Bowling May 13, 2011

Fast bowlers: An endangered species

From Mrinal Kumar, United States

From Mrinal Kumar, United States

Lasith Malinga’s retirement from Test cricket marks yet another instance of a fast bowler’s career being curtailed by injury. Fast bowlers are a breed in steady decline, as the strains of excessive schedules take a toll on their bodies. The physical requirements of pace bowling - an endless run-up, a slinging arm, a fearful grimace at the end of it all - have not meshed well with innumerable number of matches their team plays. As bowlers look to push the speed barrier, they push their bodies beyond the limit. Brett Lee, Shoaib Akthar, Shaun Tait- the three fastest bowlers of this decade. The other similarity they share? They have all played less than 55% of their team’s Test matches since their respective debuts.

Injuries ranging from a troublesome knee to genital warts have kept the fastest men in the game on the sidelines. With Malinga the latest addition to that list, Dale Steyn stands as the only genuine fast bowler left in the world (it is too early to gauge young Kemar Roach). Steyn’s clean injury sheet can only be attributed to the excellent way he has been handled. He has been rested from several ODI series to save his fitness for the purest form of the game- Test cricket. By reducing his workload, South Africa have managed to extract the best from their premier fast bowler - the last of a dying breed.

Fast bowlers of yesteryear had significantly fewer fitness problems. Malcolm Marshall, the face of that West Indies quartet, played more than 75% of his team’s Test matches since his debut. With a schedule unclogged by a limited-overs match every three days, Marshall was able to leave his mark on history without giving up an ounce of pace. Men who try to replicate him these days, however, are met with nothing but frustration and pain- how can one expect their body to survive that type of physical exertion on such a regular basis?

The advent of Twenty20 has served the perfect arena for fast bowlers to express their art - in short, fiery bursts. This comes at the expense of the longer form, however, and one dreads to ponder upon the future of genuine pace. How long can speedsters wage the battle against this elastic schedule? It is time for the ICC to step in and breathe life into the most spirited members of the game. As Steyn hustles into the crease, ball in hand and scowl firmly entrenched on his face, hope – pray - that the ICC takes steps to save this species before it withers away.