Jeff Thomson loves all things fast. He loves drag car racing, has a fast mouth which shoots off expletives quicker than a rap star, and had a tennis serve that would have probably given Goran Ivanisevic an inferiority complex. Oh, and he also bowled fast.
Fast doesn't do justice to his bowling speed, or the deliveries that would threaten the batsman's rib-cage. In his own words, he just "shuffled in and went wang", wang here referring to a cricket ball being propelled at enormous pace.
He played in an era which saw the greatest fast bowlers of all time ply their trade, but none could match Thomson in terms of pure pace. In an interview with HT, the 61-year-old pace legend talked about his other love, football, and the shabby way in which "those fools" (read ICC) function. Excerpts:
On the eve of your breakthrough Ashes series in 1974-75 you famously said, "I'd rather see a batsman's blood on the pitch than his stumps lying on the ground." Was that to intimidate?
I think the bowling intimidated the batsman more than the words. Before the Test matches, I played against the Englishmen in a tour match and Greg Chappell, who was captain for that game, basically told me to bowl within myself, just f**k around, he said. So I bowled below my actual pace. They had no idea about me. In the Test series I bowled at full speed and you know what happened then.
Your thoughts on the speed bowling contest in 1975 when you were clocked at 161 kph?
It was much quicker. They timed us behind the batsman. Now you time them from the bowler's end. If they'd used that method, I would've probably been clocked at 180kmph.
In your younger days you were equally adept at football...
I loved playing soccer. I was a number 6 and used to play just behind the strikers. I loved chasing the ball around and would also score many goals. I also used to take the throw-ins and had a very powerful throw.
How were your interactions with Man United legend George Best?
That was one of the greatest moments of my life. I was at a health farm in England called Champneys. I went up to Georgie and said, 'you're my hero mate, you're the best to have ever played this game'. He knew who I was and said, 'you're not too bad yourself'. It was a great experience. We bonded over a few drinks. Unfortunately, I can't tell you more than that.
How was your experience of bowling to Sir Don Bradman?
It was at Adelaide in 1977-78, when India was touring Australia. Sir Don was batting in a suit, no pads, no gloves, just a bat. He must've been around 70 and hadn't batted for almost 30 years and he was still so good. It was a turf wicket, and I bowled within myself, but there were a couple of young blokes who were bowling at full speed and he was carting them all over the place. Along with meeting Georgie Best, bowling to Bradman is the greatest moment of my life.
Do you think the game is tilted too much in the batsman's favour now?
I think the ICC is a bunch of bloody fools. The pitches have become flatter, the bats are heavier and stronger than ever before and batsman have so much protective gear now.
The best batsmen you bowled to?
Viv Richards, Greg Chappell and Barry Richards were easily the best. Sunil Gavaskar was also a brilliant player of fast bowling. You can see it in his record. He scored runs against the great West Indies teams in the Caribbean, he was very successful in Australia. He knew how to play fast bowling. But Viv, Greg and Barry were the best I ever faced. It's a shame Barry couldn't play more Tests because of the South Africa situation.
What were your thoughts on India in the recently concluded series?
I thought Rahul Dravid was bloody awful. His footwork was non-existent, that's why he kept getting bowled. There was such a huge gap between his bat and pads. I thought Ishant bowled well, although I don't like the length he's bowling, it's about a few yards too short. I also think India need a bowling coach to guide the young fast bowlers. You've got a bloke (South African Eric Simons) who hasn't played a single Test. If you had someone like Dennis Lillee or Craig McDermott it would do a world of difference to bowlers.