Fast Bowling: Can Anyone Bowl Fast?

From: Ian Canaway

The ‘Dark Art’ of Fast Bowling:
Can Anybody Bowl Fast (85-90+ mph)?


Some of the most frequent questions I get asked at are to do with fast bowling. They go something like this:  ‘Ian, how do I bowl fast’, ‘tell me how to bowl at 90mph’. But before we get to the technicalities of how to bowl seriously fast, the question which every budding fast bowler should consider is; ‘can anybody bowl fast (85-95+ mph)?’

As you may expect, such a question does not promote a clear or easy answer. Only a handful of the game’s top players have succeeded in breaching the illusive 90mph barrier; so clearly it represents a considerable and admirable achievement. Yet whether this limited, elite group can be broadened to include you or any other aspiring fast bowler remains to be seen.

The following article looks at some of the principal arguments of both sides of the debate. We start with the pro-fast bowling notion (that anyone can bowl fast), and then look at the contrarian argument (only an elite few can bowl fast), before drawing some conclusions.


Brett Lee demonstrates the huge forces involved in fast bowling (1)

“Yes, with the correct resources and attitude to training any cricketer can become a fast bowler.”

As with all aspects of the cricket, technique can be learned and improved to optimise a player’s natural ability. If this is done to the greatest possible extent, then potentially bowling speeds of 85 to 90mph+ should not be attainable only for a select few?

State of the art technology is currently being used to great effect in order to assess and correct aspects of a player’s bowling action. Past and present England fast bowlers including Simon Jones, Steve Harmison, James Anderson and Andrew Flintoff benefitted from 3D imaging of their bowling action to assess hip, shoulder and back alignment and optimise timing [2]

Technical factors have a huge impact on bowling speed. Wrist action is accepted as a vital determinant of the speed of a ball; coaches will often focus on the development of the ‘snap’ in the wrist at the point of delivery. And as Andrew Flintoff states, ‘you need to improve your technique and train hard to get fitter and stronger, these are the two best ways of bowling faster’ [3]

A study into internal arm rotation during the bowling action yields further interesting material. Research concluded that maintaining a fixed elbow flexation during delivery can create faster ball speed through upper arm internal rotation (as opposed to straight arm bowling). The resultant increase in wrist speed was found to outweigh any negative effect of decrease in forearm length. Encouraging findings for the amateur player; elements of fast bowling really can be learnt [4]

The bowler’s run up can also be the making or breaking of a fast delivery. Too short and optimal running speed will not be reached, resulting in a reduced driving force behind the ball. An overly long run up can be equally damaging, wasting vital energy that should be directed into the bowling action. Once a bowler’s optimum run up has been determined a bowler cannot be too precise about its execution; Brett Lee carefully measures his run up, a distance of 21.3m from the crease, before commencing an over in any match [5]

The evidence presented above suggests that any bowler can use technology and training to optimise bowling speed. Former Essex all rounder and author of The Fast Bowler’s Bible Ian Pont maintains that ‘the big thing is understanding how the bowling action works. Once students do that, whether they’re 11 or 30, they can adopt those techniques into their action and improve dramatically’[6]. But can those factors really help you hit the 90mph mark? My research suggests not.

“No, there is a limit to a cricketer’s natural ability and very few bowlers possess the innate capability to achieve such high speeds”

It has been shown that there is much that can be done to improve the speed of a bowler’s delivery. However, we cannot leap to the conclusion from this that bowling speeds of 85 to 90mph+ are attainable for any player.

To bowl at such speed, a player must possess a certain degree of natural speed and flexibility. Although both can be improved to a certain extent, physiological limitations such as a player’s height and constitution of fast and slow twitch muscle fibres must be taken into account (it is unlikely to be merely coincidental that the majority of the cricket’s top bowlers stand in excess of six foot tall).

It seems that there is a barrier to just how much can be learnt; as Brett Lee argues ‘bowling fast should come naturally if you are going to do it well’ [7]. And it is not just a question of a player’s capacity to learn. The extent to which teaching is possible and indeed to which it can be effective is also restricted. Consider the disparity of technique amongst the cricket’s top bowlers (side on, front on, occasionally mixed action, round arm (e.g. Lasith Malinga who breaks all the norms); the existence of which suggests that there is no hard and fast method to a fast delivery. Natural intuition and feel must play a part, a point supported again by Lee who states that ‘unfortunately for some, you’re either born with that natural wrist action or you’re not’ [8]


Shoaib Akhtar; Fastest bowler in history (Ref: WikiCommons)

Another major barrier to achieving such great speeds has to be the inherent risk of injury. Fast bowlers are consistently identified as being most vulnerable to injury and it isn’t hard to see why. As England bowling coach Troy Cooley notes ‘when the forces are at their peak, there is four times the bodyweight going through the back foot and up to 12 times the bodyweight going through the front foot’[9]. Considering that young bowlers are most likely to be struck down, it’s probable that some careers are ended before they begin, preventing the affected players from achieving their bowling potential.

Even those amongst the elite set of true fast bowlers have seen their playing careers compromised. Pakistan’s Shoaib Akhtar, record holder for the fastest ball ever delivered (100.2mph) was plagued by injury until his 2011 retirement, playing in only half of the 84 test matches contested by his national side during a 13 year playing career.

It’s the ‘nature vs nurture’ argument which pops up in so many areas of life. To be able to bowl seriously fast – you have just have right genetics and physiology (I’d suggest this contrasts to batting where inherent biomechanical / physiological factors are less powerful determinants).

To Conclude

For the average aspiring fast bowler, setting sights on the illusive 90mph mark is somewhat over ambitious. It could be a fast route to injury and result in a premature end to a fast bowling career (and a move to lower impact spin bowling). Putting aside the necessary physiological and biomechanical attributes required to bowl at speeds exceeding 90mph, reaching this level of proficiency calls for complete dedication to training and a certain degree of good fortune.

In addition, focussing on bowling as fast as possible is a distraction for many young bowlers – line, length and consistency are much more important. However, as Ian Pont teaches so eloquently, there is a lot that can be done to improve and perfect your fast bowling technique to achieve maximum possible delivery speed, whilst maintaining accuracy and consistency (see: The Fast Bowler’s Bible

Let me know your thoughts using the comment form below.


[1] Brett Lee Bowling (Source:

All the best,

Ian Canaway

P.S. Now go play some cricket!

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Categories : Bowling