|Full name||Jeffery Robert Thomson|
16 August 1950 |
Greenacre, New South Wales, Australia
|Bowling style||Right arm fast|
|Test debut (cap 262)||29 December 1972 v Pakistan|
|Last Test||20 August 1985 v England|
|ODI debut (cap 28)||1 January 1975 v England|
|Last ODI||3 June 1985 v England|
|Domestic team information|
|1972–1974||New South Wales|
|Source: Cricinfo, 4 November 2008|
Jeffrey Robert Thomson (born 16 August 1950 in Greenacre, New South Wales) is a former Australian cricketer. Known as "Thommo", he is known unofficially as the fastest bowler of all time. He was the opening partner of fellow fast bowler Dennis Lillee; their combination was one of the most fearsome in Test cricket history. Commenting of their bowling during the 1974–75 season, Wisden wrote: "... it was easy to believe they were the fastest pair ever to have coincided in a cricket team".
Competing in a 1978 fast bowling contest that included many of the leading bowlers in the world, Thomson came first with a delivery clocked at 147.9 km/h, ahead of Michael Holding (141.3 km/h) and Imran Khan (139.7 km/h). In 1975 during a Test match, he was timed using high-speed cameras with a release speed of 160.45 km/h; the following year he was timed at 160.58 km/h using conventional radar. Australian wicket-keeper Rod Marsh kept wicket to Thomson for most of his Test career and claimed that Thomson bowled upwards of 180 km/h. Former West Indies captain Clive Lloyd regards Thomson as the fastest bowler he has ever seen. Thomson himself noted that he had been timed at the batsman's end of the pitch (by which time the ball has slowed) and believes had he been timed out of the hand he would have been closer to 180 km/h. Frank Tyson wrote that "at a muzzle velocity of 99.6 m.p.h. Thompson is so fast and human reaction time is so slow that scientists have calculated that the batsman has to begin playing a stroke against him more than .062 of a second before 'Thommo' lets go of the ball".
Incidents were reported of Thomson's deliveries hitting the opposite sight-screen - the one behind the wicket-keeper - having beaten the wicket-keeper on the full, after the one bounce on the pitch. These reports arise from the time when he was at his fastest - the period between 1972 and 1976, long before boundary ropes began to be pulled in, which happened around 1990. Thomson came to the fore in 1974–75 with 33 wickets in the Ashes series. Helmets and the other modern protective items for batsmen were not available at the time, and there was no restrictions on the use of the bouncer. The success of the Australian cricket team with fast bowling prompted an era when pace bowling dominated the game, at the expense of slow bowling.
Thomson enjoyed a rapid rise in the 1972–73 season, when he made his first-class debut for New South Wales (NSW), then his Test debut after five first-class games. Against Pakistan at the MCG, Thomson returned match figures of 0/110. Later, he was diagnosed as having played with a broken bone in his foot, the pain from which he kept concealed from selectors and teammates. Following this, he disappeared from first-class cricket until the final match of the 1973–74 season. A very fast spell for NSW against Queensland impressed the opposition captain Greg Chappell, who encouraged Thomson to move to Queensland for the following season.
1974-75: Test stardom
When Thomson was selected for the first Test of the 1974–75 Ashes series, the English players had seen him in action only once, during a tour match against Queensland when Thomson bowled well within himself on the instruction of his captain Greg Chappell. He created controversy during a television interview before the Test when he said, "I enjoy hitting a batsman more than getting him out. I like to see blood on the pitch". In the second innings of the match, he bowled Australia to victory with a spell of 6/46. At Perth, he injured several batsmen and finished off the game with 5/93 in the second innings as Australia recorded another victory.
Taking a relatively short run up to the crease, Thomson generated his pace with a slinging-style bowling action, clearly influenced by his former competitive javelin throwing, that began to accelerate the ball from a lower position than is typical. He did not put a lot of work on the ball with his fingers, so he did not seam or swing the ball much and he adopted an uncomplicated approach to his work. He once described his bowling as, "I just roll up and go whang". Although he regularly bowled the bouncer, it was his ability to make the ball rise sharply from a length that earned him many wickets. The hard Australian pitches suited his style as he relied on bounce rather than movement to take wickets. John Benaud describes facing Thomson in a Sydney grade match:
So Thommo begins - the high stepping gait of a thoroughbred, bowling hand bobbing at waist level and the ball visible. It is conventional and comforting because facing a strange bowler for the first time invariably generates edginess. Then, in the split second before delivery, at gather, Thommo drags one leg behind the other in a sort of Swan Lake crossover, sways back and hides the ball behind his right knee - unconventional and very unsettling.
Forming an intimidating bowling partnership with Dennis Lillee, Thomson captured 33 wickets in the series and looked to set to beat Arthur Mailey's record of 36 Test wickets in an Australian season. However, he injured his shoulder playing a social tennis match during the rest day of the fifth Test at Adelaide and missed the rest of the summer. Australia's eventual winning margin was 4–1.
He was less at home on the slower wickets of England on the tour that followed and took only four wickets in five matches during the inaugural World Cup. In the subsequent four-Test series, he snared 16 wickets at 28.56. In the first Test at Edgbaston, he hit 49 from 67 balls and bagged 5/38 in England's second innings as Australia claimed the only decisive result of the series, which enabled them to retain the Ashes. At this time, Thomson hired a manager, David Lord, who negotiated a contract with the Brisbane radio station 4IP, reputedly worth A$63,000 per year for ten years. In the 1975–76 series against the West Indies, he took 29 wickets in the six Tests. He conceded a lot of runs but often induced the West Indies batsmen to play injudicious shots. Wisden thought his bowling had improved from the previous Australian season.
A severe injury resulted from an on-field collision with teammate Alan Turner as they both attempted a catch in the first Test match against Pakistan at Adelaide on Christmas Eve, 1976. A dislocation of his right collarbone forced him to miss the remainder of the season. Although he returned to Test cricket during the 1977 Ashes series in England, he was never as consistently fast again. Lillee missed the tour because of back problems, and Thomson responded as the spearhead of the attack by taking 23 wickets at 25.34 average. However, Australia's performance was hampered by the revelation that most of the team had signed to play World Series Cricket (WSC) in opposition to official cricket.
World Series Cricket
Thomson's relationship with WSC was complex. He did not hesitate to sign on, but his manager pointed out that his contract with 4IP required him to be available for Queensland. Lord extricated him from the WSC contract (along with the West Indian Alvin Kallicharan), prompting Kerry Packer to obtain an injunction preventing Lord (or any other third party) from inducing players to break their WSC agreements.
In the rebuilt Australian Test team of 1977–78, Thomson was the senior player after the recalled veteran, captain Bob Simpson. In the first Test against India at Brisbane, Thomson contributed seven wickets and 41 not out towards an Australian victory. During the second Test at Perth, he claimed six wickets and finished the series with 22 wickets at an average of 23.45. Australia had a narrow 3–2 win that helped the ACB maintain its optimism that it could win the war with WSC. Thomson, meanwhile, had success at domestic level, taking 6/18 in his only Gillette Cup appearance, against South Australia in Brisbane, which was enough to be voted man-of-the-series, winning him a prize of two return tickets to Fiji.
Simpson lobbied for Thomson's appointment as vice-captain of the team to tour the West Indies. Thomson produced his fastest spell since his comeback in the second Test at Bridgetown, Barbados, when he knocked off Viv Richards' cap and finished with 6/77. However, his bowling fell away in the later Tests. During the winter, Thomson expressed a desire to join his teammates playing WSC, which paid for a court challenge to his contract. The ACB had a rare[vague] victory over WSC when the judge ruled against the proposed move, and criticised Thomson's business acumen. Thomson played a single limited-overs match for Queensland, taking 6/18, and then sat out the season. As part of the negotiations for the peace treaty between the two organisations, the ACB agreed to let Thomson play in WSC's tour of the Caribbean in the spring of 1979. Reunited with Lillee, he returned 16 wickets in five "Supertests", including 5/78 at Trinidad.
The reunion of the partnership for Test cricket was less successful. A number of fast bowlers had enjoyed success for Australia during Thomson's absence from the team, yet the selectors were keen to see Lillee and Thomson attempt to reprise their success of the mid-1970s. However, Thomson managed only two Tests in 1979–80 when he was dropped. He played four ODIs in the first World Series Cup, but bowled erratically in two day/night matches against England at the SCG that confirmed his unsuitability to limited-overs cricket. Thereafter, injuries contributed to his absence from the team. Overlooked for the 1981 Ashes tour of England, he decided to spend the season with Middlesex in the hope that he might be needed as a late replacement in the Australian team.
Thomson reclaimed his place in 1981–82 when he played eight of the nine Tests against Pakistan and the West Indies (in Australia) and in New Zealand. His figures were pedestrian: 20 wickets at 36.4, with a best of 4/51. However, he found a regular place in the ODI team and took 19 wickets (at 27.42 average) in 13 matches during the World Series Cup.
On the tour of Pakistan later in the year, he took just three wickets in three Tests.
1982-83: More success against England
Dropped for the first Test at home against England, Thomson owed his recall to a knee injury suffered by Lillee. In the remaining four Tests, he enjoyed success in taking 22 wickets at 18.68. At times, he reached top pace, claiming 5/73 at Brisbane, and 5/50 at Sydney in the fifth Test, his last in Australia. His performance in the World Series Cup, 19 wickets in 13 matches with an RPO of 4.01, was his best in an ODI tournament.
Continuing with Queensland as captain, Thomson was chosen for the 1985 tour of England. The rebel tours to South Africa had stripped the Australian team of pace bowlers. In the first Test, his match figures were 2/174 and he was omitted until the fifth Test, when he scored 28 not out in the first innings, his highest Test score since 1977. His only wicket was Graham Gooch, giving him 200 Test wickets.
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