December 19, 2016

'There are a lot more tough days than successful days in a fast-bowling career'

Former South Africa bowling coach Vincent Barnes talks about developing fast bowlers, injury prevention, and the extreme pace of Dale Steyn

"South African bowlers have always been fairly good overseas. Whether we are playing in Dubai, New Zealand, at Lord's, or at home at the Wanderers, we have fast bowlers who can take wickets" © Getty Images

Vincent Barnes, a tearaway quick, played for Western Province in the Howa Bowl competition during the apartheid era, and briefly in the Currie Cup after the end of isolation. He has been coaching fast bowlers for Cricket South Africa for the last 14 years.

Are you surprised by how well the South African quicks bowled in Australia?
When conditions suit our fast bowlers, as they do in Australia, they are lethal. South African bowlers have always been fairly good overseas. We adapt to conditions well and that has been a massive strength of the South African side for years. Whether we are playing in Dubai, New Zealand, at Lord's, or at home at the Wanderers, we have fast bowlers who can take wickets.

Each of the fast bowlers brings different variants to the attack. Vernon Philander is always accurate and if there is anything in the wicket, he will exploit it. He also gets a bit of swing. Kyle Abbott is the same, only he is a bit quicker. He is highly skilled and bowls a strong ball. And then you have the pace of Kagiso Rabada. Among them, they give nothing away. They keep coming and coming, and bowl to a fantastic plan.

What does a pace-bowling attack need to be successful all over the world?
It needs to be multi-dimensional. The unit needs to have different skills. If you add Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel to the group above, you have two more fast bowlers with different styles and skills. It doesn't always work. On the tour of India last year, we needed more pace on the slower wickets.

Is there anything missing from this South African attack?
We could do with a left-arm quick. Wayne Parnell is part of the squad, but he is injured at the moment. There are also some younger bowlers around with pace.

"When it's slow and low, a fast bowler needs a different type of patience. They must build pressure over time, with accurate bowling that makes it difficult for the batsman to score, gets the batsman frustrated and more likely to take risks"

How do you help develop young fast bowlers so they reach their potential?
The first thing you have to think about is injury prevention. Someone using that amount and type of energy at the crease is always going to be prone to injury, particularly in their lower back. As a coach you work with them to get their action fluent. Analyse the action, see if there's any chance of an injury. Do they have a mixed action? Are they putting stress on a particular part of their body? If there is a risk, you work with them to get them more upright when they deliver, get their forces moving in the right direction, down the wicket before, during and after they release the ball.

Should young fast bowlers take it easy then, bowl within themselves?
A lot of coaches will talk about line and length. For me, a fast bowler actually has to bowl fast. Control of line and length is easy to coach. It's not easy to teach someone to bowl 5kph faster.

Who was the fastest young fast bowler you've ever worked with?
Dale Steyn. He came down to play against the South African Academy as a young tearaway. He impressed me so much that I asked him to come back and play some more matches, against us and for us. When you see a really raw fast bowler like Steyn, Brett Lee or Shoahib Akhtar, that really excites me. It's such a great skill to be able to bowl really fast.

How important is mental resilience, particularly when things are tough?
Fast bowling is an emotive art. Fast bowlers expend a lot of emotion and spend a lot of time working really hard. They usually have to bowl a lot more overs than other bowlers, sometimes 25 overs in a day, so they have to learn how to put in the time and effort in training to be able to do that. Sometimes they'll be in all-out attack mode, other times they'll need to just slow down the run rate. There will be a lot more tough days than successful days in a fast-bowling career. Not everyone is prepared to do it when it's tough.

"Control of line and length is easy to coach. It's not easy to teach someone to bowl 5kph faster" © Getty Images

What about learning to go through the pain barrier?
Some will, others won't. It's just about the nature of the individual, their outlook on life. As a coach, you can't do much to change that. Some will keep going for the team when they have a niggle, others will walk straight off the field as soon as they feel something.

Should a bowler's approach change depending on whether conditions are in their favour or not?
If it's a greentop or a flat track, either way it's all about pressure and patience. A fast bowler shouldn't get too carried away when conditions are in their favour, trying to bowl big swinging, seaming, bouncing deliveries. That looks good, but they'll want the batsman to actually nick off to the keeper and the slips, not just to miss the ball, or, worse still, leave it. When it's slow and low, a fast bowler needs a different type of patience. They must build pressure over time, with accurate bowling that makes it difficult for the batsman to score, gets the batsman frustrated and makes them more likely to take risks.

Do fast bowlers always know before the game whether conditions will be in their favour?
They have to assess conditions early on. Within the first few balls they'll have an idea of the pace, bounce and whether there is any movement off the pitch or in the air. If there's not much, they'll need to bowl fuller and straighter at off stump. Anything short sits up to be hit and if they're too wide, it's too easy for the batter to score.

If there is quite a bit of help in the pitch, then bowl a fourth-stump line to bring the keeper and slips into play. Don't listen too much to the slips and keeper, though. When batsmen fielding in the slips see a greentop, they start worrying about chasing too big a total and will put bowlers under pressure to take wickets. Remember to be patient. Bowl a full length and take advantage of the conditions.

"When you see a really raw fast bowler like Steyn, Brett Lee or Shoahib Akhtar, that really excites me. It's such a great skill to be able to bowl really fast"

So control your aggression? Don't get too carried away?
No, even on the most docile pitch, a fast bowler should be aggressive. The bouncer is still a potent weapon, even if a bowler has to pitch it a lot shorter. The bouncer itself might not take a wicket, but it might get the batsman playing more tentatively at the next few fuller balls. On a faster, more helpful track, the bouncer becomes a real wicket-taking option.

A fast bowler shouldn't overdo the bouncer, but instead stick to their stock delivery and bowl that ball consistently. Cutters and slower balls are useful on easy-paced pitches, but a fast bowler mustn't forget that they are still a fast bowler.

Do you need those variations, even when the pitch is in your favour?
On a greentop, if a fast bowler can make the ball go both ways, then yes, do it. All the best quicks can do this. It keeps the batsman guessing, and eventually someone will play at a wide one they should have left because they'll be worried about the ball coming back at them. Use this to your advantage, though not too often. You'll need that consistency of line and length to make the most of your skills and the conditions.

So pitch it up on a greentop?
Ideally, yes. But a fast bowler is only human. Sometimes on a green top, a certain bowler will be reluctant to pitch the ball up, not because they are being arrogant, or because they have no control, but because they are worried about going for a few runs. Maybe they are struggling for rhythm or they have just had a bad game and are low on confidence. If so, or if the batter gets away to a flyer, the best thing to do is for the fast bowler to go back to bowling just a bit wider and shorter. Just for a few overs, bowl to the keeper. Then, when the bowler has their rhythm back or the score has slowed a bit, they can go back onto the offensive, refocus their attack on off stump and just outside.

"The bouncer itself might not take a wicket, but it might get the batsman playing more tentatively at the next few fuller balls. On a faster, more helpful track, the bouncer becomes a real wicket-taking option" © AFP

Are international cricket grounds too batsman-friendly?
I walked out onto the pitch at the Wanderers not long ago, just before a T20 match. I looked down at the wicket. There was no grass and not likely to be much bounce. It's at moments like these that you realise just how tough it is for fast bowlers these days. You can go for eight or nine an over in a T20 without bowling badly. Countries that don't have really quick bowlers of their own prepare flat pitches to counteract those who have them. It was good to see a green wicket for the first New Zealand-Pakistan Test in November.

Do you feel sorry for young bowlers these days, trying to learn their trade with so much T20 cricket around?
In that same T20 game [at the Wanderers], an 18-year-old fast bowler, in one of his first games, went for 41 runs in his four overs. And he didn't bowl that badly. You could see him walk down to fine leg looking despondent, maybe worrying about whether he would be picked for the next game. That's the time when it is important for an experienced player or a coach to speak to the young bowler and help them understand that they haven't failed. Maybe the batsman has played some unbelievable shots. Maybe the wicket was an easy one to bat on. Sometimes even the world's best bowlers get smashed around in T20. It's important that young bowlers understand this, so that they are not too hard on themselves. Yes, the bowler may have had a bad day today, or bowled a bad over, or even just bowled a bad ball. But it could be a good day tomorrow. Their next over might be a good over. Or even the next ball. They always have another chance.

Should young bowlers' workloads be restricted?
That's debatable. Yes, young bowlers' workloads have to be managed properly, but you can go too far with that. In the recent series between South Africa A and Australia A, Australia would pick one attack, they would do well in a four-day game, and then for the next game Australia would change their whole attack. If it were down to me, I would rotate the bowlers between matches, maybe, but only one at a time. I wouldn't change the entire attack. Bowlers need to bowl regularly to become their best, develop the muscle memory and their bowling skills. But with kids today, you know that some days they will need to rest. Coaches need to understand that even if a young quick is their star bowler and they need to win a game, they won't be able to use the bowler all the time, not without risking injury.

"When batsmen fielding in the slips see a greentop, they start worrying about chasing too big a total and will put bowlers under pressure to take wickets. Remember to be patient"

You were a pretty decent quick bowler yourself. Tell us a bit about your own bowling.
I joined a cricket club aged 13 and just wanted to bowl fast. Before that, my passion was football. By the time I got into the first team, I realised that you needed more than just speed. At first I wanted to be the fastest. Later I also wanted to be the best.

What type of bowler were you?
I was an out-and-out quick bowler, although there were days when I'd bowl at medium pace because it was too much to charge in and try and bowl at your fastest all the time. My hero, growing up, was Michael Holding. I tried to model myself on him, although I didn't have the sort of beautiful action he had. I was more of a slinger.

Did you have any coaching when you were a kid?
Not like there is now. We just had senior players who would advise us, help us stay focused.

Was it frustrating not being able to play international cricket because of apartheid?
A long time ago I made my peace that I would never play for my country. Apartheid was all over our life. I played a few games for Western Province at the end of my career, including the Benson and Hedges final in 1992. I decided that I would make my mark on South African and international cricket as a coach instead. I did my cricket and football coaching qualifications in Scotland when I was over there playing club cricket.

I've been fortunate working with so many great fast bowlers who not only have the talent but work so hard for the team too.

"Coaches need to understand that even if a young quick is their star bowler and they need to win a game, they won't be able to use the bowler all the time, not without risking injury" © Cricket Australia/Getty Images

How much does it help young fast bowlers to have experienced quicks around when they first come into the side?
What could be better for a young paceman than having Dale Steyn at mid-on and Vernon Philander at mid-off? Having that sort of experience around you is invaluable whether you're a bowler or a batsman. I remember JP Duminy's debut for Western Province. He walked out to the wicket after Herschelle Gibbs was out. Out there waiting for him was Gary Kirsten.

Does it take the pressure off a young bowler if experienced, quality team-mates are leading the attack? Say the difference between Kagiso Rabada, who had Steyn and Philander in the team when he started, and Kemar Roach, who came into the West Indies side as a young bowler and was pretty soon expected to be the team's main strike weapon.
The youngster can bowl around the more experienced bowlers, yes. Make a contribution while developing their skills, decision-making and experience. Then, if the young bowler has an off day - as all young bowlers are prone to do - other bowlers will still be taking wickets and making it tough for the opposition batsman. The team's performance will not suffer and the young bowler has more time to develop.

Andile Phehlukwayo looks a decent prospect. What can you tell us about him?
He's a decent allrounder, actually. He can bowl fast and he hits the ball well. I was surprised he was picked in the one-day team and not the Test side, because he is actually a better four-day bowler than he is a one-day bowler. He impressed me a lot during the A tour to Australia. He's definitely one for the future. I would like to see him now putting in some more good games for his franchise.

Who is the fastest bowler you have ever worked with?
Dale Steyn, definitely. Whereas Morne Morkel will bowl 140kph-plus all the time, Dale will go between 125kph and over 150kph depending on the wicket, the situation and whether the batsman has just hit him for a couple of fours.

Which South African fast bowler would you least like to face in the nets?
Definitely Morne Morkel. He has the bounce as well as the pace. During the Proteas' practice sessions, you'd always hear batsmen complaining if they had to face Morkel too much. When Jacques Kallis first faced him in the nets, when Morne was just a young net bowler, Jacques was so impressed he wanted Morkel in the team right away. "I am not enjoying facing him at all," Jacques told everyone.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • vik56in on December 19, 2016, 14:16 GMT

    Iam surprised Vincent Barnes never mentioned the name of Nantie Hayward. Hayward was easily faster than Steyn and from all the bowlers to come out of South Africa, Nantie was the fastest. Its a pity his extreme pace couldn't translate into him becoming a good bowler.

  • Baundele on December 19, 2016, 14:04 GMT

    Just wow! This is probably the most intelligent piece of talks I have ever read about fast bowlers from a bowling coach. He is spot on with each and every word. Dale Steyn is probably a good example of how Vincent's words should be translated into peformances in real cricket matches.

  • Saulben on December 19, 2016, 7:16 GMT

    I think morris has been injured, I'm worried that morkel will be overlooked now that he's getting on a bit. the problem with having 6 or 7 fast bowlers who would walk into any international side is that 4 of them are likely to miss out.

  • KerneelsMerkII on December 19, 2016, 6:55 GMT

    I have always thought that people tend to underestimate the impact Morkel had in the team - he would get (even the best) batters on the back-foot and keep them there, which Steyn and Philander will exploit the whole day. Very well balanced attack. Imagine if we also had a spinner.... Great article, thanks.

  • Smit1307 on December 19, 2016, 5:59 GMT

    Indeed, Morne and Steyn two best attacking bowler options. And two of very different Kind. Bounce and pace of Morne is really dangerous, he can get the ball to rise from good length. Steyn is just a class apart. Abott, Rabada, Philander all adds up to their pace attack. I wonder not to hear any mention of C. Morris now a days. Decent All Rounder and fighting character.

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