October 23, 2011

Step forth, über-quicks

Pat Cummins' arrival has caused excitement among fans of the game. Cricket must do everything it can to preserve and nurture fast-bowling talent such as his
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It's not surprising young Patrick Cummins' arrival in the Australian team has created a lot of interest. Genuine fast bowlers are only slightly behind swing bowling and legspin as vital factors in cricket's success.

While swingers and leggies add to the variety of entertainment, the genuine fast bowler puts the test into Test match cricket. He tests the courage of batsmen, and whilst this has been diluted in the era of substantial protective equipment, any player who is the slightest bit apprehensive will still be found out. Nothing stirs the excitement of the crowd like the sight of a Brett Lee charging in off a long run to be confronted by a belligerent Virender Sehwag. The mystique surrounding the first ball of a Test match is built on such confrontations.

The fact that Cummins' hasty arrival has created such interest is proof of the need for genuine fast bowlers. That he's being hailed as a prospect, though he has very little prior history, is also an indication there aren't enough of his type in the game at the moment.

In the 1990s the game was blessed with a boatload of good fast bowlers: the obligatory four from the West Indies, the two Ws from Pakistan, and those in South Africa and Australia.

Currently there are good pace bowlers around, with Dale Steyn and Jimmy Anderson heading the cast. However, they rely more on swing to ambush the batsmen and don't create the same ripple of anticipation that buzzes around the ground when a genuine paceman measures out his run. There's nothing to match the thrill one feels at the sight of 60 metres of ground (40 of grass and 20 of turf) between the bowler and the wicketkeeper.

While there are concerns about the adverse effect Twenty20 might have on the technique and artistry of batting, a close watch also needs to be kept on what it does to fast bowlers. Already we are witnessing a variety of slower deliveries being paraded by the quicker bowlers. Consequently it's good to occasionally see a bowler like Shaun Tait, who works on this simple principle: "Here it is, see if you can hit it."

I once suggested to Jeff Thomson that he have a chat with his fast bowling team-mate Dennis Lillee about how to bowl on slower pitches. "Mate, if you don't mind," replied Thomson, "I'll do it my way." After some thought I realised Thommo was right; he was a fast bowler and he was going to live or die on his pace.

While a bowler needs to vary his pace in a fast-scoring game like T20, the wise words of former West Indies fast bowler Andy Roberts should be required learning for any budding quick. Roberts once asked: "Why don't fast bowlers change up instead of down?" That's how Roberts and a few other good quick bowlers operated; their pace variation was up a gear, and if it was well disguised, it was damned difficult to handle.

In picking 18-year-old Cummins, the Australian selectors have adhered to another of Roberts' pearls of wisdom. Roberts believed that fast bowlers only had a few years of genuine pace and it was important to "pick them while they're still quick".

It will be a pity if the hectic international scheduling leads to a reduction in the number of such fast bowlers. There aren't enough of them around now that the game can afford to turn those few who dream of bowling quick into medium-fast trundlers.

Fast bowling is a state of mind as much as a physical skill. Lillee once said: "As I stopped at the top of my mark, I imagined the ball still rising as it smacked into Rod Marsh's gloves."

Let's hope that Cummins and many other youngsters like him in every cricket-playing country are born with similar vivid imaginations. It takes a lot of courage to imagine that scenario when in reality what the bowler often sees in the distance is an armour-clad batsman standing at the end of 20 metres of lifeless turf.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator and columnist

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • King_Khawaja on October 25, 2011, 8:59 GMT

    I do not always agree with Ian Chappel but this time he is correct: his use of words like "mystique" and "anticipation" are perfectly accurate to describe genuine fast bowlers. A couple of years ago I really enjoyed watching Amir and Kemar Roach fire up an Australian summer. Sadly Roach no longer seems to be considered good enough for the WI XI (does anyone know why? He averages under 30 in all forms of international cricket) and we all know what happened to Amir. Hopefully Cummins can provide the excitement!

  • smudgeon on October 25, 2011, 2:32 GMT

    Eh, you've got to have more than express pace to be a good bowler. Variation, patience, and consistency - quick bowling without any of these is a shortcut to a pasting. Let's hope Cummins shows some of these qualities (preferably all of them)...

  • dummy4fb on October 25, 2011, 0:35 GMT

    fast bowlers are the ones who make watching cricket exciting , really good to see good number of fast bowlers , we need bowlers like Garner,Marshal , Roberts , Lillee , Ambrose , Waqar , Wasim. and then we will see how these batsman survive , if bats can be made heavier and bigger , why not allow fast bowlers 2 bouncers in all format of cricket and see how good batsman;s are , its been batsman's game recently , good to see new crop of fast mens , hope they get better and faster.

  • dummy4fb on October 24, 2011, 23:31 GMT

    AUS have a lot of pacemen atm so to does england,SA is good with steyn and morkel,havent seen anyone to back them up who is quick.... INDIA HAVE YADAV,AARON AND ISHANT... aaron impressed me in the match i saw him so did yadav,both have pace... work with them india could be deadly

  • Rakim on October 24, 2011, 14:07 GMT

    +1 Ian Chappell, both Ws (Wasim/Waqar) came into team when they were 18/17 respectively, Mohammad Amir was 17/18 too. I hope this guy Cummins' bowl up to 95mph. Finn is good too, although he is being bashed by Indians at the moment.

  • bumsonseats on October 24, 2011, 12:56 GMT

    i think in finns case, it been the work hes done on his body. he was a bean pole before. im not saying he could now be a #8 for england rugby union but he has bulked up. slightly changing his run up and delevery. looking at him these days he looks about 5/6/ kilos heavier. its hard when u look at a fast bowler during odis because slower bowls can be as much important as fast. but his stock delivery in the last 5/6 odis has been about 88 mph and highest coming in at 95 mph which given the conditions the oval and indian grounds which have been pretty placid. he does not have too long a run up or perticular quick run to the wicket. very similar to morkels with speeds i guess the same. and the one telling thing they are both 6' 7" in ht. if he can stay fit he should get 300 wickets + for his country.dpk

  • bumsonseats on October 24, 2011, 12:08 GMT

    i think the fast bowlers of today are as good quick and hostile as previous named bowlers but not the quantity. its just the wickets seem these days to be dumbed down. most wickets these days seem to be batters friendly. were wickets 10/15 years ago were more bowler friendly. i remember during the great west indies teams and the wickets they prepared were for that great battery of bowlers. viv richards quite openly saying it was their home series and that was it. dpk

  • dummy4fb on October 24, 2011, 11:12 GMT

    @Balldinho: Baseball pitchers stand in a single spot and perform an action far less at odds with the usual physical stresses the body can be expected to undergo. Bowlers, fast bowlers, run in thirty or forty yards, and put an enormous amount of weight on a single ankle. They will repeat this action, inimical to the body's usual geometry, thousands of times a season. A baseball pitcher, though a skilled operation and, almost certainly, difficult to sustain over the immensely long seasons, nevertheless, does not contort his body as regularly in as extreme a fashion.

  • Murchadh on October 24, 2011, 10:04 GMT

    Also, the "radar" used to determine bowling speed does not provide an accurate reflection of "pace" for two reasons. The actual positioning of the radar is VITAL and hence the same bowler might bowl at the same speed on two different grounds when the radar shows two different speeds. What's more, the radar does not measure the arrival speed of the ball at the batsman, which is BY FAR more important and differs greatly between different bowlers.

  • Murchadh on October 24, 2011, 9:52 GMT

    @Balldinho: Do you actually follow Baseball? Starting pitchers play nowhere near 162 games a season. They are on a rotation with 4, 5 and sometimes 6 other pitchers. Also, pitchers hardly ever pitch more than 120 pitches (that figure being rare actually), most of the time they throw well under 100. Thus a starting pitcher throws max 20 overs worth every 4 or 5 days. "Everyday pitchers" such as closers usually throw a very small number of pitches and only do so when the win is in question for a team. It is common practice not to actually use closers if a game is beyond a team already. Also, the mechanics of pitching and bowling are vastly different. You mention torque with pitching, but (a) you do you know how common injuries with pitchers are right? and (b) fast bowling places FAR more strain on the body, mainly due to the landing, which obviously does not exist with pitching. Also, it is quite common for pitchers to pitch well into their 40s. Ask yourself why.

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