December 31, 2010

The anonymous world of net bowlers

Aakash Chopra
Players practice at the KSCA Academy nets, Karnataka v Haryana, Ranji Trophy 2012-13, Group B, Hubli, 1st day, December 22, 2012
Net bowlers, who remain largely anonymous, make these sessions productive  © ESPNcricinfo Ltd


They come half an hour before the team arrives, as they can't be late. They warm up on their own, for the team can't be fiddled with; they bowl their hearts out while the rest go through the motions because there's a match round the corner.

A rather nonchalant "well bowled" means the world to them and that's what keeps them going till they drop. They hope to catch the coach's eye if he finds the time after he's done with the main guys. Then they will be mere spectators while the team goes through its fielding drills or stretching sessions; they must do it themselves, for they are the supporting actors and not the main lead. These are the guys who make practice sessions possible, for no team carries more than a few bowlers in the squad and it's almost certain that the main guys won't bowl for long, let alone at full throttle between matches. Welcome to the unknown world of the anonymous "net bowlers".

Every team, national or international, relies heavily on these supporting actors to make their sessions possible. But, unfortunately, very few teams understand their importance, let alone make them a part of their set-up. Often they are treated like second-grade citizens with no right to demand any luxuries. And that's where, I think, teams need to develop compassion. In small places it doesn't cost them much to commute from their home to the stadium but in places like Delhi and Mumbai, every practice session means a few hundred rupees. But I don't know of any association that pays these guys to turn up day after day. The obvious question might be: why do they still come? It's not surprising because it is perhaps their only chance to come close to the big guys. Bowling to the known players in the nets is their only possible break to impress them and perhaps get noticed in the future. It's a gamble they are willing to take and what makes it worse is that there are always people who sell them the idea that they're in the mix.

But let me tell you that I haven't seen any of these 'net bowlers' getting picked, if and when the opportunity arises. It's always the guy from outside, who's smart enough to understand that bowling in the nets is only tiring and not rewarding, who makes the cut. Ironically, the main cast changes a few times in the same season, but the supporting troupe remains the same.

It may not be a bad idea to ensure that they're paid for every visit. Every association gets crores from the BCCI to spend on cricket and justifying a few thousand rupees for these kids won't be too tough.

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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Posted by firdaus vajifdar on (January 18, 2011, 9:38 GMT)

Dear Aakash, I always read your articles and am a big fan of your writing.I really admire your thought for the under privileged NET BOWLERS,I also liked your idea of state associations for giving them some allowance for travelling & light snacks.please keep up with your good writing. Iam also happy to know about your good form with the bat & your contribution for Rajisthan winning the RANJI TROPTY.I would be the happiest the day you are recalled for Test duty.GOD BLESS. Firdaus Vajifdar.

Posted by Mohan on (January 3, 2011, 13:16 GMT)

Does it mean that the players picked in the international squad of 15 also resembles the same?Example Indian team for South Africa contains Umesh Yadav who bowls in nets but not in the match? Interesting article but dissappointing is a very short one.More busy hitting hundreds in Ranji Trophy? All the best wishes to get the Ranji Trophy for Rajasthan....

Posted by sam on (January 3, 2011, 11:56 GMT)

Superb article chops...if you ask this question to bcci,they would say grounds are not under our control.

Posted by Manjunath Rao on (January 3, 2011, 5:57 GMT)

Akash is on the dot with this blog. Net bowlers give their heart and soul to beat the stars so that they get noticed. There must be some compensation for straining to provide practice to the worlds or states best players.

Compensation for their conveyance and effort can be great for starters but in the long run the state associations must take up these players needs and handpick few of them for larger role.

Posted by Thebigfatflapjack on (January 3, 2011, 4:51 GMT)

very moving article mr akash chopra, really makes one feel for these guys who do the donkeys work so that the 'big boys' can perform in the big matchees.

the frustration of these kids should be highlighted and they should be given their due credit be it financial reward, recognition or chances at bowling trials.

keep it up.

Posted by Ram on (January 3, 2011, 1:35 GMT)

A brilliant article Aakash. The work that these "net bowlers" put in day in and day out is commendable as the big guns can only bowl for so much time else they get injured. From a bowlers point of view one injury is good enough to end your so called career. Hope the net bowlers are paid well for their valliant efforts in helping the bigs to concentrate.

Posted by Anonymous on (January 3, 2011, 0:29 GMT)

There are fairy tale stories. Like the one about the Australian legend Ray Lindwall. As a youngster, a 'net' bowler he once bowled to the State side of the Australian opener of those days - Jack Fingleton.

It is said that in a period of half an hour, Fingleton was clean bowled 5 times and played and missed a dozen others. So it's not all doom and gloom.

Posted by Andrew edwards on (January 2, 2011, 18:23 GMT)

Akash very good article. From an indian perspective and most other ICC nations it is true. In my opinion I agree with you and you should look into cricket administration your heart and head are in the right place. However, brian lara did recommend fidel edwards after facing him in the nets. The rest is history.

Posted by EXUMA on (January 2, 2011, 16:13 GMT)

most net bowlers cherish the chance to bowl to senior batsmen, a chance they will not get otherwise.a chance to tell their drinking buddies and later their grand kids that " I bowled tendulkar or lara". most will have to go through the structured cricket games to prove they are good. some do get reconition; imran khan picked wasin akram from a net session and if i am not wrong brian lara picked up on fidel edwards during a training session.

Posted by hungrypuffin on (January 2, 2011, 12:49 GMT)

Great article. I have watched cricket for a few years and never even knew of the poor plight of these hard working men, or such job existed. Thank you for opening my eyes up to this matter.

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Aakash Chopra
Aakash Chopra is the 245th Indian to represent India in Test cricket. A batsman in the traditional mould, he played 10 Tests for India in 2003-04, and has played over 120 first-class matches. He currently plays for Delhi in the Ranji Trophy; his book Beyond the Blues was an account of the 2007-08 season. Chopra made a formidable opening combination with Virender Sehwag, which was believed to be one of the reasons for India's success in Australia and Pakistan in 2003-04. He is considered one of the best close-in fielders India has produced after Eknath Solkar.

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