The art of Ramesh Powar September 7, 2007

Slow burner

In an age obsessed with speed, Ramesh Powar is charmingly headed the other way. Siddhartha Vaidyanathan met him



Powar gets another victim with sheer lack of pace © Getty Images

It's said that some cricketers belong to a different era. Ramesh Powar belongs to a different century.

He is from an age when cricketers came in different shapes and sizes, wore outsized red sunglasses and delectable hair bands, and bowled slow, really slow. We've heard about the adrenalin rushes, speed barriers and shoulder-aches that the fastest bowlers experience. Now it's time to celebrate the slowest among the slow.

Over his last five games Powar has defied the modern notion that bowling in one-day cricket is about restriction. In a high-scoring series he has rarely darted the ball in at a flat trajectory, never beaten batsmen with speed. He has wound the clock back to the golden age of cricket, the Edwardian twilight preceding the first World War, and risked conceding runs for wicket-taking rewards. Expectedly he has got wickets (six in five games); surprisingly he has been economical (4.41). Only Andrew Flintoff, who has played two games fewer, has done better.

A ten-minute chat with Saqlain Mushtaq, when the Indians played Sussex during the early part of the tour, made a big impact. Powar was fretting over not getting any of the Indian batsmen out in the nets. Saqlain's advice was simple: "If you succeed in making these guys defend you, then you are bowling very well. Don't think of getting a Sourav Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar or a Rahul Dravid out. Even if you are able to bother them in the nets, it's good enough."

Powar has grown in confidence with every game since, so much so that he has not hesitated in slowing down his pace considerably. He usually operates in the 45-to-55 mph range. Occasionally, especially when he bowls the undercutter that goes straight, he gets slightly faster. More often, when he simply lobs up a moon-ball that goes straight, he gets slower. Once he dropped as low as 41mph. He admits it's his slowest phase yet but, fascinatingly, thinks he can "easily get slower".

At Edgbaston, in the third game of the series, brought on in the 16th over, with Ian Bell and Alastair Cook at the crease, Powar slipped in a really slow one and nailed Cook on the top-edged sweep.

"In the third game it struck me that if I bowl a little slower, they might sweep," he said. "I knew they wouldn't try to hit over the fence because they rely on batsmen like KP [Pietersen] and Bell to stay at the wicket. They couldn't afford to take many chances. So I've been taking chances against Cook, Bell, [Paul] Collingwood and Pietersen."

It's helped that Powar is usually operating with Piyush Chawla, the legspinner, who is comparatively faster. "It always helps with Piyush bowling at the other end, because the batsmen tend to always go after those bowling quicker. So, suddenly when the slower bowlers come on, it becomes difficult for them to work around it. And with my kind of pace, I don't think they can do that easily."

Does he think he can slow it down further? "For left-handers I might go a lot slower because they play against the spin. For right-handers I think it's fine. Because I'm an open-chested bowler, I can adjust my action easily. I deliver the ball behind my ear and lose pace since I am a side-arm bowler. And since I've been bowling like this for seven-eight years, I know how to lose pace with the same action. Sometimes you don't tweak the wrist - just let it go. Sometimes you hold the ball in the palm, sometimes you hold it in two fingers rather than three. There are a lot of ways to lose pace and I've worked on different methods in the nets."

He usually operates in the 45-to-55 mph range. Often, when he simply lobs up a moon-ball that goes straight, he gets slower. Once he dropped as low as 41mph. He admits it's his slowest phase yet but, fascinatingly, thinks he can 'easily get slower'

Powar's Headingley dismissal of Ravi Bopara, one of England's best batsmen against spin, underlined the value of pace variations. Two quick ones, at around the 55mph mark, were followed by a straight dolly, lobbed up at 42.4mph. Bopara, completely deceived, popped a simple return catch.

"They had changed the ball just then," Powar said. "It was a newish ball and I knew that tossing it up may help getting some bounce. Maybe he didn't expect it to spin or bounce that much. There was not much spin but some extra bounce."

Powar anticipates the batsmen's intentions much better these days. He has always been a shrewd bowler but thinks his gut feel pays off more often these days. Paul Collingwood's case is worth mentioning. "Collingwood always played the chip shot against me [lobbing over midwicket]. So I decided not to bowl any offbreaks that will help that chip shot. In ten balls I will probably bowl seven straight balls to him. I'm guessing better right now."

The straight one which he utilises so effectively was mastered by watching a great legspinner on television. "I learned that delivery watching Shane Warne bowl. I used to try it earlier also but it used to spin a bit. That's maybe because at the Wankhede anything spins. When I tried it here in England at the beginning of the tour, it was going straight really well. I don't know whether the release has changed slightly but it is working. That's all that matters."

Powar's trade requires him to bide his time and wait for success. His philosophy in life - one that has seen its fair share of tribulation - is similar. "I'm not the kind who wants success every day," he says sombrely. "I've seen life in and out. So success and failure in a game shouldn't be taken too seriously." It's a perspective that has made Powar the cricketer he is. It's also helping him become the bowler he wants to be.

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is assistant editor of Cricinfo