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Monday, May 20, 2024

Fact check: Umran Malik is good, but has he bowled the fastest recorded ball by a Bharatiya bowler?

Many are wrongly claiming that Umran Malik’s balls recorded at 155 km/hr and 156 km/hr against Sri Lanka in the T20 and 1st one-day game in January 2023 are the fastest balls ever recorded by a Bharatiya bowler in international cricket. This is not true.

Javagal Srinath was recorded at 157 km/hr in the 1996-97 Bharatiya tour of South Africa. It was on 27 January 1997 at Paarl, in the game between Bharat and Zimbabwe, which turned out to be a thrilling tie – both sides scoring 236. The then Zimbabwe Captain Alistair Campbell said about this game (archived here): 

“We then moved on to our second game against India, at Boland Bank Park. In all 236 was quite a decent score, as it wasn’t the easiest of pitches to bat on, and Srinath I think bowled the quickest that any of our guys had ever seen. He bowled a really quick spell early on, even quicker than Allan Donald; he was timed at 157 km/h, a good 10 km/h faster than Donald was bowling throughout the tournament. Grant Flower was hit on the thigh pad, and when he came off he said he thought he had broken his leg”.

There is video recording of proof of the fact that speed guns were in use in this match, as in every match in this series. See at timestamp 36:38 in this video to see proof of a speed gun being used in this game on 27 January 1997. 

The video shows the bowling speed of the last ball bowled by Eddo Brandes of Zimbabwe, delivery 43.5 of the Bharatiya innings, which clean bowled batsman Ajay Jadeja, whose speed was 130 km/hr. The name of the Speed Gun company was also shown as “Mennen Speed Stick”.

Apart from Alistair Campbell, there is another testimony from a person who also faced Lance Klusener and Alan Donald along with Srinath, and found Srinath to be quicker. Alistair Campbell and Grant Flower had also faced Waqar Younis at his peak, and Wasim Akram and the Pakistani pace battery before this. They had in fact played a full 3-Test series in January 1995, when they had won their first Test match, defeating Pakistan by an innings and 64 runs and scoring 544/4 declared in their only innings. Even they said that they had never faced anyone as quick as Srinath.

In this 1996-97 series, Lance Klusener bowled a ball at 154 km/hr. This was in an ODI vs Bharat, and Robin Singh hit that ball for a huge six over square-leg/ mid-wicket. The commentators said “And that ball was recorded at 154 km/hr, one reason why it went that far”. This was in the abandoned first final on 12 Feb 1997 when Bharat scored 191 in 50 overs.

But this again proves that Srinath bowled at 157 km/hr, because batsmen from both sides said they found him quicker than Donald and Klusener. After Srinath announced his retirement in November 2003, a newspaper again reported that he had indeed been recorded at 156+ kph by South African speed guns.

In Bharat’s 1992-93 tour to South Africa, Srinath was very quick and a ball from him hit Meyrick Pringle on the eye, injuring hum badly. Srinath thus became the first Bharatiya fast bowler to send an opposing batsman to the hospital. 

Srinath’s career can be classified in various stages.

The first stage was until his rotator-cuff injury in March 1997, which kept him away from cricket till November 1997. Until that time, he was a real express bowler. This injury was very serious (caused due to overload of bowling) and Srinath at that time had 92 Test wickets from 27 Tests- only 46 in his first 18 Tests, but 46 in his last 9 games. It was wondered if Srinath would ever be able to bowl again, let alone be ranked among the fastest bowlers in the world. After he announced his retirement in November 2003, Srinath revealed that he feared his career was over when he was trying to recover from the rotator-cuff injury.

The desperation and seriousness of that injury can be seen from this article of September 1997 in the weekly India Today. This article dated 5 September 1997 also reveals that Srinath was a real express bowler before that injury. None other than Australia legendary quick Denis Lillee called him ‘a genuine fast bowler’.

The second stage was after his return, from November 1997 till the 1999 World Cup. In this time, he was still very quick, but some commentators who closely observed him (like Prem Panicker for said that in this time, he did not always go at full pace. He bowled within himself, concentrating on line and length, and bowled express fast on occasions.

The third was from 1999 till March 2001, when his pace certainly declined as compared to his pre-rotator cuff injury, but he was still quick. And the fourth was from 2001 till March 2003, when his pace declined, and he could only be called ‘medium fast’ bowler, but as deadly as ever due to his improved accuracy, bowling in the mid-130s km/hr range and only occasionally crossing 140.

In the 1999 World Cup, speed guns were installed before the first match of the Super Sixes between Bharat and Australia on 4 June 1999. The speed guns were unveiled one day before, by Srinath and McGrath.

And Srinath was recorded at 93 miles per hour (149.7 km/hr), while McGrath, although fastest of the rest, was way behind at 88 mph (141.6 km/hr). Srinath bowled 5 miles/hr quicker than McGrath, i.e. more than 8 km/hr quicker. From Cricinfo commentary of this match also we can see that Srinath was bowling very quick. 

This was 2 years after his career-threatening rotator-cuff injury of March 1997, and yet he bowled at 93 miles per hour or 149.7 km/hr, which was the fastest any bowler bowled in the tournament apart from Shoaib Akhtar. The other bowlers in this World Cup were Allan Donald, Lance Klusener (though his pace had declined after his 1998 ankle injury), Geoff Allot, Wasim Akram and company. But Srinath was recorded faster than all of them, including Allan Donald. Though Donald was past his quickest at this stage, so was Srinath.

In his first series after his return from the rotator-cuff injury in November-December 1997, Srinath was still very quick. In the 3rd Test of this series against Sri Lanka in Mumbai in December 1997, his bouncer hit Sri Lankan wicket-keeper Lanka D Silva on the face, and the later needed 10 stitches at the hospital. The ball did not sneak through, it was so quick that it actually broke the grill of the helmet. Watch the video below at the 5:38 timestamp:

Lanka D Silva thus became the second batsman to be sent to the hospital by Srinath. 

In 1996, Bharat toured England. Though speed guns were most likely not used, video recording of Srinath’s express bowling is available. This video shows how quick he was before his 1997 rotator-cuff injury. All the English batsmen, including well-set ones, were being beaten for sheer pace.

In November 1996, Bharat won the first Test at Ahmedabad against South Africa, defending 170 in the 4th innings, with Srinath taking 6/21. On a slow, spinning track, Srinath stunned everyone by express bowling. It wasn’t merely the wickets that Srinath took, all his 11.5 overs were very quick, as those who watched the game would remember. His 6 wickets can be seen here:

While reporting, Prem Panicker of wrote that : “And bravest of the lot would have been the man who suggested that on this “spinner’s wicket”, it would be the pace and fire of Javagal Srinath that would shatter the South African batting lineup with one of the most explosive spells of fast bowling in recent memory….Javagal Srinath, bowling faster than anyone has seen him in his career, blasted one into a tentative Hudson’s back pad… Srinath was bowling as fiery a spell of fast bowling as you would want to see, getting enormous swing with the older ball and adding to the batsman’s troubles by bowling the breakback, pitching on off stump and cutting the ball sharply towards leg.”

But even in his last tournament, the 2003 World Cup when Srinath was way past his quickest, he was recorded above 140 km/hr many times. In the game against England on 26 Feb 2003, he bowled at 143 km/hr with many balls being recorded above 140. If Srinath could bowl at that pace at that age, it shows that at his peak he was indeed a real express bowler.

-By M D Deshpande

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