August 30, 2010

How do Pakistan produce so many fast bowlers?

Watching young Mohammad Amir make Ricky Ponting dance to his tunes was both a sight and a statement

Watching young Mohammad Amir make Ricky Ponting dance to his tunes was both a sight and a statement. Despite the turmoil in Pakistan cricket, the crop of quality fast bowlers has rarely, or never, seen a downswing. Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Shoaib Akhtar -- the lineage is potent and the character entrenched in their cricket.

Pace bowling continues to absorb Pakistan like nothing else. So what is it about Pakistan that ensures their supply line is never dry? After all, fast bowling is one of the most gruelling aspects of the game.

It ought to do something, or a lot, with their genetics. They come across as a tough race with an aggressive streak, which is an indispensable factor to bowl quick. They are born fighters and that streak ensures that they keep coming back at you. If cricket is just the expression of your true self, fast bowling exposes that vein better than anything else.

Then there's a strong culture of playing tennis-ball cricket in Pakistan. But unlike the usual tennis ball, they tape the ball to make it slightly heavier. Now, you can either be a fast bowler or a batsman to survive in that format, for spinners would be ineffective with a tennis ball. And if you choose to bowl quick, then you must develop a quick arm action, strong shoulders and an even stronger back to generate pace with a ball as light as a tennis ball. That's their first lesson in fast bowling but one which keeps them in good stead in the future.

Another thing that I have observed while playing with them in England is that fast bowlers from Pakistan are an extremely confident lot. Perhaps bordering on over-confidence, but I'd rather err on that side if I'm a fast bowler, because that very nature, at times, makes you vie for a comeback when all seems lost.

If all of these factors do their bit, this seals the deal - the legacy. Their fast bowlers have always been larger-than-life figures who'd inspire millions to be like them. Their persona and flamboyance is what a 10-year old kid would want to emulate when he grows up. The respect that a fast bowler gets in his community, village and town is beyond compare. And that respect is what a sportsperson craves for and its pursuit drives him for months and years.

The credit cannot and should not be given solely to the infrastructure or the system, for their meteoric rise is part of a sustained campaign by the nation as a whole. Respect and legacy are much bigger incentives than the technical support. Usain Bolt, the fastest man on the planet, doesn't run for Jamaica but for his village. And guess what, he never had the proper shoes to train, in fact he would run barefoot on the beach all the time. The same goes for Sansarpur, the 'Mecca' of Indian hockey which boasts of producing more hockey players than the entire country put together. And yes, even they lack the high performance facilities.

Resources can surely help but only if there's a genuine concern for the talent. As long as Pakistan can feel proud in the achievements of their faster men, they would keep producing Amirs by the dozen.

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Out of the Blue, an account of Rajasthan's 2010-11 Ranji Trophy victory. His website is here and his Twitter feed here

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