Fast bowling is one of the two main approaches to bowling in the sport of cricket, the other being spin bowling . Practitioners of pace bowling are usually known as fast bowlers, quicks, or pacemen. They can also be referred to as a seam bowler or a 'fast bowler who can swing it' to reflect the predominant characteristic of their deliveries. Strictly speaking, a pure swing bowler does not need to have a high degree of pace, although dedicated medium-pace swing bowlers are rarely seen at Test level these days.
The aim of fast bowling is to deliver the ball in such a fashion as to cause the batsman to make a mistake. This is achieved by making the hard cricket ball deviate from a predictable, linear trajectory at a speed that restricts the amount of time in which the batsman can compensate for it. For deviation caused by the ball's stitching (the seam), the ball will bounce off the pitch and deflect either away from the batsman's body, or inwards towards them. Swing bowlers on the other hand also use the seam of the ball but in a different way. To 'bowl swing' is to induce a curved trajectory of the cricket ball through the air. Swing bowlers use a combination of seam orientation, body position at the point of release, asymmetric ball polishing, and variations in delivery speed to affect an aerodynamic influence on the ball. The ability of a bowler to induce lateral deviation or 'sideways movement' obviously make it difficult for the batsman to address the flight of the ball accurately. Beyond this ability to create an unpredictable path of ball trajectory, the fastest bowlers can be equally potent by simply delivering a ball at such a rate that a batsman simply fails to react either correctly, or at all. A typical fast delivery has a speed in the range of 137–153 km/h (85–95 mph).
It is possible for a bowler to concentrate solely on speed, especially when young, but as fast bowlers mature they pick up new skills and tend to rely more on swing bowling or seam bowling techniques. Most fast bowlers will specialise in one of these two areas and will sometimes be categorised as swing or seam bowler. However, this classification is not satisfactory because the categories are not mutually exclusive and a skilled bowler will usually bowl a mixture of fast, swinging, seaming and also cutting balls, even if he prefers one style to the others. For simplicity, it is common to subdivide fast bowlers according to the average speed of their deliveries, as follows.
There is a degree of subjectivity in the usage of these terms; for example, Cricinfo uses the terms "fast-medium" and "medium-fast" interchangeably, and sometimes replacing medium-fast to medium. For comparison, most spin bowlers in professional cricket bowl at average speeds of 70 to 90 km/h (45 to 55 mph). Shoaib Akhtar, Brett Lee, Shaun Tait, Jeff Thomson (in an exhibition match) and Mitchell Starc have clocked over 160 km/h and are categorised as "Ultra Fast" bowlers although often bowling at speeds significantly lower than this mark. Also, while Steven Finn is classified as a fast-medium bowler by Cricinfo, he can consistently bowl at around 145 km/h, with his fastest clocked at 151.9 km/h, making him the 10th fastest amongst active bowlers as of 3 January 2015
The first thing a fast bowler needs to do is to grip the ball correctly. The basic fast bowling grip to achieve maximum speed is to hold the ball with the seam upright and to place the index and middle fingers close together at the top of the seam with the thumb gripping the ball at the bottom of the seam. The image to the right shows the correct grip. The first two fingers and the thumb should hold the ball forward of the rest of the hand, and the other two fingers should be tucked into the palm. The ball is held quite loosely so that it leaves the hand easily. Other grips are possible, and result in different balls – see swing and seam bowling below. The bowler usually holds their other hand over the hand gripping the ball until the latest possible moment so that the batsman cannot see what type of ball is being bowled.
A fast bowler needs to take a longer run-up toward the wicket than a spinner, due to the need to generate the momentum and rhythm required to bowl a fast delivery. Fast bowlers will measure their preferred run up in strides and mark the distance from the wicket. It is important for the bowler to know exactly how long his or her run-up is because it must terminate behind the popping crease. If the bowler steps on or beyond this, he or she will have bowled a no-ball, which affords the batsman immunity from dismissal, adds one run to the batting team's score and forces the bowler to bowl another ball in the over.
At the end of the run-up the bowler will bring his lead foot down on the pitch with the knee as straight as possible. This aids in generating speed but can be dangerous due to the pressure placed on the joint by this action. Knee injuries are not uncommon amongst fast bowlers: for example, the English pace bowler David Lawrence was sidelined for many months after splitting his kneecap in two. The pressure on the leading foot is such that some fast bowlers cut the front off their shoes to stop their toes from being injured as they are repeatedly pressed against the inside of the shoe. The bowler will then bring their bowling arm up over their head and release the ball at the height appropriate to where they want the ball to pitch. Again, the arm must be straight although this is a stipulation of the laws of cricket rather than an aid to speed. Bending the elbow and "chucking" the ball would make it too easy for the bowler to aim accurately at the batsman's wicket and get them out.