Twenty years ago, Shoaib Akhtar set a milestone by becoming the first person to bowl at 100mph during a 2003 One-Day International Men’s World Cup match. Anticipated to mark a new era in fast bowling, the 100mph barrier has only been surpassed since by Brett Lee and Shaun Tait, and not in over a decade. The current 2023 One-Day International Men’s World Cup in India raises questions about whether cricket’s fast bowling has hit a speed plateau.
Despite advancements in athletes’ abilities, including running, throwing, and jumping, the elusive 100mph feat remains rare. A recent computer simulation model of elite male fast bowlers indicated that none were predicted to break this barrier, prompting a closer examination of the factors influencing fast bowling.
The performance of fast bowlers hinges on momentum during the run-up and the technique employed during the bowling phase. While physiological factors contribute to improvements in fast bowling, other constraints, such as environment and task, remain limited in their impact due to the simplicity of the activity.
The unique “task” constraint in cricket involves maintaining a straight arm during the bowling phase, reducing the time available for the throwing movement. This limitation neutralizes the impact of increased muscular strength on ball speed, explaining why maximizing momentum in the run-up is preferred.
Research on women fast bowlers suggests that those generating less momentum during the run-up, allowing for additional muscular momentum, adopt a movement pattern more similar to throwing. However, this approach is considered sub-optimal for men’s fast bowling.
Increasing the range of motion in joints during the bowling phase, known as joint “hypermobility,” has been linked to greater ball release speeds. Factors like elbow hyperextension and body shape play roles, but they are largely genetic, suggesting that advancements in ball release speed may progress at a slow pace due to human evolution constraints.
The 100mph barrier appears to require a once-in-a-generation bowler to scale it, emphasizing the task constraints and innate physiology that limit the potential growth of this peak.