Well I always reply: who's the brightest, the guy bowling 160 kph, or the guy facing him?
· The Ashes series is exclusively live on Sky Sports this winter.
...and how to
England's Michael Vaughan explains how to be a fast bowler
Batting against pace is all about relying on your instincts. Every Test-level fast bowler reaches speeds above 80mph so, no matter who you're facing, the ball is moving so fast that there's no time to think about what you're doing - you've just got to react to it.
Facing fast bowling is mentally demanding so a good temperament is vital. You can't fear the pace but you must respect it. Be prepared to take a few hits but don't let them ruffle you. It hurts when you get hit so get ready to wear a few bruises.
You must stay positive, though. I always think you should treat fast bowling as an opportunity to score runs by using the bowlers' pace to your own advantage. The quicker the ball comes onto the bat the quicker it will go off. Runs can come quickly, too, especially if the ball is new and there are gaps in the field.
At the same time you need to be patient. Not every ball can be hit to the boundary. You have to accept that in almost every innings there will be periods where the bowlers will be on top. When they are it's a matter of getting through the spell and staying calm.
I keep my stance simple, standing on the line of the crease with my feet a comfortable width apart. My trigger movement is an initial small step forwards then, as the ball is released, a second small foot movement, only this time backwards towards my wicket. This provides a solid base from which I can react to the ball.
The faster the ball, the more exaggerated my second backward movement becomes. It's an instinctive thing. By getting onto my back foot I'm giving myself as much time as possible to react. It's only a fraction of a second extra but any time you can create helps.
As the bowler runs in I'm not thinking about him, his run-up, or his action - I'm concentrating on the ball in his hand, nothing else. I start to really focus on it when he gets to within three or four yards of hitting the crease.
Now it's down to your eyes. As the ball leaves the bowler's hand you have to pick it up against the sight-screen as quickly as possible and try to judge the angle and speed of the ball. I can sometimes tell by the bowler's action and the way that the ball comes out of his hand where it's going to pitch. This all happens subconsciously. In my mind I can tell, or predict, where the ball is going to hit.
If I'm playing well this can happen the moment the ball is released. As this happens your bat should be around hip height and parallel to the ground. You should be in the base position ready to trigger. There's no way you can predetermine what shot to play. This is where all the hours in the nets and instinct takes over.
As a batsman your mind and body is mentally and physically tuned into reacting in a split second. It becomes just that: a reaction. The shot that you play depends entirely where you think the ball is going to pitch. My natural inclination is to get onto the back foot as the pace of the ball will usually force you there anyway. It's also a good position to be in because you're a lot more likely to get out to pace bowling by trying to play a shot on the front foot.
Bouncers can be dangerous and yorkers are awkward to play but the outswinger is definitely the hardest ball to play. Outright pace is bad enough but when you add movement in the air - especially outswing - it becomes even more difficult.
Confidence, therefore, is one of the biggest factors in playing fast bowling. With it you have a belief that whatever you're facing you will be able to play a shot. Without it you get anxious about whether you're going to be able to react quickly enough and compensate by getting into position too early and start going for shots that aren't really there to be played. That's when you can get yourself in trouble and, almost certainly, out.