Shane Bond: A purist's delight
From Suhas Cadambi, India
Why don't you go get him?
I'm his biggest fan
You gotta tell him
He's still the man.
- Calling Elvis by Dire Straits, 1991
Mark Knopfler's lyrics ring true when we attempt to sum up our feelings over the last two years of Shane Bond's career. Through the injuries, the hints at giving up Test cricket altogether, the 'defection' to the ICL, the forsaking of a last chance to have a crack at the Aussies, and the final ride into the sunset, we've found ourselves hoping - time and again - that this wouldn't be the end.
But instead of wondering "what might have been?" once more, those of us who had the pleasure of watching Bond in action can choose to reflect on what a strange, exciting trip it's been.
Where the top players of the decade regularly courted controversy, Shane Bond was one for whom universal admiration seemed to be reserved. He was a purists' delight, generating speed from a lovely, smooth action which belied the stress it inflicted on his body.
He also embodied quite a few attributes of the great fast bowlers of yesteryear; there was the judicious use of the bouncer which was reminiscent of Andy Roberts, there was the ability to swing and cut it both ways - an asset which served the late Malcolm Marshall so well, and there were those yorkers which took one back to Waqar Younis' heyday. My dad likened his approach to the wicket and delivery stride to that of Fred Trueman's, but where Fiery Fred was never short of a word or two for the batsman, 'Bondy' preferred to smile and let the ball do the talking.
He was one of those players whose deeds emptied bars and classrooms alike. I recall a cold December day at college in Bangalore, 2002; we had watched the Kiwi seamers dismantle India's batting on a greener-than-green pitch in Wellington earlier that morning on TV, yet all the excited talk was not of the injustice of having to play on that wicket, but of Bond's ripping, inswinging yorker which proved too good for an in-form Rahul Dravid.
While he did save some of his best efforts for the Indian line-up and Brian Lara, for my money Bond's ability to knock over quality batsmen was never more evident than during his debut ODI series, against the Aussies and South Africans. Aided by Stephen Fleming's astute captaincy, he exposed Ricky Ponting off the front foot, gave Steve Waugh a testing time, memorably yorked Adam Gilchrist, and provided journalists with the line "The name's Bond, Shane Bond, and he likes his Martyns shaken not stirred".
Post-2005, following his return from a two year injury-enforced absence, Bond was a slightly different beast. Fitness issues meant he wasn't quite the all-out destructive force of early 2003; yet, he had added subtle variations and changes of pace to his armoury, and was more accurate than before. His performances on the slow Carribean pitches during the 2007 World Cup - where he took 13 wickets at 16 apiece with an economy rate of 3 an over - showed him to have evolved into a thinking man's bowler.
His final stint with the national side saw an increased reliance on the slower ball and the slower bouncer (especially in T20 games), but every now and then the magic of old would still resurface. Fittingly, a match-winning eight-wicket haul in his final Test against Pakistan last November left us asking for more.
Unfortunately, looking back at Bond's finest moments provides a sobering reminder of New Zealand's place in the scheme of things and their struggle for identity as a cricketing nation. That debut tri-series is now remembered for the axing of the Waugh brothers, if anything, and NZ's three straight victories against the Aussies did little to improve their perceived credibility as a touring side. Bond's 6-23 in the World Cup game in Port Elizabeth was a masterclass in strike bowling, but it was Brett Lee's haul which proved to be the match-winning one. He bowled New Zealand to their first ever series victory in the Caribbean against Lara's side in 2002, but they have never been invited back since.
Still, it can't be denied that New Zealand were a stronger outfit and won more regularly with Bond around, and he gave a workmanlike side a touch of genuine class. Bond probably didn't play enough Test cricket to be regarded as a 'great'. He will likely be remembered in the same manner as Frank Tyson or Lawrence Rowe, cricketers closely tied in with their particular eras, yet much revered by those who got to watch them.
His decision to quit while ahead was an intriguing one; it suggested he might have felt there was more to a cricketing life than seeing out one's days in the IPL. However, this is a sad thing for us because we won't have the consolation of watching him bowl for the Kolkata Knight Riders. Again, our collective thoughts appear to have been echoed in Mark Knopfler's musical account of the fan desperately trying to get through to Elvis Presley: "Don't you think maybe, you could put him on?"