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Jeff Thomson created a more electrifying and intimidating effect than any bowler ever

By Harsh Thakor* 

Jeff Thomson is arguably the fastest and most lethal fast bowler ever. Hard to visualise any paceman intimidating, tormenting or crippling opponents at such a scale or as electrifying or explosive. .No paceman set out more on a mission to inflict pain or hurt an opponent. Thomson was the ultimate freak, of the cricketing fraternity.
Noone ever instilled the fear of God into the best of batsmen, through pure pace, taking speed to almost transcendental heights. The deliveries that reared from a length, were almost unplayable, giving vibrations of a dynamite exploding .They would kick the glove or even ascend shoulder height.
Thomson was also blessed with high reserves of stamina. Suppleness and elasticity was his forte.
Although not classical, Thommo was as effective as the very best, with his thunderbolts.Thomson possessed a characteristic slinging action, reminiscent of the punch of a heavy weight boxer. He did not swing a ball much, but no pace bowler ever obtained as much disconcerting lift from short of a length. It reminded one of a shark darting out of the waters, or lightning and thunder striking at the end of a tunnel.
Thomson cultivated the habit of making the ball leave the bat in the air, and occasionally after pitching, which would rattle the best of batsmen.
Thomson started with his bowling arm low before it transcended the journey of a mighty arc from behind his back and over his head. No one’s arms came from so further back. Thomson personified the slinger’s action like no other bowler, with the right hand coming from behind the right leg, and the body in a coordinated sideways position. Both arms played a part in his most energetic follow through, who on release of the ball, came down on braced leg. Thomson brilliantly concealed his delivery stride, before his final thrust.
Few ever possessed as deadly a yorker as Thommo.
Quoting Gideon Haigh in Wisden Overview “Jeff Thomson's run to the wicket was undertaken at the pace of man jogging around the block, but his action was one of cricket's most explosive; tilting back in the style of a javelin thrower, he catapulted the ball at speeds seldom, if ever, attained since.”
In the view of Clive Lloyd what was notable in Thomson was his ability to bring himself back late in the day, with the old ball, and still garner lightning pace, to create impact of 360 degree turn in the plot of an epic.
Unlike partner Dennis Lillee,Thomson had a build perfect for fast bowling. Being tall, athletic, powerful set of shoulders and light on his feet. Thomson was the ideal or perfect contrast of Dennis Lillee. Lillee was more versatile, moved the ball around and thought more about the game, while Thomson epitomised pure speed and aggression. Lillee worked harder on his game, while Thommo was more naturally gifted. Rolled into one, they would comprise the perfect fast bowler.

Playing Career

He debuted against Pakistan in 1972-73, but was victim of a broken bone in his foot.
With Dennis Lillee, Thomson constituted the most lethal pace bowling duo ever. It surmounted aggression and hostility at heights rarely transcended in sport. They sent shivers down the spine and ripped the flesh of opponents like no one else, reminiscent of a combing operation of an army. creating a carnage. The duo was responsible for making Australia, arguably the most powerful test side ever from 1974-76.The Lillee-Thomson duo terrorised the touring England side lost by margin of 4-1 and an all conquering West Indies team that were vanquished by a 5-1 margin. Repeatedly Thomson rattled the likes of Clive Lloyd or even Viv Richards on the body and earlier Tony Greig .Keith Fletcher and David Lloyd. Thommo captured 33 scalps in 1974-75 home Ashes series at cost of 17.83 per wicket.
In the 1975 Ashes in England, Thomson was as lethal as before. taking 16 wickets at cost of 28.56 apiece.
In the 1975-76 series against West Indies, Thomson overshadowed Lillee, capturing 29 scalps, at an average of 28.83 Never in cricket history have Carribean batsmen, looked so much all at sea. The likes of Lawrence Rowe, Alvin Kalicharan, Clive Lloyd, Gordon Greenidge and Viv Richards were mesmerised. No paceman ever looked as mesmerising in a demolition job.
Sady, a collision accident in the 1st test in 1976-77 at Adelaide against Pakistan caused Thomson major shoulder injury, which curtailed his once unbelievable speed. Although he was successful, spearheading the attack in England in 1977 taking 23 scalps at average of 25,34 ,in West Indies taking 20 wickets at around 28 average and in a home series against India in 1977-78 23 wickets at average of 23.45 , he could never resurrect his previous pace. Still, praiseworthy, that he singlehandedly spearheaded a weakened Aussie bowling attack.
In 1978 at Bridgetown against Australia in Barbados, Thomson for a while, ressurected his old speed, reminiscent of Muhammad Ali coming back victorious. Viv Richards classed it as the fastest or most ferocious bowling he ever witnessed, with Thommo shattering the West Indies top order. His 6-77 was close to the most lethal bowling spells ever.
The cricket world dearly missed the presence of Thomson in Kerry Packer World Series cricket. Had he not faced a setback due to injury, he may well have become the most lethal proposition in the tournament.
In 1979-80 home series against England and West Indies he was hardly impactful, nor in the 183 series in Pakistan.
In 1981-82, at Adelaide against West Indies, Thomson gave shades of his old fire, with scalps of star s like Viv Richards, whom he pierced through the gate. In moments, in that series, he resembled a tiger possessed.
Thomson was most effective in a home Ashes series in 1982-83, averaging 18.68 and taking 22 wickets, manifesting pace bowling skill at the very highest scale, with his precarious bounce. He ruffled batsmen like David Gower and Alan Lamb. Few bowlers have ever been more lethal, in short bursting one spell at Sydney; he literally produced magic, in the view of David Gower, when facing him. In this series,Thomson was right up there with the very best of fast bowlers.
In his final series in England in 1985, Thomson was hardly his old self, averaging 91.66.

Evaluation

For sheer speed in my view,,Thommo’s rivals are Shoaib Akhtar,Brett Lee and Sylvester Clarke. In Thomson’s time speed was not as accurately measured .In moral diagnosis, I rate Thomson the quickest.
In important ways Thommo was an incarnate of late fast bowler Frank Tyson.
Jeff Thomson ended his career with 200 scalps at an average of 28 runs apiece, in 51 test matches, at a strike rate of 52.6, with 8,five wicket hauls and career best of 6-46.
Would Jeff Thomson be tagged as an – ‘all-time great’ fast bowler? It is debatable. Thomson, like Lillee, never proved himself on the slow subcontinent surfaces. Nor were his overall statistics in the bracket of the very best.
Thomson, unlike partner Lillee, or Andy Roberts and later Michael Holding, did not possess many variations, or did not posess an effective slower ball .He could not develop movement or control of length, to compensate loss of speed like them.,or think enough about his bowling. Thomson never on flat wicket matched Michael Holding’s 8-92 and 6-57 on the flattest of surfaces at the Oval in 1976, or surpassed the over Holding bowled to Boycott at Barbados in 1981. However, morally, Thomson was a more daunting challenge to face than any paceman, and at his best most damaging, rattling the very best. Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards,rate Thomo the most intimidating bowler of their time. Possibly, had Thomson not suffered a collision in 1977, he may have had far more impressive figures. In cricket history, he generated sheer speed at scale untranscended.
Possibly Thomson being part of debatably the most lethal pace blowing pair ever ,places him in the club of ‘greats’, but still I would not place him in the class of a Dennis Lillee, Malcolm Marshall, Andy Roberts or Michael Holding.
Thomson was ranked in 49th place amongst all-time greats by David Gower and at 94th place by Geoff Armstrong. I would just scrape Thommo in my list of top 100 cricketers, giving respect to his impact and constituting probably the best ever pace duo. Surprisingly, Dennis Lillee ranked Thomson as the 3rd best fast bowler of his era, behind only Andy Roberts and John Snow.
In an all-time XI Thomson at his best, could have been an effective weapon.
Thomson was an astute judge of the game selecting Barry and Viv Richards as the best batsmen he ever bowled to ,Greg Chappell the best batsmen of his generation ,and selecting Ian Botham ,Malcolm Marshall, Sunil Gavaskar and Dennis Lillee ,in his all-time test team.
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*Freelance journalist

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