How Fast Do Bowlers Bowl? Cricket Ball Speed and the Fastest Deliveries

I’ve seen some of the world’s greatest fast bowlers in action: In one of my earliest visits to a test match, I saw the great Michael Holding take England apart at The Oval and it was fascinating to see reel pace.

But how fast do bowlers bowl in the modern game and what have been the fastest deliveries in the history of the sport? Here is a quick guide.

How Fast do Bowlers Bowl in Cricket?

Genuine pace has the capacity to outdo any batsman, not just the tail enders. It’s a desirable quality for any bowler to have but the genuine speed merchants are very rare. An average seam or swing bowler in international cricket may deliver the ball at speeds of around 80 miles per hour (128 KPH).

With seam and swing as part of that weaponry, those bowlers have the chance to deceive a batsman but pace should not be an issue.

For a player to be classed as a genuine fast bowler, they should really be hitting the 90 miles per hour mark on a regular basis. In those countries where they operate in KPH, they tend to look at a figure of 140 but this only translates to 86mph so I’d suggest it should be a fraction higher.

The Speed of the Cricket Ball

The factor that most observers are interested in is the speed of the ball when it leaves the bowler’s hand. There is a second measure, known as speed off the bat and this is the pace recorded when the batsman actually hits the ball.

Also known as the batted ball speed, this involves a complicated calculation which takes in the pace of the ball, the speed of the bat swing and the mass of the bat.

Speeds can be reduced based on the type of bowling. Spin will often be slower but swing could also reduce the overall speed of the delivered ball.

The Fastest Deliveries in Cricket

Here are the five fastest (official) deliveries in the history of cricket.

1. Shoaib Akhtar: Pakistan. 100.2 mph (161.3 kph)

In 2003, the man known as the Rawalpindi Express became the first bowler to break the 100mph barrier and his record still stands to this day.

The record breaking ball came while Shoaib was playing for Pakistan against England in the 2003 World Cup and he also went on to become the first man to exceed 100mph twice.

How Fast Do Bowlers Bowl Shoaib Akhtar
Shoaib Akhtar

2. Brett Lee: Australia. 100.1 mph (161.1 kph)

Brett Lee appeared at a golden time for pace bowling where he, Shoaib Akhtar and others would try to outperform each other for speed.

Lee’s fastest ever delivery was recorded at 100.1 mph while playing for Australia against New Zealand in Napier in 2005.

3. Shaun Tait: Australia. 100.1 mph (161.1 kph)

Like a lot of fast bowlers, Shaun Tait was injury prone and that’s a great shame. He was also around in the mid-2000s at the time of Akhtar and Lee but he did, at least, get his name on this list.

Tait matched Brett Lee with a 100.1 mph delivery in a match against England at Lord’s in 2010.

Shaun Tait
Shaun Tait

4. Jeff Thomson: Australia. 99.8 mph (160.6 kph)

Australia’s Jeff Thomson was a fearsome opponent when at his peak with his ‘javelin thrower’s’ action. Along with Dennis Lillee, he dismantled England in the Ashes series of 1974/75 but ‘Tommo’ was by far the quicker of the two men.

His own personal best of 99.8mph came against the West Indies in Perth in 1975.

5. Mitchell Starc: Australia 99.7 mph (160.4 kph)

Australians dominate this list and completing the famous five is left arm paceman Mitchell Starc. He is best known as a swing bowler so it’s impressive that he’s made it here.

Starc’s best effort of 99.7mph came in a hostile test series against New Zealand.

Mitchell Starc
Mitchell Starc

How to Calculate Bowling Speed

Commentators often refer to the speed gun while, after every delivery that the faster bowlers send down, speeds are shown during televised matches. If, like most amateur cricketers, you don’t own a speed gun, this is how you can calculate your bowling speed using a stopwatch:

  • Ask a friend to measure the time that the ball takes to leave the bowler’s hand and cover the 22 yards to reach the batsman.
  • Speed = distance divided by time.

For batted ball speed, this is far more complicated. Take the bowling speed, plus the bat speed, incorporate the mass of the bat and perform a complex equation. If this is really important to your game, expensive speed guns are really the most accurate answer here.

Closing Thoughts

It’s been interesting to go through this section as pace bowling has fascinated me ever since seeing it in action back in 1976. What was surprising was the absence of any West Indian quicks in that top five list. On the other hand, it would be a very different list, if we ranked the most beautiful fast bowling actions

The fastest deliveries however seem to be a match between Pakistan vs Australia. It leaves me with the question as to whether Shoaib Akhtar’s mark of 100.2 mph will ever be beaten?