December 4, 2012

Indian domestic cricket

Fast bowlers turning extinct in India

Aakash Chopra
Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron at a training session, New Delhi, November 5, 2011
'Before you point out Umesh and Aaron, let me remind you how unreasonable and cruel it is for people to expect bowlers in India to bowl fast'  © AFP
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So, what's in fashion this cricket season? It isn't a particular brand and its gear, neither sporting a tattoo, nor a flashy hair style -- our generation-next cricketers have moved beyond such fads. The in-thing that I talk of is, bizarrely, a whole new understanding of the game, a version which is difficult to make sense of by old-school boys like me. What's alarming is that most seem to be swearing by this new, warped philosophy that pace is an "over-rated virtue" and that genuine fast bowlers are fools to invest time and energy in honing this skill.

Educating me on the subject of "neo-cricketism" has been a fast bowler, in his late teens, with the ability to generate great pace for his age. This kid regularly made the batsmen, even the much senior batsmen, jump and hop. In fact, on first seeing him, and having been thoroughly impressed, I'd marked him as 'one for the future'. The kid went on to play first-class cricket in India and I kept hearing good things about him. Well, my last rendezvous gave me an opportunity to know him closely and decipher the workings of many young minds like him even better, not particularly to my pleasure though.

For starters, he's no longer obsessed with pace; in fact he's lost a lot of it, voluntarily.

"Voluntarily?--who in his right mind would want to do that. Wasn't it supposed to be one of the most potent weapons in a fast bowler's armoury?" I snapped like a nagging parent!

To that the kid, with an I-know-it-all look, informed me, "Have you had a look at the surfaces on which we play our cricket in India? C'mon, you were there for the Ranji final last year, weren't you? Almost every bouncer bowled reached the wicketkeeper, who was standing no further than 10 yards from the batsman, in two bounces. Bowling quick is no longer a boon, but a bane!"

Alarmed by such talk, I still persisted, "That was just one game. Not all the games are played on such surfaces. I've heard that the BCCI has given directives to most curators around the country to make greenish pitches. Moreover, there's an apparent dearth of bowlers who can bowl fast, and hence they are priceless. India reveres good bowlers!"

Not in a mood to back down, like most kids of his age, he continued, "How many endorsements did Zaheer Khan get after his sterling efforts to win the World Cup for India in 2011? Wasn't his performance at par with many others in the team? The batsmen who didn't even play all the games in the World Cup are seen in adverts more often. To say that we revere fast bowlers is false."

I decided it was time to use the IPL card, for it was a sure shot way to lure this boy to change his mind. "There's the IPL and we don't have many Indian fast bowlers. We all know that in T20 cricket bowlers are worth their weight in gold. Anyone who can bowl four economical overs regularly is worth a lot more than the ones who can score at a strike-rate of 150."

This was bound to work, I thought secretly. "Check your figures", he said with a smirk. "Even the best bowlers in the IPL, the likes of Lasith Malinga and Dale Steyn are worth no more than a million, but even some second-rate batsmen are taking home close to 2 million." This one had just backfired badly.

Time for a role reversal, for getting angry wasn't helping, and both logic and lure had also given up the quest. So, this time like a patient parent, I started all over again, "Point taken but it isn't always about the money, son. Since there are many good batsmen around, the easiest and the quickest way to play for India is to bowl fast. If you're able to do that, selectors will surely fast track your progress and you'll be an India player in no time. You just need to clock 145 consistently (as if clocking 145 is a joke, but I needed to sound convincing)."

He smilingly, as if looking through my naïve tactics, replied, "You don't have to bowl fast to play for India anymore; in fact I heard the (former) chairman of selectors Kris Srikkanth, while explaining the non-inclusion of Umesh Yadav, say that speed is an 'overrated virtue'. But before you point out Umesh and [Varun] Aaron, let me remind you how unreasonable and cruel it is for people to expect bowlers in India to bowl fast. Even if you prepare good pitches on which the ball carries nicely to the keeper, would it take away from the fact that a bowler is expected to bowl 50 overs in a week? There are only three days between two first-class games, and if I want to feature in all of them (I should if I want to get enough wickets to get noticed), it is imperative for me to cut down on pace. If I want to bowl at 100% every time I bowl without cutting down on the number of overs and matches, I'll get injured. Most bowlers in the country have mastered the art of bowling effectively at 70%. Moreover the SG Test ball we use in the Indian domestic circuit is more rewarding to the bowlers who, instead of hitting the deck hard, release the ball."

Suddenly, it felt like I was making a case for fast bowlers in vain. In the ideal world, I would've wanted him to never give up pace. But he was probably right. Today it is more about being a 'smart' bowler than a mere 'fast' bowler--such are the changed dynamics of "neo-cricket" in India.

The boy is now looking to work on his batting, and perfect the yorkers and slower-ones. These currencies are worth a lot more in the IPL market than the ability to just bowl fast, he updates me.

This fad among the fast bowlers isn't a fad after all, I am afraid. It's a risky philosophy to develop, a larger debate between 'what's good for the player' and 'what's good for the game'. And that's a precarious one to handle. Even more precarious for Indian cricket.

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 Rohan Golwalkar on (January 14, 2013, 10:42 GMT)

First of all Akash thanks for writing the post. I won't blame the noy - there are few points why we don't have fast bowlers. 1) India has always been a better batting nation. 2) Young cricketers have not seen any internation India bowler terrifying the batsman at all(ok Ishant and Umesh yadav bowl fast i agree). Now when they see age old wisdom our senior bowlers are found spreading - pace is not important accuracy is - well true but the young bowlers end up doing none as they reduce the pace and natural aggression is lost. I hope something changes about this and we find fast bowlers soon. Or we mind end up saying what MSD said - we are not even bowling onebouncer -how will we use the second one.

Posted by Asad on (December 6, 2012, 2:55 GMT)

I don't agree with the author and his source. Cricket is lifeless without fast bowling --- the climber coming at your neck at 90+ mph is what we pay to see. Don't get me wrong...spin and guile is good too...but not at the cost of pace bowling. Pakistan has an advantage in a good legacy. We started with Khan Mohammad, Mahmood Hussain and Fazal Mahmood who were all good through till early sixties. Later we had Imran Khan and have never looked back since. Youngsters love to run up and hurl the bowl as fast as they can. If pitches don't help you swing the ball in air or reverse it. It is unfortunate the we lost two of our best bowlers including Mohammad Amir the teenage prodigy, we seem to be OK with some bench strength as well. Invest in pitches...but at least find one star and create a legacy...like you did for batters with Sunil Gavaskar.

Posted by HNLNS on (December 5, 2012, 23:55 GMT)

This is an excellent article revealing what India lacks today and why it does not have the killer punch that is so badly required to win when touring overseas. Aakash is absolutely right in pointing out the basic mistakes that BCCI and selectors keep repeating. Very thought provoking message for all those concerned indeed. If India are to be a force to reckon with in the world of test cricket, they need to develop and take very good care of an exclusive bunch of genuine quicks, strictly meant for test cricket only, not IPL or any other format. Also they need to be rewarded well for their efforts to keep them interested.

Posted by Alex on (December 5, 2012, 20:13 GMT)

The whole thing is flawed. If guy is build like pakistani , he can bowl fast. Major issue is Diet. If you eat vegetarian and want to bowl fast , its not happening. Its pipe dream. Also in general indian society do not like athletes. Bowlers are athletes. Bowling in india is kinda thankless job. All these bowling in flat indian wickets are futile is a bad argument. If you ask a short guy with limited energy what he gona say? Lifeform is based on conserving energy. You have to find strong tall kids. his context will be different. In India bowlers think like batsman that is bottom line mental issue. Batsman go to hotel , playing card and drinking beer , but bowlers has to hit the gym if he wants to keep the spot and they don't like to do. so the dilemma. Everyone wants easy money. Simple.

Posted by Shivanand on (December 5, 2012, 11:08 GMT)

Kudos Aakash for a thought provoking article! This has been the bane of an aspiring, talented fast bowler in India! Those who stuck to pace,waned out due to injuries(like Desai,Salgaonkar,etc) and wiser people like Prasad,Kuruvilla,Munaf "adjusted" to the reality!

Posted by ashok16 on (December 5, 2012, 7:34 GMT)

I have always wondered why anybody in their right mind would want to become a fast bowler in test cricket in India. Now it looks like everybody is wondering. Good.

Posted by Sakthivel Murugan on (December 5, 2012, 4:04 GMT)

Nice article again by a nice person. But, I wonder what made him to write this article.... Probably his first over out in his recent Ranji match to a 36 year old, unknown FAST bowler....:)

Posted by Whakky on (December 5, 2012, 3:41 GMT)

It is more a result of the rules of the game being made more in favour of batsmen then anything else, to attract the viewers. And it is bound to happen when T20 and IPL become more prominent then Test Cricket for the BCCI or for that matter ICC. When you are targeting audience like women etc most of who hardly know a b c of cricket and are just interested in Slang Bang T20 cricket, what you expect from BCCI etc who seem more money minded then cricket minded.

Posted by USIndian on (December 4, 2012, 21:15 GMT)

Akash-nice way of summing up the ineffectiveness of our management and obsession of our people,media, corporate world etc with batsmen. The bowler in question is absolutely right, he answered all your permutations and combinations in a fitting manner because he is actively involved in the game and knows the psyche. Just look at the answer ZAK performed wonderfully in the WC and has been doing it for over a decade now, is he getting his due share of recognition both in terms of endorsement and public appreciation and media coverage, not really and look at Munaf he was the unsung hero of the world cup(if you analyse his performance with relevance to the effectiveness)where is he now. If we have to produce genuine quicks, first the management should change its mindset followed by the media, the corporate world, the public and last but least the captain who is in charge, the pithces too. If not then the dream will always remain a dream.

Posted by MaruthuDelft on (December 4, 2012, 20:37 GMT)

The same old story. India is lazy and dishonest. They look for short cuts and tricks. Just like going to swamies to get their wishes realized. Hence spin and batting. Fast bowling and fielding will never be sought after here. Indians are not prepared to work hard to compete with the best in the world.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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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