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Marsh forced to reappraise verdict

By John Mehaffey
April 29, 2004 11:59 IST
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A decade ago Rodney Marsh, famously combative wicketkeeper in the great 1970s Australia side, prompted a flurry of indignation in English cricket circles with his verdict on the country's pace bowlers.

"Pie throwers," growled Marsh, a remark guaranteed to offend.

A random poll of English cricket fans delivered two complementary reactions. Nobody knew exactly what pie throwers were. Everybody realised they were somehow irresolute, possibly effeminate and decidedly un-Australian.

The phrase has lingered, echoing England's continuing failure to win the Ashes back from the bronzed marauders who arrive every four years to demonstrate a contemptuous supremacy at the summer game of the British Empire.

Times change. Marsh is now director of the English National Academy. He is also markedly upbeat about the present depth and quality of fast bowling in England.

Marsh expresses particular enthusiasm about the potential of Sajid Mahmood, who proved outstanding on the England A tour to India this year.

"I will be exceptionally surprised if Sajid doesn't play for England," he told The Guardian. "He has all the attributes of a fast bowler. He bowled superbly with controlled line, length and pace."


With Steve Harmison at their helm, England's top line fast bowlers conquered in the Caribbean this year, mercilessly battering, bruising and dismissing the current crop of West Indies batsmen in a 3-0 series victory.

Harmison, as fast, awkward and accurate as England's last genuinely world class fast bowler Bob Willis, was a revelation.

But whereas Willis lacked support of equivalent pace, with the exception of John Snow early in his career, Harmison was supported by Simon Jones and Andy Flintoff, each bowling consistently around 90 kms an hour.

Ninety kilometres separates the men from the pie throwers, as Marsh knows better than anyone after years of intercepting thunderbolts from Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson.

Now England have three men capable of high pace and more waiting in the wings with Mahmood the pick of the crop.

"India was a good place to learn," Mahmood said. "We have to bowl on slow tracks and learn about line and length, not just pace. I think I am a more complete bowler now. I run and think about what I am doing rather than just bowling."

Once, according to folklore, English selectors found their fast bowlers by hollering down coal mines, recruiting likely lads desperate to escape the horrors underground.

Now, as with Mahmood, they are starting to tap into the still largely unexplored pool of Asian and Caribbean talent.

Sometimes in sport, as in life, what goes around comes around, as England showed in the Caribbean when they avenged their 1980s humiliations by West Indies' pace merchants.

If their fast bowlers stay fit and focused, the England and Wales Cricket Board's ambition to field the best side in the world in three years' time seems attainable.

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John Mehaffey
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