While Australia and the West Indies may have produced a higher density of fast bowlers, England have fielded some brilliant pacemen over the years. Here are the best of them.
10 + 1 Top English Fast Bowlers
This list is in no particular order and, while Darren Gough may not have returned the best statistics, he definitely deserves to be included. He was shorter in stature than most of his contemporaries but that allowed him to bowl with a ‘skiddy’ action at speeds up to 90mph.
Gough played international cricket for 12 years from 1994. He claimed 467 victims across the three formats and returned best figures in a test match of 6/42.
Sydney Barnes can genuinely be regarded as England’s first great fast bowler. He played his last test in 1914 so there are no recorded measurements in terms of speed from those days.
However, by all accounts, he was a fearsome bowler of the age, and he was certainly a successful one. In just 27 test matches, Barnes took no fewer than 189 wickets. His average of 16.43 and his best of 9/103 are also remarkable statistics.
Fred Trueman’s test opening bowling partner from the other side of the Pennines, Lancashire’s Brian Statham relied on speed and skill rather than hostility. He was famously reluctant to bowl a bouncer and his figures show that he didn’t really need to.
In 70 test matches from 1951 to 1965, Statham took 252 wickets at an average of 24.84. He took five wickets in an innings nine times and his best test match figures were 7/39.
In a period from the late 1960’s to the early 1970s. John Snow bowled with real pace and hostility. His average speeds of around 86mph might be lower than others on here but his length was short and threatening and he was a fearsome competitor.
Snow played in just 49 tests between 1965 and 1976 but took an impressive 202 wickets with best match figures of 7/40.
In terms of his overall speeds, was Harold Larwood the fastest English bowler of all time? In the infamous Bodyline series of 1932/33 it’s said that he delivered at around 96mph but it should be remembered that speed guns were not that reliable in those days.
His participation in that series was blamed for the fact that Larwood only played in 21 test matches. He took 78 wickets and his speed and statistics make him worthy of a place here.
Jimmy Anderson’s opening partner for many years, Stuart Broad has also passed the milestone of 500 test wickets and he’s hungry for some more. Another bowler capable of serious pace in his youth, Broad was capable of speeds in excess of 90mph.
He’s still going strong and, after the first test against New Zealand in 2022, Stuart Broad had 541 test wickets with best match figures of 8/15.
In an era when England struggled to produce bowlers with genuine pace, Bob Willis stood out on his own. He played 90 tests between 1971 and 1984 and could bowl consistently at over 90mph.
Willis also held the record for test wickets by an Englishman for a brief period. He retired with 325 victims with best match figures of 8/43.
Sir Ian Botham
Throughout his career, Ian Botham was known for his swing bowling. When he made his test debut against Australia in 1977, he allied that swing with some real pace. He ended with figures of 5/74 in his first innings and a legend was born.
He could hit 90mph in his younger days, but he remained effective thanks to that movement. Botham was a record holder for some time with 383 test wickets and a best of 8/34.
Fiery Fred Trueman claimed 307 test wickets in his career, and this was an English record that stood for some time. He bowled with genuine pace but some issues with the authorities meant that he didn’t play as many games as his talent deserved.
His actual speed is open to conjecture, but he would have been capable of the high 80s mph at least. Those 307 wickets came at an average of 21.57 with best match figures of 8/31.
Frank ‘Typhoon’ Tyson claimed that he could bowl at 119mph. That seems unlikely but observers of the game at the time believed that he was capable of reaching 89mph.
He was certainly seriously quick by the standards of test cricket when he played between 1954 and 1959. He played in just 17 tests but took 76 wickets with a best of 7/27 and an average of just 18.56.
Statistically, James Anderson is the best English fast bowler of all time. While he has relied on seam and swing for much of his later career, he had some significant pace in his younger days.
Anderson bowls in the low 80s mph these days but is highly effective. After the first test against New Zealand in 2002, he was England’s record holder with an incredible 646 victims.
Alternative Options for the Future
All countries are looking to the future and England are no exception. There are some excellent young bowlers coming through, but many have been struck down by an injury curse.
Here are some options for the next few years – if they can stay fit.
Durham’s Matthew Potts debuted against New Zealand in 2022 and he returned the remarkable figures of 4/13 in his first test innings. Potts was the leading wicket taker in county cricket at the time and he shows great promise for the future.
England’s World Cup hero of 2019 has been fighting injuries ever since. When fully fit, Archer can reach speeds in excess of 95.1mph and every England cricket fan hopes he can get back to his best.
Another player to struggle with injuries is Warwickshire’s Olly Stone. He’s shown genuine pace in his three test matches to date, and he’ll be aiming to get fully fit and add to that tally of caps
Lancashire’s Saqib Mahmood has been involved in the One Day set up for some time and he finally made his test debut against the West Indies in 2022. He impressed in the Caribbean with his pace, but a stress fracture has since derailed his progress.
Durham paceman Mark Wood is arguably the quickest bowler that England have right now. He is capable of bowling in excess of 90mph regularly, but injuries continue to punctuate his career.
He’s not the most obvious choice and has yet to really get close to a call up but I think that Sam Cook has some serious qualities as a fast bowler.
Cook has some good pace although swing and seam are his best assets. An impressive first class average at just over 20 suggests he’s ready for an international chance.
It’s always interesting to look back on the past while trying to project into the future. There are some great names on this list, and it really is a true reflection of the golden days of English pace bowling.
As for the future, the common theme is injuries. Let’s hope the current crop of bowlers can overcome their problems and join some of the legends that are named here.