Watch: ‘Smiling Assassin’ Colin Croft – 6’5” frame, ‘invisible’ run-up – cleans up Kim Hughes with searing pace
Watch: At Brisbane in 1979/80, Colin Croft bowled Kim Hughes through the gate with a very fast ball.
The Kerry Packer days were over, and Australia and West Indies were both back at their full strengths. The first Test match of the series was at the Gabba, where the West Indies came at Australia with their four fast bowlers.
Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Joel Garner, and Croft were back. Even the fifth bowler, all-rounder Collis King, bowled seam. The Australians, too, were ready to combat them with Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson, and Rodney Hogg.
Australia became 26-2 after stand-in captain Deryck Murray (Clive Lloyd was recovering from a knee surgery) asked them to bat. Bruce Laird (92) and captain Greg Chappell (74) then added 130 before Roberts took out the latter.
Australia were 174-3 when Croft ran in to bowl at Hughes. Now Croft was unlike almost any other fast bowler, for he began his run-up roughly along the straight line behind the umpire. As a result, he would remain often nearly invisible to the batter when he began.
He would suddenly emerge to bowl, sometimes from next to the stumps, but often from as far left in the crease as the Laws would allow him to. He would then bowl at very fast pace.
His bouncers could be vicious, especially from that wide angle. Batters would find them difficult to avoid. But as Hughes – and many others – found out, that the short ball was not the only weapon in his arsenal.
The ball, bowled from some distance away from the wicket, pitched on a length on off and middle, and bowled Hughes through the gate. Hughes, done in by pace, stood no chance. Australia were bowled out for 268 as Croft claimed 3-80. The West Indies got a 173-run lead, but Chappell (124) and Hughes (130 not out) ensured a draw.
Croft finished with 125 wickets at a strike rate of 49. Of West Indian bowlers with as many wickets, only Malcolm Marshall (47) got them more frequently. Not bad for a man who wanted to be in academics, qualified as a pilot, taught mathematics, and was one of the earliest long-term online cricket columnists.