<
>

Bangladesh eye fast-bowling upsurge under Walsh

Bangladesh's fast bowlers are looking forward to learn the secrets behind Walsh's fitness over a 17-year playing career Peter Della Penna

The timing of Courtney Walsh's appointment as the Bangladesh bowling coach is near-perfect. One of the greatest fast bowlers of the modern era will now be in charge of a pace-bowling unit that has just started to get taken seriously.

Walsh is on a three-year contract up to the 2019 World Cup, and much of the experience from his long playing career and a level 3 coaching degree will be used to sharpen Bangladesh's pace attack in ODIs and T20s, and retooling the Test attack.

Fast bowling in Bangladesh used to be a novelty act for a long time with Mashrafe Mortaza the only shining light for more than a decade. Given the pitches, spinners quite naturally ruled the overs and wickets columns. It gradually changed with the emergence of bowlers like Shahadat Hossain, Rubel Hossain and Shafiul Islam, but until 2015, it was always spin.

At the insistence of Mashrafe, Bangladesh's limited-overs captain, and head coach Chandika Hathurusingha, there has been an influx of pace bowlers with varied skills, who have been used cleverly over the last two years. Mashrafe banks on his experience to move the ball, while Rubel and Taskin Ahmed offer pace and a bit of swing.

Al-Amin Hossain has used his legcutters well in ODIs, while Mustafizur Rahman has become a sensation with cutters and slower balls.

Heath Streak, the former Zimbabwe captain, whom Walsh succeeds, did a fine job for two years with these pace bowlers. Among the things he did well was to monitor and maintain the workload of theinjury-prone pace bowlers. It meant that their bowling actions needed to be consistent. Streak's vigilance and with the confidence placed in the pacers by Mashrafe and Hathurusingha, were factors behind the match-turning spells produced by the quicks during the 2015 World Cup and the home series against Pakistan, India, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Mashrafe said Walsh's addition at this stage was a big boost to the pace bowlers, especially for the Test attack, which has lacked the bite to bowl sides out twice. He added that Walsh's superb record could perhaps inspire a Bangladeshi fast bowler to emulate him in the Test arena.

"If we can learn a bit from his vast experience, it would be very helpful for us," Mashrafe said. "Pace bowling has a major role in a team taking 20 wickets in a Test match, so I feel that our boys can learn from him how to go about it. His passion, the way he handled situation, these are key things that we can all take from him.

"We don't have bowlers like Dale Steyn in our team. Our bowling attack needs to do well for a number of years, and not just now. We need a bowler who would take 300 Test wickets, so for that one has to perform for a sustained period. There must be ways how that can happen, and I think we learn that from him [Walsh]."

Mashrafe said it would be important to see how much the Bangladesh pacers pick up from Walsh during his three-year stay, a key takeaway being the methods he employed to stay fit through most of his 17-year international career.

"One of the reasons why I admired him was his endurance," Mashrafe said. "His run-up was so smooth that they said even the umpire couldn't hear him running in. There was always a smile on his face. He was a great character. I think we can learn from him how to stay fit.

"If everyone wants to learn from him eagerly, then they can get a lot out of a coach, because they are always trying to help you."

Taskin, who is preparing to go to Brisbane to have his bowling action reassessed on September 8, said he wanted to learn how to generate extra bounce from a good length, which was Walsh's forte in his heyday.

"I first want to learn how to gain extra bounce from a good length, which he did so well. I will try to understand the technical side of it, though I don't have the strength like someone from the Caribbean.

"I will also try to learn how he remained fit and without injury for so long in his career, and also he bowled those long spells in Test cricket."

Taskin's father always talked to him about Walsh and Curtly Ambrose. Taskin watched them on TV and YouTube and met Walsh in 2014 but didn't have a long conversation. "But now I have him as coach," he said. "It is quite thrilling."

While Taskin heard about Walsh from his dad, Mashrafe says he has always idolised him. He is excited about spending time with the West Indies legend in the dressing room, and wants to pick up new tricks that may help him at this stage of his international career.

"I am excited that I can meet my idol in cricket," he said. "I consider it a big deal to be in the same dressing room as him. I have always liked him, especially because he was so different than the other fast bowlers in his era. He would always smile in the field. And it was not just as a bowler but also as a character.

"At this stage of my career, I would be keen to learn something new that would make things slightly easier for me."

Never before has a bowling coach garnered so much interest in Bangladesh. But Walsh is the highest-profile coach this country has ever seen, and rightfully, there will be a lot expected from him for the next three years.