Frank Tyson © Getty Images
Frank Tyson © Getty Images

Frank Tyson, born June 6, 1930, is virtually unmatched in cricket history in terms of the raw pace he generated or the sheer terror he struck in the hearts of batsmen. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the life and career of the hero of the 1954-55 Ashes, whom both Don Bradman and Richie Benaud considered the fastest bowler they had ever witnessed.

“His best pace was nothing short of startling to batsmen and spectators alike. He represented an elemental force obscuring the details of his technique. The highest tribute he received was the gasp of incredulity frequently emitted by the crowd as the ball passed from his hand to the distant wicketkeeper.” This was how JM Kilburn of Yorkshire Post described Frank Tyson.

The ‘distant wicketkeeper’ sometimes crouched as far as 72 yards away as Tyson began his run. That was how far Keith Andrew stood when Tyson ran in for Northamptonshire.

Before that supreme Australian tour of 1954-55, which saw some of the most heart-chilling pace generated on the pitch, the cricketing fraternity Down Under had been communicated of a fast phenomenon to visit their land. Photographs of the 25-yard run had been air-mailed to newspapers in the major centres of Australia. Some of them gave the impression that Tyson and Andrew were engaged in different matches.

The enormous distance between the bowler and the ’keeper led an enterprising sub-editor to wonder about the whirlwind pace that would be required to send the ball from the hand of Tyson to the glove of Andrews in the said blink of an eye. His stormy headline read: ‘It takes a Typhoon…’And as the home side was wrecked by this tempest during the Test matches, the alliteration captured imaginations and the nickname stuck. Frank Holmes Tyson became “Typhoon” Tyson.

Sheer pace

Fast he was, faster than anything one had seen. Even in the summer of 1953, when he was just one First-Class game old, the visiting Australians had faced a few of his furious overs for Northamptonshire. Colin McDonald had been beaten for pace to be trapped in front, off the very second ball. Graeme Hole’s big backlift had just started the process of downswing when the fourth delivery had sent the stumps cartwheeling over the wicketkeeper’s head.

However, Tyson’s choice for the Australian tour raised plenty of eyebrows. Acknowledged to be faster than anyone in the world, including his Yorkshire rival Fred Trueman, his durability on a long arduous tour remained dubious. He was chosen ahead of Trueman for the Australian journey, with only one Test match under his belt — a thriller against Pakistan which England lost to the skilful fast bowling of Fazal Mahmood. Tyson did take four first innings wickets, but his selection after just one full season with the Northants was questioned by many.

The great Alec Bedser was fresh from his 39 wickets in the 1953 Ashes. With Brian Statham to share the new ball, it was expected that Tyson would play a minor part in the series. However, skipper Len Hutton, scripting a crucial phase of the social history of English cricket as the first professional captain, was determined to wield pace power to take on the Australians. At the same time, he asked the rookie pace bowler to treat the tour as a personal learning curve.

It turned out to be a curve that shot in a blaze to stratospheric heights, with fantastic fireworks. And unfortunately, like a meteor, the heydays were ephemeral. He never played a full series again and his career was limited to just 17 Tests.  There were a few bright sparks that followed the five Australian Tests, but never was the dazzling success repeated in full.

Yet, those who saw his deliveries cannoning across the Australian pitches on that tour swear that no bowler has ever bowled faster. The start was not that auspicious. In the first Test at Brisbane, Hutton courted criticism by choosing an all pace attack — especially after Australia piled up 601 for eight and England lost by an innings and 154 runs. Bowling first change, Tyson sent down 29 overs conceding 160 runs with just one wicket to show for his efforts. Neil Harvey and Arthur Morris feasted on his bowling.

A Tale of Two Tests

Things took a dramatic turn from the second Test at Sydney. Hutton sprung a surprise by ringing in changes, dropping Bedser and including Johnny Wardle and Bob Appleyard, and persisting with Tyson. Tyson’s old coach Alf Gover was in Australia as a journalist. After a brief consultation with this wise man, Tyson shortened his 38-yard approach to the bowling crease. He proceeded to use the normal run earmarked for league cricket, ten short steps followed by ten longer ones. The results were miraculous and vindicated Hutton’s faith.

Having bowled England out for 154, Australia were cruising at 104 for three when Tyson bowled a ball that took off and changed the tone of the series. It was described by Margaret Hughes as one that “spat up at (Neil Harvey) and splashed off his bat to Cowdrey.” Tyson took 4 for 45 in the Australian total of 228. And in doing so, he bounced Ray Lindwall before getting him to snick one to Godfrey Evans.

When England batted again, Lindwall sent a searing short delivery at Tyson, which skidded through and hit him on the back of his head. As Tyson collapsed in a heap, partner Bill Edrich cried out, “My God, Lindy, you’ve killed him!” The Northant bowler floated in and out of consciousness and had to be led off the field. It was doubtful whether he would take further part in the match. However, he returned to bat after x-rays and was bowled by Lindwall almost immediately.

In the end, the Australians needed 223 to win. And Tyson ran in. It was sheer pace that beat Les Favell, the ball fended to Edrich.  Harvey and Jim Burke took the total to 74 for 2 at close of the fourth day’s play. The next day, while Statham bowled uphill and into the wind, Tyson came searing down the slope from the Randwick End with what EW Swanton called “half a gale behind him”. His spell was described by Swanton in superlative terms: “as fast as man has ever bowled”.

In the second over of the day, he yorked Burke and Hole, and neither of them really saw the ball. With the fast men of the Australian line up, Ron Archer and Lindwall, expecting bouncers in response to the knock he had taken, Tyson intelligently kept the ball right up. Both the men were bowled. England won by 38 runs, and Tyson finished with 6 for 85 — resulting in match figures of 10 for 130. Australian captain Arthur Morris remarked, “Such fine bowling deserved to win.”

Till then branded a ‘four-over wonder’, his demonstration of speed and stamina was a revelation. Standing at the slips, Tom Graveney used two ominous words to describe his pace, words that have found their way into cricketing cliché. “I was 50 yards back at slip to Frank and nearer the pavilion gate than the wicket. It was like fielding tracer bullets.”

It was not a one-off affair. The third Test at Melbourne followed an almost identical storyline.  At the end of the fourth day Australia were on 75 for 2, needing 240 to win on a deteriorating wicket. Yet again, Harvey was at the crease. And on the final day, the 50,000 strong crowd who had swarmed in to cheer their team to victory witnessed the fastest and most frightening spell of fast bowling.

“Sheer speed through the air coupled with the chance of a shooter at any moment left the Australian batsmen nonplussed. Tyson blazed through them like a bush fire,” wrote the normally prosaic Wisden. In just 79 minutes the match was over, the 8 remaining wickets crashing for 36 runs. From the Richmond end,Tyson took 6 for 16 from 6.3 overs that morning. The seven for 27 for the innings was to remain his career-best figures. It remains the best by an England bowler in Australia since George Lohmann‘s 8 for 35 in 1886-87 and has not been bettered since.

Tyson continued to bowl with hair-raising speed and the deliveries darted through, streaking through searing and straight, putting the life and limb of Australian batsmen at peril. He went on to capture 28 wickets in the series, but these were the two Tests that secured his reputation and branded him as the Typhoon.

Stokes McGown, a Sports Goods manufacturing company based in Botany Bay, Sydney, came out with autographed cricket balls in his honour named — what else — ‘The Typhoon’. The ball was designed for swing, unlike the fare unleashed by the man whose nickname it boasted. Tyson never had any pretension of swinging it.

Tyson continued his blinding run on the New Zealand leg of the tour. He captured 7 wickets at Dunedin in the First Test. And in the second at Auckland, he made 27 not out to help Hutton stretch the first-innings lead to 46. After that, England won by an innings as the hosts were all out for 26 in their second essay.

The tour of Australia was a dream for Tyson in more than cricketing ways. It was at Melbourne that he met Ursula Miels. Three years later they were married in a Melbourne Church.

The speedster scholar

It spite of the menace of his fiery pace, Tyson the man was as unlike the archetypal fast bowler as possible. According to the Australian newspapers of the day, he looked”more like a pre-occupied scientist. Without a cricket ball in his hand he wouldn’t cause a ripple in a bird bath.”

Tyson stood at over six feet, but a scholarly stoop, receding fair hair giving rise to a corrugated brow,and soulful eyes produced the impression of a life of study rather than fast bowling. And one would not be too wrong in the analysis.

He was indeed a university graduate who had studied English literature at Hatfield College in the University of Durham. On tours he would be found engrossed in Geoffrey Chaucer, Bernard Shaw and Adeline Woolf rather than painting the town red during the evenings. And on the field, his tongue moved not to sledge but to quote from William Wordsworth — repeating his favourite lines to himself while walking back to the bowling mark.With the journalists who mobbed him after his success, he seemed more comfortable discussing the nuances of classical literature than dwelling about his fast bowling feats. Hutton is reputed to have once tossed the ball to him with the words, “England hath need of thee” — as Wordsworth wrote of John Milton.

His endeavours to succeed as a professional cricketer, rather than pursuing a career as a schoolmaster for which he trained, stemmed from his noble desire to ensure a life of comfort for his mother — whose hard work at the Middleton Cotton Mill had enabled him to get a proper education.

Tyson performed his National Service in the Royal Corps of Signals in 1952 as a Keyboard Operator and Cypher. He did play cricket for his platoon, squadron, regiment, area command and the Army, but did not really excel at leading men. Additionally he abhorred guns. It is rumoured that when he went through his rifle training he always missed the target deliberately. In 1952-53 he worked felling trees, which John Snow and later Jeff Thomson acknowledged to be wonderful training for a fast bowler.

As a 16-year-old, Tyson had played in the Central Lancashire League and had dismissed celebrated Australians — Ceil Pepper, George Tribe and Jock Livingston. However, at the trial for Lancashire the coach, former England cricketer Harry Makepeace, dismissed him: “Promising, but he’ll never be able to bowl really fast. He ducks at the knees.” It should be a lesson that no amount of cricketing experience hands one with a crystal ball.

And then Tyson was hampered by an injury. He shot his back in a Lancashire second eleven game in 1948, and it had him straining in a body belt before starting military service.

Finally the relatively weaker county of Northamptonshire offered a contract in terms good enough for him to postpone his teaching career.

Frank Tyson's bowling action © Getty Images
Frank Tyson’s bowling action © Getty Images

Terrorising to the Top

Scholarly looks and bearing notwithstanding, Tyson generated tremendous pace from the outset. When he made his First-Class debut, against the touring Indians of 1952, the slips moved back an extra five yards after his very first ball. He did not take long to get his first wicket, Pankaj Roy caught behind for a duck.

His reputation swelled and became sinister with every match. George Lambert of Gloucestershire was reported to be trembling in every limb after going in night-watchman and facing Tyson in dwindling light. And then there was the match against Lancashire on Old Trafford.

Lancashire bowler Roy Tattersall recalled, “The first ball Frank bowled soared over the wicketkeeper, Keith Andrew, positioned a cricket pitch length back and thudded into the sightscreen.” This amazing feat has been performed by only three other bowlers — Charles Kortright, Roy Gilchrist and Jeff Thomson. In that match, Tyson picked up three wickets in the first five overs, and the batsmen were probably relieved to head back to the pavilion.

At Lord’s in July 1954, Tyson bowled under the watchful eyes of two former England captains, Walter Robins and Norman Yardley and their fellow members of the selection committee, Harry Altham and Les Ames. It was the performance that perhaps sealed his place for the Australian tour.  In front of him stood Bill Edrich, a battle-scarred veteran against Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller.

On a lively pitch, Tyson bounced. The ball lifted off the ridge and moved up the hill. The England and Middlesex batsman sought to snap the audacity out of this colt, and moved to the off-side unleash a hook. The ball caught him squarely on the cheek and Edrich had to be carried off to the hospital. “The selectors thought if I could do that to such a competitive player as Bill then I was worth consideration,” Tyson said later.

The final Tests

After his return from the triumphant Ashes series, Tyson’s career unfortunately did not continue for long. The wicket at Northants — known as ‘cabbage patch’ — was hardly adequate for top class cricket, and it ended up reducing Tyson’s effectiveness. Since the Northamptonshire team included spinners George Tribe, Jack Manning and Micky Allen, pleas for faster wickets fell on deaf ears.

He did enjoy success against South Africa in the next Test he played, capturing 6 second-innings wickets at Trent Bridge, bringing his tally to 52 in 9 Tests at 15.56. But, it was his last performance as England’s spearhead. An injured heel, caused by the friction with his ill-fitting boots, plagued him for the rest of his playing days. Soon Trueman took over as the frontline speedster, combining with Statham to form a legendary combination. Tyson’s last 8 Tests were played over a period of four years.

Tyson did tour Australia again, with the much touted England side under Peter May, billed before the voyage as the strongest ever. England were routed 4-0, and Tyson played in only 2 of the 5 Tests, managing a meagre 3 wickets.

He played his last series when the team moved to New Zealand, and did little of note apart from the distinction of picking up a wicket with his last ball in Test cricket.

His 78 wickets came at 18.56 apiece, and stands seventh on the list of bowlers with at least 75 scalps in Test cricket. None of the six ahead of him — George Lohmann, Syd Barnes, Charlie Turner, Bobby Peel, Johnny Briggs and Fred Spofforth — played after the First World War. Tyson was the only one to manage such a rate of wicket taking after the wickets across the world became standardised.

Beyond speed

Tyson’s action was known to be a mix of the rhythmic and the ungainly in equal proportions. His long run up ended with a high arm action, the left shoulder facing the batsman, right arm cocked up. This was followed by a ferocious heave of the shoulders. At the point of the delivery, the left leg kicked out and the arm was brought down with a slinging movement with the entire weight landing on the right foot. His bowling hardly ever involved swing, and wickets were earned with pace. Bouncers were used often enough, and in his own words, they were hurled down to ‘pin the batsman against the sightscreen’.  Tail-enders were not immune to the occasional Tyson bumper.

The rigours of this taxing bowling action went on to hasten the end of his career through a series of injuries. Years after retiring from the game, he still continued to suffer. Right arm and knees had to be operated on. But for him it was important “to bowl fast… to revel in the glad animal action, to thrill in physical power and to enjoy a sneaking feeling of superiority over the mortals who play the game.” The very choice of words demonstrates that he was much more than a purely physical athlete.

His educational background ensured intelligence, which according to John Arlott was: “beyond the usual run of fast bowlers.” Arlott went on to describe Tyson’s feats as “intelligence, rhythm and strength merged into the violent craft of fast bowling.”

Testimony to his sheer pace are aplenty. Don Bradman, who had faced Harold Larwood during the Bodyline series, and had led the young duo of Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller in the late 1940s, called him: “The fastest bowler I have ever seen.”

Jock Livingston, who had seen Larwood bowl at his fastest, and had batted against Miller and Lindwall, remarked: “When really firing, Tyson was the quickest of all over a period of three or four overs.”

Trueman acknowledged that he “was forever being told that when it came to bowling I was very fast, but on his day Frank Tyson was faster than me.”

In 1957, playing for Players against Gentlemen at Scarborough, skipper Godfrey Evans asked Trueman to bowl into the wind with the faster Tyson running in from the other end.

On a damp morning, shivering under three sweaters, Tyson stood and bowled at the Aeronautical College in Wellington, New Zealand in 1955. Metal plates were attached to the cricket ball and a sonic device was used to measure their speed. Bowling without run up, Tyson was measured at 89 miles per hour (142 kmph).

The analyst

Tyson retired from First-Class cricket in 1960 and, like his boyhood hero Harold Larwood, immigrated to Australia. He finally became a schoolmaster, at Carey Baptist Grammar School in Melbourne, and taught English, French and History. He also worked as a cricket coach in the city and wrote on cricket for London Observer, Daily Telegraph, Melbourne Age and The Cricketer. His astute and articulate analysis was utilised to the full. Australian Radio engaged him as a cricket commentator for 36 years and he also did broadcasting duties for Channel Nine from 1979 to 1986.

Tyson the analyst was unparalleled in his insights and intelligent evaluation of the cricketers of the later eras, and his writings were marked by the stamp of erudition. He described Sunil Gavaskar as: “He became the accountant and stockbroker batsman: a person capable of facing the challenges of batting crease and marketplace alike by assessing a problem and arriving at a solution.” He penned numerous books on the game, The Test Within: Talent and Temperament in 22 Cricketers being one of the most acclaimed ones.

Yet, for all his excellent work behind the microphone and with the typewriter, he will continue to be remembered as that bowler of unbridled pace, for that delivery stride which ended with the red ball hurled with raw animal power, with the wicketkeeper in remote hinterlands resembling an athletic longstop, for that unmatched capacity of driving fear into the hearts of batsmen. One of the fastest ever.

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at