Harsha Bhogle talks to cricketers and administrators

'I was quick when I first came on, but I was half the bowler'

Part four: Shaun Pollock on training to be a fast bowler, and overcoming the fear of failure (00:00)

November 18, 2010


Shaun Pollock

'I was quick when I first came on, but I was half the bowler'

November 18, 2010

Allan Donald congratulates Shaun Pollock on taking a wicket, Australia v South Africa, 2nd Test, MCG, 3rd day, December 28, 2001
"Allan Donald was just a supreme athlete. He never spent any time in the gym, which was a surprising thing" © Getty Images

Harsha Bhogle: A lot of Indian bowlers start off being 140-145kph, and that's, of course, if you trust the speed guns, and then all of a sudden the next time you see them, they are 125-130kph. You were a bit like that - you started off being quick and then you came down, but you were still successful. Why do you think it happens to a lot of these young boys - dropping in pace all the time?

Shaun Pollock: Yeah, I think there is a big workload on a lot of players. Sometimes when they come in they have got a lot of energy because they are playing games few and far between. And suddenly they are thrust into the international cricket scene and they've got to play a lot of cricket all the time. So to keep it up there is a bit difficult. I think from a strength base, a lot of the South African or Australian guys are very strong. They have worked on their bodies, physically, from an early age and manage to maintain their pace.

As for myself, I was quick when I first came on, but I was half the bowler. I could bang the ball in short, back of a length, and sort of get it through that chest area at a decent pace. But when it came to the flatter wickets, trying to get it up and be effective, I wasn't very good at all. I had to adjust and realise that if I had to be effective around the whole world, I had to change things, learn to shape the ball a little bit and get a little bit more pace closer to the bat. I think if I was 145kph on the short ball, then I was probably about 125kph when I was up there [closer to the bat]. So I did change things, and I think I was also lucky to play in South Africa. If I had played in the subcontinent my whole career, then I would have never got anywhere near the record that I have got. South African conditions allow a bit of nip and tuck, and assisted me. They really did allow me just to do what I did best and I could still be effective. Yeah, I mean, I did have some good games in the subcontinent - on certain days I performed really well. But there is no way I would have been the same if I was brought up and played all my cricket there.

HB: If an Ishant Sharma came to you now and said, "What should I do? I have dropped pace, I am sort of up and down, neither here nor there." What would you advise him?

SP: Well, I don't know what is being done with him. It's difficult to comment on that. From his side, from the strength perspective, he needs to try and get his body as strong as he can from the core through to all the muscles. He really needs to make sure that he has got an action that he can repeat, and he has got a body that can maintain its ability and energy throughout spells and throughout Test matches. It's a hard one, but it sometimes has got to do with the wrist. You get the wrist in the right position and you can all of a sudden gain 5kph. So there are different things that you can work on…

HB: Why do some fast bowlers stay fast? I mean, Allan Donald was always a fast bowler. Allan Donald was never three-quarter length, moving the ball around a little bit. Waqar Younis dropped pace a little, but he was always a fast bowler. Is it in the mind? Is it the way they train their bodies? What is it?

SP: Yeah, I think it's got to do with the way you are physically built as well. I mean, Allan Donald was just a supreme athlete. He never spent any time in the gym, which was a surprising thing.

HB: Is that so?

SP: He hated the gym. He did his bit on the bicycle…

HB: So what, God just gave him a body and told him go and bowl fast?

"If I had played in subcontinent my whole career, then I would have never got anywhere near the record that I have got"

SP: … And I think the thing, too, is that he played a lot of cricket as a young kid, and managed to bowl quick the whole time through there. So he learnt up a cricket stamina, if you want to put it that way, to endure and continue to bowl that pace. Someone like Brett Lee, I mean, I know he trains hard in the gym, and he really did sustain it for a long time, but it does take its toll. The injuries that he has had in the latter part of his career show that it is not easy to keep it going.

HB: This is a big debate in the cricket world: do you bowl more or do you go to the gym more?

SP: Yeah, I have always been a firm believer that you have to do your training, your running, your strength and all that. But at the end of the day there is no substitute for the muscles that you use when you bowl. And if you can get endurance in those muscles for a long period of time, then that's where you are going to get your strength and your pace and your accuracy from. And sometimes I think they need to spend more time actually doing the bowling than running on treadmills and doing strength.

HB: Is cricket about attitude or is it about talent?

SP: Combination. I don't think you can say that's it's one. Talent obviously gets you to a certain place and then the attitude takes over. There is no doubt about that. You've got to have that self-belief, that self-confidence. Every single one of us faces fear. Anyone who says that he has been on international stage and never feared anything is talking nonsense. We've all got our own fears, but if you can get the attitude to get over those and continue performing, I think that is the key. Attitude is huge.

HB: And how do you overcome that fear of failure?

SP: Well, as I say, I think everyone gets the fear of failure at different times. At the start of your career, you want to make sure that you establish yourself. So there is a fear that you might get out of the set-up and lose favour. Even going out to bat, there are obviously fast bowlers [to fear]… everyone's got a bit of fear. But when you have worked on your technique, you have done the odds, worked in the nets, then you get the attitude and aptitude to be able to deal with it. You have got a technique and you have worked out how you are going to play. When you get towards the end of your career, the attitude, at times, is that "I don't want to ruin my reputation" kind of thing. So there are always the fears that go along. When you get out of form, when things aren't going well, there is a lot of fear that any international cricketer faces.

HB: I know you played it towards the end of your career, Polly, but do you like Twenty20 cricket or are you good, old-fashioned Peter Pollock's son who enjoys Test cricket and wants that kind of cricket to survive?

SP: Definitely, for me it's really simple. Test cricket is the real test. It's a test of your skill, of your abilities, of your strength, of your mental attitude, of everything - every aspect of the game. And there is nowhere to hide. Twenty20 cricket is great, it is exciting, creates a lot of interest, and allows people to watch a lot of flair. But whether it is totally good for the game, I am not too sure. I think the jury is still out for me on that one. I would hate to see people lose their old techniques, their old art of being good cricketers, being able to bat for long periods, being able to bowl long spells. You know, if everyone was just a good bowler of the yorker and slower ball, and that was it, then I think the game of cricket will lose something.

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