Shane Bond November 4, 2008

That was quick!

For an all-too-brief while, Shane Bond was the world's finest fast bowler, shattering stumps and scaring batsmen. Now at ease with not gracing the main stage anymore, he looks back at his career

Bond in the Test that turned out to be his last, in Johannesburg, November 2007 © Getty Images

Log on to Youtube and you may get to see the ball that changed Shane Bond's career: a searing yorker that knocked out Adam Gilchrist's stumps in a VB series game in 2002.

On the morning of the match Bond threw up at breakfast - a side effect of nervousness that he only managed to get rid of years later. The very good players tend to be nervous wrecks before big games. Sachin Tendulkar can't sleep, George Headley's bowel movements used to change during a Test; for Bond it was throwing up.

"If you are not nervous, I don't think you can get the best out of yourself," Bond says. "You need to be on the edge to perform against the best guys. Even during the warm-ups I used to be tense, but as soon as I got the ball in the game, I would relax. Outwardly you try to show you are calm but I think every one is nervous. You do bluff a bit.

"I remember walking back to the mark after that wicket and telling myself, 'Look, I'm good enough to be here.' That one ball changed my whole thinking. Before that I was still intimidated and thinking, 'Don't get hurt here.' From that point my self-belief went up there. Rather than thinking about don't do this, don't bowl a half-volley, don't get hit, the focus shifted to 'Do this now.' I thought I could be the best bowler in the world and set out to do what was required."

He held that title, for a while at least, and has the records to prove it. Bond's strike-rate of 27.5 is still the best in the history of one-day cricket. He was the fastest bowler to 100 wickets in terms of number of deliveries bowled. In Tests, he has the fourth best strike-rate of all time.

Bond, still boyish-looking, doesn't seem a fast bowler. Nor does he look a cop. He was both.

Shy by nature, he transforms into an animated character while talking about fast bowling. Sitting in his hotel room, watching on the telly as Zaheer Khan harasses the Australians, he brightens up: "Ah that was good. How did he bowl that? … C'mon, the batsman should have seen that coming." Bond is in India playing in the ICL and watches the Test series when he can.

I is for injury
"It's easy to say that you want to be the best but it's difficult to go out and do it," he says. Train hard, work hard when no one is watching you. For me, I had the desire to do it even when no one was watching."

Never was that desire more severely tested than in 2004, Bond's annus horribilis. He had a back operation - the hipbone was grafted into the vertebra and secured with bolts and wire - and things didn't look too good. It was three weeks before he was able just to touch his toes, seven before he could walk for ten minutes at a stretch. The surgeon told him that his fast bowling was a thing of past. The future was a blur. Bond had a young family to support. Somehow he had to find a way. He did.

You hit them on the thigh or back side, you see them grimace and you go, 'That's good!' I don't like to see them hit on the head and hurt or something. I am the first one to run across. But the times when they are jumping around, you walk back to your mark with a smile

He began to walk, went swimming, and changed his fitness training. He slogged through four sessions a day: ten overs of bowling in the morning, followed by an hour of weights. Then a half-hour of rest before a 40-minute run. He ended the day with a session of boxing training. No one was watching.

Knowing that he did his best to overcome his body is what has allowed Bond to come to terms with thoughts of what could have been. His bid for a spot on the list of the greats will always come with an asterisk: he played only 17 Test matches, the footnote will say.

Bond doesn't think too much about how his career would have shaped if not for all the injuries. "I don't see my cricket career as a 'but' now. I have worked really hard on my game, especially on my fitness," he says. "That was the whole point for me. If I got injured, I got injured, but I did everything possible to take care of myself."

On tours, when team-mates went out to party, Bond would usually stay back at the hotel. He didn't drink a lot, or indulge in anything that could later give cause for regret. "I did everything I could, but I still got injured. For me, it was just not meant to be."

'No mate, you've got to be the best'
Bond first dreamed of playing cricket for New Zealand at the age of five. When he was 12 he met his hero Richard Hadlee.

He was 16 when he decided he had to improve his bowling. "I picked up the phonebook, dialled Dayle Hadlee [New Zealand's bowling coach then] and asked him whether I could come to his house and have a chat, have a look at my video. As I grew a bit older, he was in charge of the academy and we shared a great relationship."

During his time in the police force, "raiding houses and chasing bad men", Bond would save his seven-weeks' holiday to play cricket in the summer. And when he did, he bowled fast and blew teams out in club cricket. After one such annihilation, his first-class coach Gary McDonald said, "That's the quickest going on in New Zealand. I'm going to call up Richard Hadlee."

Bond played for New Zealand A on a tour of India in 2001, during which he picked up a bunch of wickets. Later that year he made his international debut, against Australia.

It was a conversation with Chris Cairns shortly after that gave Bond direction. Cairns asked the debutant about his plans. "I said I want to take wickets and try to stay in the team, and he said, 'No mate, you've got to strive to be the best bowler, the No. 1 bowler in NZ, and soon the best bowler in the world." After I played in the first part of that VB series, I thought he was right: I want to be the best bowler in the world."

Bond didn't have a great start against the Australians, though. He remembers standing in the nets, watching the mighty Aussies go about their task. "All the stars were there. I thought, this is the best team in history and I'm going up against them, but the good thing is that it's never going to get harder.

A world-beater is born: Gilchrist b Bond, Adelaide, 2002, the dismissal that convinced Bond he had what it took to cut it at the highest level © Getty Images

"I didn't pick up many wickets but I went past the bat a few times and it gave me confidence that I could compete against these guys. Then Bangladesh came along, which was a good thing. I picked up wickets and my confidence grew. Then the VB Series, which was the turning point for me."

There's something about the Australians that brought the best out of Bond. In 11 ODIs against them he has taken 34 wickets at 13.88, with a best of 6 for 23. "They can make you look stupid if you don't bowl well," Bond says. "And I always felt a lot of buzz when going against them. They like to attack and come after you, but it gives you a chance to pick wickets. I used my swing, bowled fast and kept it full outside off. I'm lucky that I swing the ball. I always believed that I could bowl the ball that can get somebody out. Good luck to them if they keep coming hard."

Thinking 'em out
Brain triumphs over brawn for Bond. Talk about his famous yorkers and he'd rather tell you about the thought-out dismissals that he cherishes more.

Brian Lara was a prized victim. When he was new at the crease, Lara would move back and across in an exaggerated manner; but rarely had he been bowled around his legs. Bond stored that movement in his head.

The opportunity came in a Test in Auckland. In the first innings Lara was out cutting Bond to point. In the second innings Bond fired his first ball in full, fast and swinging. Lara walked across and his leg stump was out of the hole. "That felt great," Bond says.

He was never the sledging fast bowler. The odd stare or the occasional wry smile to suggest he had got the better of the batsman was more his style. "I just concentrated on keeping at the batsman. Even if he hit me for a four I would be at him the next ball. He would know that I was not going to give up, that I'd keep knocking till I got him out."

Some good-old quick bowler's meanness does trickle out, though. Bond says with a smile that he loves to see batsmen hop - though he doesn't like to really hurt anyone. "You hit them on the thigh or back side, you see them grimace and you go, 'That's good!' I don't like to see them hit on the head and hurt or something. I am the first one to run across. But the times when they are jumping around, you walk back to your mark with a smile. No one enjoys facing fast bowling."

Who were the good batsmen he liked bowling against, who he felt weren't too comfortable playing him? "Sourav Ganguly." A few at his ribcage and then slip in a yorker? He nods. "And I always thought I had a chance against [Virender] Sehwag. I used to swing the ball back in and he had problems with it. [Herschelle] Gibbs always felt that when he was on song he could play me, but I liked bowling to him. Graeme Smith played me well, but then I got my own back."

Who was difficult to dislodge? "I've got to say [Matthew] Hayden. If you are swinging into him he has problems, but my strength was swinging away from the left-hand batsmen and so I never had a great chance of bowling him or getting him lbw. Similarly [Shivnarine] Chanderpaul. He knows his off stump and doesn't give you much chance."

Knowing that he did his best to overcome his body is what has allowed Bond to come to terms with thoughts of what could have been

It was in the Auckland game where he got Lara twice that he thinks he produced his best spell of Test bowling. "We were defending 290 they were nearly 150 for none. [Chris] Gayle and [Daren] Ganga were playing well. Ganga got out and I hit [Ramnaresh] Sarwan with a bouncer and bowled Lara around his legs. The ball started to reverse and I got three more wickets. It was my best-controlled spell: I got players out when and in the way I wanted. I remember the previous night telling myself tomorrow is a big day and I am going to go good." Bond's figures read 5 for 69 and West Indies fell 28 runs short.

Like his idol, Hadlee, Bond charged himself up by setting targets of wickets and averages. "When I was playing ODIs, I set two wickets a game. I wanted four runs per over and to keep my average under 20. Similarly in Tests I wanted to keep it under 20. I was driven by trying to just keep it there. Stats are not going to define you as a player but I used it to get the best out of myself. I pushed myself to wanting to be the best and get my ranking higher and higher."

And so he rose before injuries pulled him down and the decision to play in the ICL finally froze his international career. He has no regrets about that choice - "When I joined the ICL I thought I could play both and it was just common sense as far as financial reasons go" - but when he eventually hangs his boots up for good he knows he will miss the big time. "Like winning, especially against Australia at their home in front of huge crowds. They give you tremendous stick and when you do well it gives you great adrenalin. Nothing is going to beat that. Life is going to be a bit boring!"

Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo