Shoaib Akhtar’s speed record has stood for 20 years; can any bowler break it?


It was 20 years ago, during the 2003 cricket World Cup that Pakistan’s legendary fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar bowled the fastest ball ever in the history of cricket. Bowling to Nick Knight of England, he sent down a thunderbolt which was timed at an incredible speed of 161.3 kilometers per hour. The delivery did not get him a wicket but he did create a long-lasting speed record. “After I touched 161.3 kmph, I thought I could bowl even quicker. But then I started getting pains in my back and in my hamstring. I thought I would break down so I left it at that,” explained Shoaib later.

After the introduction of speed measuring devices in 1998, it was established beyond doubt who was the world’s fastest bowlers. After Shoaib is Shaun Tait of Australia (161.1 kmph), Brett Lee of Australia (160.8), Jeff Thomson of Australia (160.6) and, Mitchell Starc of Australia (160.4). All these bowlers have crossed the magic figure of 160. It would be pertinent to mention the name of Andy Roberts is also on this list. His fastest speed is just a fraction less at 159.5 kmph.

But what is important to note is that all these legendary speed demons of cricket are now middle-aged or old. Shoaib Akhtar is now 47 years old, Shaun Tait is 40, Brett Lee is 46 and Mitchell Starc is still relatively young at 33 while the fiery Andy Roberts is now a grey-hairedred old man of 72 and so is aging Jeff Thomson, once a terror of the cricket fields but now a frail person.

All these greats of the past have received many accolades for their feats. But all of them have also suffered from the wear and tear of their playing careers. Shoaib had to undergo knee surgeries even when he was a player and after retiring too. His only consolation is the fact that his speed record still stands. For a fast bowler that is a matter of great pride.

But the million-dollar question is: Why no bowler has been unable to break Shoaib’s record? Do the present generation of fast bowlers lack the passion and technique of their predecessors?  This issue must be examined by the experts who are always devising better methods of coaching and getting better results from the players.

Shoaib Akhtar ANI

One of the possible reasons that could be looked into is natural limitations.  It is possible that the human body has limitations in terms of how fast a pace bowler can consistently bowl. The combination of strength, technique and fitness required to reach those speeds may be difficult for many bowlers to achieve.

Secondly, now there are different priorities. The increasing popularity of T20 cricket has given an advantage to the batsmen. Rules have been tweaked in such a manner that the batsmen have got the upper hand. Bowlers have limited scope to perform. So bowlers are no longer going in for great speeds. Accuracy and variations in pace and length are more important now. As a result, bowlers may not be as motivated to break the speed record as they once were.

Then, batters are better equipped now. Heavier bats, shorter boundaries and other factors make it easy for the batters but more difficult for the bowlers. Even the great Barry Richards, of South Africa, himself a batsman who created several records in his time, once remarked that cricket should be an even contest between the bat and the ball. He admitted that bowlers nowadays are finding the going more difficult.

So it remains an established fact that breaking Shoaib Akhtar’s speed record will require a combination of natural talent, hard work and favorable conditions. Although it has stood for two decades, it is possible that the record may be broken in the future. But for now, it remains one of the most impressive achievements in the sport of cricket.

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( With inputs from )

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