August 2, 2010

Foxes, lizards and other bowlers

Amir is a bee, Asif a snake. What are Malinga and Ishant?
52

I no longer support teams, only bowling. This is an ecologically conscious decision, of course, a petition for preserving the balance of cricket. But it is also driven by greed for the comedy that is a batting collapse (Pakistan and England are somehow the funniest). Much of it, however, has to do with the rare pleasure of brilliant bowling. And last month was a beaut. Test cricket was back again, even though it lost yet another of its ace bowlers. Murali, Warne, Kumble, McGrath, Pollock, Vaas, Lee, Flintoff, Bond - by a rough count that's 4000 Test wickets gone in the last three years.

England and South Africa are the best venues to watch bowling nowadays. Australian pitches lately bounce as sorrowfully as dead kangaroos. Broken Indian pitches used to have their moments of glory (Mumbai 2004, Kanpur 2008), but match referees and the media have terrorised them into terminal blandness. South Africa's have pace, bounce, seam. But England has rain; rain enough to put juice into pitches and wobble in the air, but not enough to wash out matches altogether. Rain is critical to the ecology. Rain made uncovered pitches the exquisite roulettes we read about. And rain, drawing sweat from the surface underneath covers, still makes excellent bowling legendary.

On two wet first days at Lord's and Headingley, Pakistan's two Ms - may their success be as great as the two Ws - along with Umar Gul, hooped and frisbeed all around the Australians in collusive joy.

Mohammad Amir is a bee. He buzzes in his run-up, the ball buzzes in the air, either way, and off the pitch, either way. He buzzes in appeal. Honeybees die after a single sting, but not Amir. He chews gum with teenage vigour. He takes the hair out of his eyes. He buzzes in again.

Mohammad Asif is a snake (Wasim was both snake, King Cobra, and bee, Queen Bee. Waqar was a bull. Imran was a stallion. Shoaib is an unnamed genetically modified species comprising Shoaib Akhtar and occasionally Salman Khan).

Bowlers have all kinds of philosophies. An uber-genius like Garry Sobers could say it depended on the ball, its "character". "Some swing or spin, some don't." Ah! For others, like Jeff Thomson, "I just roll up and go whang." Malinga slings it like Thommo. If the bouncer don't get ya, the yorker must

Asif is no ordinary snake. He is both venomous and a constrictor. This is a very wise and languid snake indeed. He cannot be provoked into reckless bites or over-exerting constrictions. Doesn't have those ways. He may plot his prey days in advance, observing the victims. He fattens them if need be. Then he begins to paralyse them. One limb, then another, and another, then the entire nervous system. At last he slithers in, cool, wraps himself around, gentle, and swallows whole. Pups are tormented by him. Did you watch Michael Clarke?

How he laughs at desperate flingers. Osman Samiuddin tells the story of Asif narrating a tale from a domestic match. Asif is watching a whippet-like, floppy-haired, largely futile fast bowler, in and out of the national team for a decade, going at it as usual. "Pace pe pace. [Pace on pace]" Asif jogs in calmly, wrists it this way and that, picks up a couple of wickets. It is hot. He heads for the pavilion. The fast bowler is still at it, still wicketless. "Pace pe pace." Asif drinks tea, smokes a ciggy. Outside in the heat, "Pace pe pace." Asif returns. Takes two more.

Closer home, before the horror of Colombo, there was some eye-catching bowling in Galle. Ishant Sharma is a giraffe, though arguably more an ostrich. Neither animal has our very tall and thin fast bowler's Adam's apple, which leads his gangly loping run like a spear, his hair (unlike Pakistani hair, which is invariably cool) racing behind him like something forgotten. Ishant needed rain. Once he had it, he stood the ball on the seam, jagged it both ways, fast and sharp. He was coming in like the breeze, floating like a long ghost in follow-through. Preserving Ishant, however, might be a challenge too big for the Indian conservationist.

At any rate, Ishant was easily outbowled by Lasith Malinga, who is a frill-necked lizard. As that creature throws opens the startling umbrella around its neck to frighten predators, so Malinga - who otherwise smiles like a little girl with ribbons in her plaits, who kisses the ball softly every time he bowls it - so Malinga unveils at the very last moment the shock of his delivery action. And each time it is indeed a shock.

Bowlers have all kinds of philosophies. An uber-genius like Garry Sobers (who was the whole Ark) could say it depended on - not on the pitch, the day, or the match situation, no, it depended on the ball, its "character". "Some swing or spin, some don't." Ah! For others, like Jeff Thomson, "I just roll up and go whang." Malinga slings it like Thommo, and that's his approach. If the bouncer don't get ya, the yorker must.

Finally, there was a long and anxious bowl, one final time, from the great Muttiah Muralitharan. "Hello, superstars," he told MS Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh in the first innings, "this is Test cricket. Remember it well." In the second he grinned, he bore, and got to 800.

Murali is described often as a fox. This seems right. Unlike hedgehog bowlers who pursue one big idea, Murali, like a fox, had many ways of pursuit. Like a fox he did not hunt in a pack. Like a fox he was himself cruelly hunted for sport in some parts of the world. Fox-hunting was banned a few years ago in England, but is still legal in Australia.

Rahul Bhattacharya is the author of the cricket tour book Pundits from Pakistan. He writes a monthly column for Mint Lounge

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • on August 5, 2010, 18:32 GMT

    ishant is a bear much like other indian bowlers .. they spend half the year hibernating ...

  • on August 5, 2010, 7:12 GMT

    Hahahhaha !!! that was hilarious but so true...and the end was just too awesome... Keep it up man..

  • on August 5, 2010, 6:46 GMT

    Ishant Sharma is neither giraffe nor ostrich he is Afghan Hound if u dont blv me just Google "Afghan Hound " and see the images:)

  • Bari_Manchester on August 4, 2010, 11:26 GMT

    I liked ''Wasim was both snake, King Cobra, and bee, Queen Bee. Waqar was a bull. Imran was a stallion. Shoaib is an unnamed genetically modified specie''... Brilliant

  • Peace_Lover on August 4, 2010, 7:35 GMT

    HAHAHA ! Perfect Zaheerahmed and Looch.. Spot on ! Great article .. Really loved it ..

  • on August 4, 2010, 2:16 GMT

    "Asif is watching a whippet-like, floppy-haired, largely futile fast bowler, in and out of the national team for a decade, going at it as usual." First I thought Sami.. but well could be anyone from about 2 dozen from 2000-2004.

  • on August 3, 2010, 21:34 GMT

    If we arent forgetting someone, Boom Boom! he looks like a Tiger

  • on August 3, 2010, 21:03 GMT

    I love the way rahul narrate his article, last line really is fantastic.. .. but he has not discuss warne he is also a all time great. I would love to read rahul's comment about warne but wht he said about wasim was exactly right!!!!

  • on August 3, 2010, 6:54 GMT

    A nice read indeed... Rahul!!! What about McGrath and Warnie? and Darren Gough ? :P

  • on August 3, 2010, 6:50 GMT

    it's what 4..............????? any1 can explain what he wanted 2 say..........????

  • on August 5, 2010, 18:32 GMT

    ishant is a bear much like other indian bowlers .. they spend half the year hibernating ...

  • on August 5, 2010, 7:12 GMT

    Hahahhaha !!! that was hilarious but so true...and the end was just too awesome... Keep it up man..

  • on August 5, 2010, 6:46 GMT

    Ishant Sharma is neither giraffe nor ostrich he is Afghan Hound if u dont blv me just Google "Afghan Hound " and see the images:)

  • Bari_Manchester on August 4, 2010, 11:26 GMT

    I liked ''Wasim was both snake, King Cobra, and bee, Queen Bee. Waqar was a bull. Imran was a stallion. Shoaib is an unnamed genetically modified specie''... Brilliant

  • Peace_Lover on August 4, 2010, 7:35 GMT

    HAHAHA ! Perfect Zaheerahmed and Looch.. Spot on ! Great article .. Really loved it ..

  • on August 4, 2010, 2:16 GMT

    "Asif is watching a whippet-like, floppy-haired, largely futile fast bowler, in and out of the national team for a decade, going at it as usual." First I thought Sami.. but well could be anyone from about 2 dozen from 2000-2004.

  • on August 3, 2010, 21:34 GMT

    If we arent forgetting someone, Boom Boom! he looks like a Tiger

  • on August 3, 2010, 21:03 GMT

    I love the way rahul narrate his article, last line really is fantastic.. .. but he has not discuss warne he is also a all time great. I would love to read rahul's comment about warne but wht he said about wasim was exactly right!!!!

  • on August 3, 2010, 6:54 GMT

    A nice read indeed... Rahul!!! What about McGrath and Warnie? and Darren Gough ? :P

  • on August 3, 2010, 6:50 GMT

    it's what 4..............????? any1 can explain what he wanted 2 say..........????

  • Zaheerahmed on August 3, 2010, 3:46 GMT

    Harbhajan is like a dometicated dog who roars like a lion when inside the safe enviroment of home but becomes a pussy cat as soon as crosses the border.

  • maaris on August 3, 2010, 3:35 GMT

    Ohhh i just love the final line.."Fox-hunting was banned a few years ago in England, but is still legal in Australia."...hahaa

  • Looch on August 3, 2010, 0:02 GMT

    Surely Sreesanth would be a goose!

  • jkaussie on August 2, 2010, 23:14 GMT

    A short observation here on cultural differences...to refer to someone as a"snake" in Australia is to make a derogatory comment on that person's character; "sneaky, underhanded, dishonest" are charcteristics implied by the comment. When I first read the headline and saw Asif described as a snake I thought "wow, what has he done wrong?" This may help to explain why there are often comments made here on the forums that are interpreted differently and raise so much emotion.

  • jkaussie on August 2, 2010, 23:04 GMT

    Hey, you know why fox hunting is not banned in Australia? Because foxes are vermin here, they kill all of the indigenous wildlife and have a hugely negative impact on the environment. Not making any allusions to Murali of course!

  • NanoTechnology on August 2, 2010, 21:47 GMT

    Thank you Rahul. I really enjoyed that, particually the very apt description of Malinga. He truly is shocking with his sudden, violent release of energy. It seems that people are slowly remembering what it is that makes test cricket so mesmerising. Bowling! There is no finer sight than a talented fast bowler gliding to the wicket (or stampeding if you're a Flintoff). Swing and bounce takes your breath away, "how did the batsmen survive?" you think. While one must have some admiration for the batsmen who can weather the heat to make huge scores on dead pitches, one also doesn't care to watch it. A high calibre of bowler makes every run, every boundary exponentially sweeter to view. I could hit my grandmother's off-breaks for boundaries all day, but a gripping contest it would not make. I think that the ICC should encourage countries to again forge a local identity to their wickets. Sharper spin in India and Sri Lanka, more bounce in Australia, more seam in New Zealand.

  • shahrias on August 2, 2010, 18:53 GMT

    Last line is genius. I also like the idea of strictly supporting bowlers instead of teams.

  • Asad10 on August 2, 2010, 18:01 GMT

    Really witty article...humor, sarcasm comparisons all perfect...waiting to read more of u Mr. Rahul :)

  • Force01 on August 2, 2010, 17:14 GMT

    Metaphors after metaphors after metaphors. Very smart indeed!!

  • Dipankar_Kolkata on August 2, 2010, 17:13 GMT

    Any ideas for Anderson? :)

  • on August 2, 2010, 17:13 GMT

    thats good stuff to read.. and i guess the bowler asif was discussing about was sami, all the attributes described points only towards sami

  • EngineerMahdi on August 2, 2010, 16:52 GMT

    Great flow. Wonderful examples. Perfect punchline!

  • mkshark on August 2, 2010, 16:35 GMT

    Bravo!!!! what a wonderful piece of writing,specialy the similies:) truly loved it..

  • Navillus on August 2, 2010, 16:15 GMT

    Sarcasm in the last line, KasZa? You mean the one which says Rahul Bhattacharya is a writer?

  • khanq on August 2, 2010, 16:14 GMT

    perfectky scripted article and what great imagination....i loved it

  • Lovetesh on August 2, 2010, 15:13 GMT

    Good article, nice analogies. I like your ecological theme. Earlier we were worried about fast bowlers but it looks like even spinners are also going to extinct. With the retirement of Murli hardly any game changer is left.

  • on August 2, 2010, 13:35 GMT

    "Pace pe Pace" sounds a lot like dear old Mohd. Sami. Poor guy will never learn what it takes to succeed consistently in international cricket.

  • Onedayer on August 2, 2010, 12:29 GMT

    Shoaib is a TRAIN!!! He simply steams in!!!

  • amit1807kuwait on August 2, 2010, 12:13 GMT

    This is one of the coolest article published by Cricinfo. Kudos to Rahul!

  • KaZsa on August 2, 2010, 10:52 GMT

    I particularly like the sarcasm in the last line...:D

  • Munkeymomo on August 2, 2010, 10:15 GMT

    hattima is right there is no way Malinga bends his arm, I suppose Fidel Edwards does too eh? And the other slingy actioned bowlers?

  • proudkolkatan on August 2, 2010, 10:04 GMT

    Rahul Da, i think all that maach has gotten to your head....

  • ww113 on August 2, 2010, 10:01 GMT

    Rahul,I would love to read your description of that great fast bowler Sreesanth. How about another instalment of this article next week ?

  • CricketPissek on August 2, 2010, 9:39 GMT

    nice easy reading. perfect for a monday...good stuff rahul. @thenkabail - erm.. no he doesn't. he just slings it, it's not even close to throwing! shaun tait, jeff thompson and am sure a few others have had similar actions and nobody thought they were throwing either. nobody important anyway

  • hattima on August 2, 2010, 8:48 GMT

    It is amazing how little you need to know to be able to comment. Malinga's action is such that it is IMPOSSIBLE to bend your elbow. He is an amazing bowler with the cleanest action possible!

  • manizee on August 2, 2010, 8:31 GMT

    Sharp writing. Suave analogies. Sweet trip.

  • mattpagezk on August 2, 2010, 8:16 GMT

    I've never before commented on an article here, but have to say, this was a joy to read.

  • catalyst213 on August 2, 2010, 7:37 GMT

    Rahul it seems you are running low on ideas on how to write, have a break like Gideon Haigh. This article is full of crap.

  • cricket_ftw on August 2, 2010, 7:35 GMT

    wasim's and shoaibs were cool ...

  • Kunal-Talgeri on August 2, 2010, 6:57 GMT

    Rahul, you're a wonderful writer, truly. "Neither animal has our very tall and thin fast bowler's Adam's apple, which leads his gangly loping run like a spear, his hair (unlike Pakistani hair, which is invariably cool) racing behind him like something forgotten..." sounded like commentary from National Geographic. An inspired pastiche... and long may such sports-writing live.

  • thenkabail on August 2, 2010, 6:34 GMT

    Malinga is a discuss thrower (not a bowler). I am truly amazed that no one has questioned his bowling action. Be honest and look at his action. Ishant, like so many other Indian fast bowlers, are spoilt brats who get paid too much and loose their way.

  • Charindra on August 2, 2010, 6:29 GMT

    Delightful article! You managed to draw mental images in my head... Good dig at the Australians with the fox hunting bit. They just cannot let the legend have his rightful place in cricket's pantheon. But my favourite bits were Asif, Imran, Waqar and Malinga. LOL

  • Maniksss on August 2, 2010, 6:15 GMT

    Brilliant Rahul!!!Absolutely brilliant....!Enjoyed it as much as I di your book.The passage about Asif and Sami was very instructive as it was hilarious!

  • bigbang07 on August 2, 2010, 6:11 GMT

    Delightful article Rahul! You've absolutely made my day so thanks a lot for that :) May your articles be as good as this (though this one should have gone into page2). What about James Anderson?

  • on August 2, 2010, 6:03 GMT

    Why include Ishant Sharma in such an elite company???

  • on August 2, 2010, 5:56 GMT

    Well Said Rahul Bhattacharya you have made animals out of these bowlers,Malinga a Frill necked Lizard,Ishant a Giraffe or an Ostrich,Amer a Bee and Asif a snake. But the greatest fun of all is describing Murali as a wily old Fox ,who always foxed even the greatest batsmen of all.

  • Vivek.Bhandari on August 2, 2010, 5:29 GMT

    Good article...but I thought it was intended for Page 2...

  • on August 2, 2010, 5:19 GMT

    Awesome article...especially the Asif domestic Cricket incident.....Wonder how many bowlers brainlessly slog it out for pace forgetting the basics of line and length.....I sometimes myself do this mistake...

  • smalishah84 on August 2, 2010, 5:05 GMT

    LOL.........really nice article. I really enjoyed it. Likening bowlers to animals and insects :)......cool idea. Imran gets the best of the lot, the stallion.

  • knowledge_eater on August 2, 2010, 4:03 GMT

    WOW simply wow. Thats all. Thank you. Now, I know who is Rahul Bhattacharya. Amazing.

  • on August 2, 2010, 3:57 GMT

    Hey nice observations. write one article on batsmen also

  • Joji_ on August 2, 2010, 3:29 GMT

    This was a GOOOOOD article. Enjoyed it a lot !!

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  • Joji_ on August 2, 2010, 3:29 GMT

    This was a GOOOOOD article. Enjoyed it a lot !!

  • on August 2, 2010, 3:57 GMT

    Hey nice observations. write one article on batsmen also

  • knowledge_eater on August 2, 2010, 4:03 GMT

    WOW simply wow. Thats all. Thank you. Now, I know who is Rahul Bhattacharya. Amazing.

  • smalishah84 on August 2, 2010, 5:05 GMT

    LOL.........really nice article. I really enjoyed it. Likening bowlers to animals and insects :)......cool idea. Imran gets the best of the lot, the stallion.

  • on August 2, 2010, 5:19 GMT

    Awesome article...especially the Asif domestic Cricket incident.....Wonder how many bowlers brainlessly slog it out for pace forgetting the basics of line and length.....I sometimes myself do this mistake...

  • Vivek.Bhandari on August 2, 2010, 5:29 GMT

    Good article...but I thought it was intended for Page 2...

  • on August 2, 2010, 5:56 GMT

    Well Said Rahul Bhattacharya you have made animals out of these bowlers,Malinga a Frill necked Lizard,Ishant a Giraffe or an Ostrich,Amer a Bee and Asif a snake. But the greatest fun of all is describing Murali as a wily old Fox ,who always foxed even the greatest batsmen of all.

  • on August 2, 2010, 6:03 GMT

    Why include Ishant Sharma in such an elite company???

  • bigbang07 on August 2, 2010, 6:11 GMT

    Delightful article Rahul! You've absolutely made my day so thanks a lot for that :) May your articles be as good as this (though this one should have gone into page2). What about James Anderson?

  • Maniksss on August 2, 2010, 6:15 GMT

    Brilliant Rahul!!!Absolutely brilliant....!Enjoyed it as much as I di your book.The passage about Asif and Sami was very instructive as it was hilarious!