Bowling March 31, 2006

On the bowling of Ramesh Powar

ESPNcricinfo staff
Ramesh Powar is that rare thing: the genuinely slow bowler, someone whose bowling never quite "arrives"

Ramesh Powar is that rare thing: the genuinely slow bowler, someone whose bowling never quite "arrives". One knows that Powar is a tease even before he rolls his arm over: the substantial Powar waistline, the zany red Powar sunglasses, the glimmer of a Powar grin that appears on the ten-step Powar gambol to the wicket, all convey to the batsman the air of a seriously unserious cricketer having a bit of a lark. But there is no harm in all this. Spin bowling, after all, is basically about subterfuge.

But beneath the air of the court jester is a seriously good off-spin bowler. Powar's lack of speed (he bowls under 50 mph; as comparison, Harbhajan Singh bowls at around 55) has little to do with the speed of his arm and everything to do with how high he tosses the ball up. This makes it difficult to play him from the crease, not just because he gives you so little pace to work with but also because he gets bounce from flight.

Batsmen have to come down the pitch to "fetch" him, which is of course just what he wants (the dismissal of Andrew Flintoff today, stumped, was an example of how Powar exasperates batsmen). In the warm-up game at Jaipur last weekend, Powar bowled 10 overs for 35 for the Rajasthan President's XI. Twelve of these runs came from the two times batsmen succeeded in hitting him for six; from his other 58 deliveries, he conceded 23 runs; the batsmen were scarcely able to get him away at all.

At Faridabad today it was fascinating to watch his tussle with Kevin Pietersen, who possesses the most intimidating forward stride to spin bowling in international cricket today. Powar's tactic, as always, was the traditional spinner's gambit: to invite the drive by tossing the ball high and then beat the stroke by making it dip.

Early on he got Pietersen to strike out at a ball, without control, in this fashion, but the resultant chance was put down by the fielder running in from long-on (however, Powar could hardly complain, having just spilled the simplest of caught-and-bowled chances). After that Pietersen gave him a bit more respect, and chose to go after the other spinners. It was what they call a moral victory, though the moral of such victories always is that other kinds of victories are much more preferable.

The other thing to note about Powar is how close he gets to the stumps. His last stride onto the bowling crease is a hop to the right, so that when he pivots over his braced left leg to bowl, his foot is right in line with off-stump. This means he really does bowl "stump-to-stump", unlike Harbhajan, who bowls from much wider on the crease.

The long spell that the two spinners bowled in tandem today gave one a chance of setting them off against each other. Typically, Powar aims to direct the ball "out" away from the right-hander in flight, before getting it to pitch and spin back to hit off- or middle-stump. In contrast, because of where he bowls from on the crease, Harbhajan not only spins it in to the right-hander but also angles it in in the air.

Powar's bowling has more interesting lines and angles - but Harbhajan, of course, makes up for all this with his doosra, without which, one sometimes thinks, he would be a rather pedestrian bowler. But Powar looks like a bowler ideal for the longer version of the game. It is not an age for old-fashioned cricketers, but it would be a discourtesy to his skill if this opportunity comes his way later rather than sooner.

Chandrahas Choudhury is a writer in Mumbai