The Joy Of Medium Pace

We all know how cricket writers and supporters in England love to romanticise certain forms of bowling. Leg spin and fast bowling are probably the best examples, in part because there are so few genuinely great exponents of both of these challenging arts.

Medium pacers (and I enclose medium fast and fast medium) seam and swing doesn’t seem to get quite the same respect, although Jimmy Anderson’s skill and longevity are certainly well known and respected, as is Stuart Broad.

The list of English players however who have been written off as “just a medium pacer” is a long one. Alec Bedser was renowned as a miserly accurate seam bowler in the 30s and 40s, and Angus Fraser as a fine exponent of seam in the 90s. But these players are often given grudging respect with qualifications about how “they are less effective outside English conditions” and “only take wickets when it is cloudy”. 

This dismissal ignores the very great skill that the most effective practitioners of medium pace possess. Richard Hadlee was one of the most skilful and lethal bowlers in the history of the game. Meanwhile, SF Barnes was renowned as a magician in the earliest phase of international cricket.

A scepticism about medium to fast medium bowlers in England is a little odd. Do other countries have the same reservations? Glenn McGrath and Vernon Philander in recent times were fantastic technicians of a seaming ball, and neither were condemned on the basis that they were slower than their compatriots. The current New Zealand attack is also more medium fast than fast, and yet Southee and Trent Boult are formidable movers of a cricket ball.

It also seems fair to conclude that some fine bowlers would have played more for England if the selectors had been a little more-broad minded. Ryan Sidebottom was consistently overlooked during Duncan Fletcher’s tenure due to reservations about his perceived lack of pace, yet proved a more than handy performer during his second phase as a test player.

Steve Watkin was another player from yesteryear who helped win two of his three tests (against the Windies and Australia no less). However, his card was marked with the “only takes wickets in favourable conditions” too. Meanwhile, there are a plethora of county pros with excellent records like Luke Fletcher who, rightly or wrongly, have never got close to an England Test appearance because they’re considered ‘military medium’.

The latest medium paced thoroughbred being lined up for an England debut is Ollie Robinson, whose domestic figures are formidable. Sceptics have already queried whether his pace is sufficient for him to trouble international batsmen. Well, that never stopped Vernon Philander averaging about 21 in tests.

Is the man known as “The Rig” a similar talent? We’ll only know if he gets an opportunity.

Rob Stephenson


  • Medium-pacers come in the swing or seam categories – the very best tend to be able to do both but there are exceptions..

    The important thing for the genuinely Test class ones is that they have something to fall back on if their preferred mode isn’t working. McGrath (a strangely underrated bowler now) had bounce if it wasn’t seaming. Australia tried briefly to convert him into an out-swing bowler but gave up on the idea because pitching it up for swing negated McGrath’s lift. Hadlee could be genuinely quick when he wanted to be.

    As a Hampshire fan, Tim ‘Trooper’ Tremlett was my epitome of the CC medium-pacer. he got picked for an ‘A’ Tour to SL and ended up blwing off-spin.

    In England, for some reason, medium-pacers have often seemed to end up dominating the press box and have tended to be the very worst of the UK cricket media (which is quite a nadir to plunge). That’s the ones who went to Oxbridge – otherwise they wind up running a fish’n’chip shop like Chris Old.

    • Not wanting to get over-defensive about a countryman here but who, knowing anything about cricket, could underrate Glenn McGrath? If nothing else, take away his performances on home pitches and his pretty handy career figures (124 games, 563 wickets at 4.54 per game, average 21.64, strike rate 51.95 and economy rate 2.5) actually get better (with the sole exception of the economy rate – 2.46 at home). His bowling average was better everywhere away than it was at home except Pakistan (31), Sri Lanka (29.2) and, barely, Sth Africa (23.62). His highest career average against any opponent was against Sth Africa (27.33) and the only other above 25 was NZ (25.33). All that suggests that no-one could fail to rate him based on performances against their own country. He’d be in any sensible discussion for any “all time” team he’s eligible for.

  • Was watching the highlights of the Surrey Middx county championship game. Sky actually showed it on their ‘Mix’ channel. It illustrated perfectly the problem with medium pace and the variable conditions we face in this country. Burns and Stoneham put on century stands in both Surrey innings, but the aftermath was totally different in each case. The innings went: Surrey 190 all out (10 wickets for less than 100) Middlesex 135 all out. (Cloud cover, rain, seam and swing). Will this last 4 days we were thinking. Then the pitch settled down and the sun came out and the 2nd innings went: Surrey 230-3dec leaving Middlesex 285 in 70 overs. They finished 250-6 and would probably have won but for a half hour break for rain in the last session which lost them 8 overs, when they were just 3 wickets down for plenty. ‘Match winning’ medium pacers became cannon fodder as conditions eased and even the troubled Middx batting looked comfortable with Handscombe making a good 70.

  • Another crafty practitioner of medium pace who gets routinely ignored is Ryan Higgins, even when with both Stokes and Woakes absent not selecting him (or the grizzled Darren Stevens) meant England having no genuine all rounder. Of bowlers with 100 or more test scalps the all time no1 on both average and striker rate is George Lohmann, a medium pacer of the 1880s and 1890s who took his wickets at 10.75 a piece and a rate of one every 34 balls. Look also at the way Martin Bicknell was treated by the England selectors in spite of an outstanding FC record.


copywriter copywriting