Jeff Thomson

Last updated

Jeff Thomson
Personal information
Full nameJeffery Robert Thomson
Born (1950-08-16) 16 August 1950 (age 70)
Greenacre, New South Wales, Australia
BowlingRight arm fast
Role Bowler
International information
National side
Test debut(cap  262)29 December 1972 v  Pakistan
Last Test20 August 1985 v  England
ODI debut(cap  28)1 January 1975 v  England
Last ODI3 June 1985 v  England
Domestic team information
1972/73–1973/74 New South Wales
1974/75–1985/86 Queensland
1981 Middlesex
Career statistics
Competition Test ODI FC LA
Runs scored6791812,065280
Batting average 12.817.5413.587.17
Top score49216121
Balls bowled10,5352,69633,3184,529
Wickets 20055675107
Bowling average 28.0035.3026.4629.00
5 wickets in innings 80281
10 wickets in match0030
Best bowling6/464/677/277/22
Catches/stumpings 20/–9/–61/–19/–
Source: Cricinfo, 4 November 2008

Jeffrey Robert Thomson (born 16 August 1950) is a former Australian cricketer. Known as "Thommo", he is considered by many in the sport to be the fastest bowler of cricket history.


He was the opening partner of fellow fast bowler Dennis Lillee; their combination was one of the most fearsome in Test cricket history. Commenting on their bowling during the 1974–75 season, Wisden wrote: "... it was easy to believe they were the fastest pair ever to have coincided in a cricket team". [1]

He was inducted into the Australian Hall of Fame by the CA in 2016. [2]

Speed and technique

Thomson had an unusual but highly effective slinging delivery action that he learned from his father. In December 1975, after the second test match against the West Indies at the WACA, he was timed with a release speed of 160.45 km/h using highly accurate, high-speed Photo-Sonics cameras. The study was carried out by Tom Penrose and Brian Blanksby of the University of Western Australia, and Daryl Foster of the Secondary Teachers' College in Perth. Measurements were also made of three other fast bowlers, Dennis Lillee, Andy Roberts and Michael Holding, and the study is described in Dennis Lillee's book, The Art of Fast Bowling. [3] [4] [5] [6]

Thomson's fastest delivery was marginally quicker than the next fastest bowler, Andy Roberts, whose fastest delivery was measured at 159.49 km/h. [7] Another interesting finding from the study was the run-up speed of the bowlers. Thomson approached at 18.02 km/h, significantly slower than Holding (28.10 km/h), Roberts (28.78 km/h) and Lillee (33.57 km/h). When Thomson bowled one of his 160 km/h deliveries it is calculated that the ball took a mere 0.438 seconds from leaving the bowler's hand to reaching the bat. Studies have shown that it takes about 0.30 seconds for a batsman to see the ball, predict its path and decide on a stroke, and a further 0.30 seconds to perform the stroke. This suggests that a batsman would need to start his reaction time 0.162 seconds before Thomson released the ball, or start to play the stroke before knowing where the ball would pitch. [5]

In 1979, Thomson won a fastest bowling competition held by the Australian television station Channel 9, in a year in which he was banned from playing professional cricket. His maximum speed was measured at 147.9 km/h using the same method as employed during the 1975 study at the WACA. He also came top for accuracy in the competition. [8]

Many cricketers, experts and viewers who have watched cricket from at least the 1970s rate Thomson as the fastest they have ever seen. Richie Benaud rated Thomson as the fastest he had seen since Frank Tyson. [9] Australian wicket-keeper Rod Marsh kept wicket to Thomson for most of his Test career and has claimed that Thomson bowled upwards of 180 km/h. Ian Chappell and Ashley Mallett have also opined the same. [10]

Many of the players of the 1970s and 1980s generation also rate Thomson as the fastest they ever faced or even saw. West Indian batting legend Viv Richards rate Thomson as the fastest he has ever faced. [11] Richards' opinion counts for a lot, as he faced almost all the fastest bowlers of all time through the 1970s and 1980s in John Snow, Dennis Lillee, Andy Roberts, Imran Khan, Michael Holding, Sylvester Clarke, Wayne Daniel, Malcolm Marshall, Patrick Patterson, Alan Ward, Len Pascoe, Garth Le Roux, Graham Dilley etc., and Devon Malcolm and Waqar Younis in the early 1990s, at various levels, in International matches, the WSC, and the Caribbean, Australian and England County leagues.

Indian batting great Sunil Gavaskar also reckons Thomson was the fastest he faced over a career spanning over 20 years. [12] Former West Indies captain Clive Lloyd regards Thomson as the fastest bowler he has ever seen. [13] Michael Holding, himself often considered an extremely fast bowler in his prime, believes Thomson to be the fastest he ever saw. [14] Geoffrey Boycott rates Thomson joint fastest with Michael Holding among all the bowlers that he has seen. [15]

Martin Crowe, who was one of the leading international batsmen from 1982 to 1995, rated Thomson and Michael Holding as the hardest bowlers to pick "Thomson was just a freak – a very unique action. You never really saw it." [16]

Incidents were reported of Thomson delivering byes which hit the sight-screen behind the facing batsman on the full, after just one bounce on the pitch. These reports were mostly from the time when he was at his very fastest – the period between 1972 and 1976, long before boundary ropes began to be pulled in (which happened around 1990) – though several instances are cited when this happened even after his injury, till the early 1980s. [17] [18] [19] [20]

Jeff has stated some of his fastest spells include, a spell against the West Indies in Barbados during World Series Cricket, which he has stated he was unhappy during the series because the West Indies had their full team and strike bowlers and the Australia team was depleted because of the World Series Cricket series. And after several West Indian players had hit Australian batsman, he has been quoted saying he Wanted to return the favour. He also mentions a spell against Victoria playing for Queensland at the Gabba in Brisbane, in which he took 7 wickets for the match. [21]

In the 1990s Thomson was the bowling coach for Queensland. In 1992, after a practice session bowling in the nets to several of the Queensland batsmen, including Allan Border, Thomson was encouraged to play for the team as, even at the age of 42, he was still faster than any of the Queensland bowlers. Only the youth policy of the team prevented him from rejoining the side to play competitively. [22]

Thomson came to the fore in 1974–75 with 33 wickets in the Ashes series. Helmets and the other modern protective items for batsmen were not available at the time, and there were no restrictions on the use of the bouncer. The success of the Australian cricket team with fast bowling prompted an era when pace bowling dominated the game, at the expense of slow bowling.[ citation needed ]


Thomson enjoyed a rapid rise in the 1972–73 season. He made his first-class debut for New South Wales (NSW) in October 1972 against WA, replacing David Colley who was injured. [23]

He also took 5–97 for NSW Colts against Qld Colts. [24]

After playing five first class games and taking 17 wickets, Thomson was a surprise selection in for the second test against Pakistan. He replaced Bob Massie, who was picked in the first test side. It was felt Thomson's selection was an experimental one with a view to the West Indies tour at the end of the summer. "I will try my guts out," said Thomson. "I was just hoping that I might pick up some more wickets in the forthcoming matches against Victoria so that they might think of me for the West Indies." [25]

Against Pakistan at the MCG, Thomson returned match figures of 0/110. Later, he was diagnosed as having played with a broken bone in his foot, the pain from which he kept concealed from selectors and teammates. [26] He bowled waywardly and was not picked to tour the West Indies. [27]

Following this, he disappeared from first-class cricket until the final match of the 1973–74 season against Queensland. (Although he did bowl for NSW Colts over the summer. [28] ) [29]

Thomson took nine wickets in the game, helping to prevent Queensland from winning the Shield. [30] Queensland captain Greg Chappell convinced Thomson to move to Queensland for the following season, which he did, playing for Toombul District Cricket Club in the local Brisbane competition. [31]

A graph showing Thomson's test career bowling statistics and how they varied over time JThomsonBowling.png
A graph showing Thomson's test career bowling statistics and how they varied over time

When Thomson was selected for the first Test of the 1974–75 Ashes series, the English players had seen him in action only once, during a tour match against Queensland when Thomson bowled well within himself on the instruction of his captain Greg Chappell. He created controversy during a television interview before the Test when he said, "I enjoy hitting a batsman more than getting him out. I like to see blood on the pitch". [32] In the second innings of the match, he bowled Australia to victory with a spell of 6/46. At Perth, he injured several batsmen and finished off the game with 5/93 in the second innings as Australia recorded another victory. [33]

During the 1974–75 Ashes series, Sydney newspaper The Sunday Telegraph ran a photo of Lillee and Thomson with a cartoon caption underneath that read: [34]

Ashes to Ashes, dust to dust, if Thomson don't get ya, Lillee must.

Taking a relatively short run up to the crease, Thomson generated his pace with a slinging-style bowling action, clearly influenced by his former competitive javelin throwing, that began to accelerate the ball from a lower position than is typical. He did not put a lot of work on the ball with his fingers, so he did not seam or swing the ball much and he adopted an uncomplicated approach to his work.[ citation needed ] He once described his bowling as, "I just roll up and go whang". [35] Although he regularly bowled the bouncer, it was his ability to make the ball rise sharply from a length that earned him many wickets. [1] The hard Australian pitches suited his style as he relied on bounce rather than movement to take wickets. John Benaud describes facing Thomson in a Sydney grade match:

So Thommo begins – the high stepping gait of a thoroughbred, bowling hand bobbing at waist level and the ball visible. It is conventional and comforting because facing a strange bowler for the first time invariably generates edginess. Then, in the split second before delivery, at gather, Thommo drags one leg behind the other in a sort of Swan Lake crossover, sways back and hides the ball behind his right knee – unconventional and very unsettling. [35]

Forming an intimidating bowling partnership with Dennis Lillee, Thomson captured 33 wickets in the series and looked to set to beat Arthur Mailey's record of 36 Test wickets in an Australian test season. However, he injured his shoulder playing a social tennis match during the rest day of the fifth Test at Adelaide and missed the rest of the summer. Australia's eventual winning margin was 4–1. [32]

He was less at home on the slower wickets of England on the tour that followed and took only four wickets in five matches during the inaugural World Cup. In the subsequent four-Test series, he snared 16 wickets at 28.56. In the first Test at Edgbaston, he hit 49 from 67 balls and bagged 5/38 in England's second innings as Australia claimed the only decisive result of the series, which enabled them to retain the Ashes. At this time, Thomson hired a manager, David Lord, who negotiated a contract with the Brisbane radio station 4IP, reputedly worth A$63,000 per year for ten years.

In the 1975–76 series against the West Indies, he took 29 wickets in the six Tests. He conceded a lot of runs but often induced the West Indies batsmen to play injudicious shots. Wisden thought his bowling had improved from the previous Australian season. [36]

A severe injury resulted from an on-field collision with teammate Alan Turner as they both attempted a catch in the first Test match against Pakistan at Adelaide on Christmas Eve, 1976. A dislocation of his right collarbone forced him to miss the remainder of the season. [37]

Although he returned to Test cricket during the 1977 Ashes series in England, he was never as consistently fast again. Lillee missed the tour because of back problems, and Thomson responded as the spearhead of the attack by taking 23 wickets at 25.34 average. Australia's performance was said to suffer by the revelation that most of the team had signed to play World Series Cricket (WSC) in opposition to official cricket, although skipper Greg Chappell concedes his side would have been beaten anyway. [38]

Thomson's relationship with WSC was complex. He did not hesitate to sign on, but his manager pointed out that his contract with 4IP required him to be available for Queensland. Lord extricated him from the WSC contract (along with the West Indian Alvin Kallicharan), prompting Kerry Packer to obtain an injunction preventing Lord (or any other third party) from inducing players to break their WSC agreements.[ citation needed ]

In the rebuilt Australian Test team of 1977–78, Thomson was the senior player after the recalled veteran, captain Bob Simpson. In the first Test against India at Brisbane, Thomson contributed seven wickets and 41 not out towards an Australian victory. During the second Test at Perth, he claimed six wickets and finished the series with 22 wickets at an average of 23.45. Australia had a narrow 3–2 win that helped the ACB maintain its optimism that it could win the war with WSC.[ citation needed ] Thomson, meanwhile, had success at domestic level, taking 6/18 in his only Gillette Cup appearance, against South Australia in Brisbane, which was enough to be voted man-of-the-series, winning him a prize of two return tickets to Fiji. [39]

Simpson lobbied for Thomson's appointment as vice-captain of the team to tour the West Indies. Thomson produced his fastest spell since his comeback in the second Test at Bridgetown, Barbados, when he knocked off Viv Richards' cap and finished with 6/77. [35] However, his bowling fell away in the later Tests.[ citation needed ]

During the winter, Thomson expressed a desire to join his teammates playing WSC, which paid for a court challenge to his contract.

The ACB had a rare[ vague ] victory over WSC when the judge ruled against the proposed move, and criticised Thomson's business acumen.

Thomson played a single limited-overs match for Queensland, taking 6/18, and then in September "retired" from Test cricket from 30 September onwards. He said he would remain available for Sheffield Shield. [40]

As part of the negotiations for the peace treaty between the two organisations, the ACB agreed to let Thomson play in WSC's tour of the Caribbean in the spring of 1979. Reunited with Lillee, he returned 16 wickets in five "Supertests", including 5/78 at Trinidad.

The reunion of the partnership for Test cricket was less successful. A number of fast bowlers had enjoyed success for Australia during Thomson's absence from the team, yet the selectors were keen to see Lillee and Thomson attempt to reprise their success of the mid-1970s. However, Thomson managed only two Tests in 1979–80 when he was dropped. He played four ODIs in the first World Series Cup, but bowled erratically in two-day/night matches against England at the SCG that confirmed his unsuitability to limited-overs cricket. Thereafter, injuries contributed to his absence from the team.

Overlooked for the 1981 Ashes tour of England, he decided to spend the season with Middlesex in the hope that he might be needed as a late replacement in the Australian team, but he got injured. [41]

Thomson reclaimed his place in 1981–82 when he played eight of the nine Tests against Pakistan and the West Indies (in Australia) and in New Zealand. His figures were pedestrian: 20 wickets at 36.4, with a best of 4/51. However, he found a regular place in the ODI team and took 19 wickets (at 27.42 average) in 13 matches during the World Series Cup.

On the tour of Pakistan later in the year, he took just three wickets in three Tests.

Dropped for the first Test at home against England, Thomson owed his recall to a knee injury suffered by Lillee. In the remaining four Tests, he enjoyed success in taking 22 wickets at 18.68. At times, he reached top pace, claiming 5/73 at Brisbane, and 5/50 at Sydney in the fifth Test, his last in Australia. His performance in the World Series Cup, 19 wickets in 13 matches with an RPO of 4.01, was his best in an ODI tournament.

Continuing with Queensland as captain, Thomson was chosen for the 1985 tour of England. The rebel tours to South Africa had stripped the Australian team of pace bowlers. In the first Test, his match figures were 2/174 and he was omitted until the fifth Test, when he scored 28 not out in the first innings, his highest Test score since 1977. His only wicket was Graham Gooch, giving him 200 Test wickets. [42]

Thomson never represented Australia again, he did however help Queensland reach the Sheffield Shield final in his last season of first-class cricket in 1985–86 [43] but they missed out to NSW.

Thomson while coaching Queensland 6 years after retiring almost made a comeback at the age of 42, however the selectors opted to continue with their youth policy. [44]

On 27 January 2016 Thomson was inducted in the Australian hall of fame [45]

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