As a bowler, Ian Bishop asked searching questions of batsmen the world over before his career was cut short by injury. In his career as a commentator, he calls the game as he sees it, unafraid to express a strong opinion when warranted. Through it all, he retains a deep love for West Indies cricket, and for fast bowling. Both aspects were in evidence when he sat down for a chat that covered the gamut from building an ideal fast bowler, to India's pace quartet, to what West Indies should do, on and off the field.
There has been a resurgence in fast bowling the world over, particularly in the last two years. Why do you think that has happened?
I don't know. Maybe it's the perfect storm. I know that in certain countries - let's take the Caribbean - there was a determined effort in the last two to three seasons to make the pitches more seamer-friendly. We changed to the Dukes ball in the Caribbean, so the Gabriels, the Roaches, the Holders, have benefited from that shift in approach.
Pitches do help, but I also think there is a determined shift in thinking by some countries - that if they want to be the No. 1 team in the world, then they have to do what the West Indies did so well through the late 1970s, 1980s and 1990s; what Australia have been doing well for many decades too: it's to get a balanced attack, which includes fast bowlers to win not only at home but also overseas.
In 2017, when asked if the Indian pace attack was the best you had ever seen, you said, "Easily." But did you foresee just how good they would go on to become?
Let's remember that this group of bowlers did not emanate right now. The foundation was laid - if you go back to Kapil [Dev] and down the line, Javagal Srinath, Zaheer Khan, Munaf Patel, Sreesanth. And now it's been built on with a captain who likes fast bowlers, who believes in them. But also the fact that you've found a generational talent in Jasprit Bumrah. Generational because he plays all formats of the game very well. I couldn't have predicted that. And [Mohammed] Shami has taken his game to another level. Ishant [Sharma] has also gone up another level, which I didn't foresee. I couldn't have predicted that India's fast bowlers would come to the Caribbean, for example, and do to us what we did to them so many decades ago! So credit to Bharat Arun, the bowling coach, and the administrators and captains. I couldn't see this much (improvement), but I thought there was a great deal of promise in having guys who could bowl close to, or over, 90mph.
Is it too soon for them to be compared to the legendary quartets of the past?
Well, they have been performing that well that the comparisons are going to come. I would want to stay away from it, because I don't know how you measure it. When people talk about [Michael] Holding and [Joel] Garner and [Malcolm] Marshall and [Colin] Croft and [Andy] Roberts - who bowled together for so many years - how do you compare with that?
There's also a notion that batting has deteriorated in the current era…
I don't know about that. I enjoy what I see of batsmanship in Steven Smith, Virat Kohli, Joe Root, Kane Williamson. There are some good batting line-ups around. Are they the same as 25 years ago, or what Australia produced 15 years ago? Maybe not, but I don't think we should decry the game for that. We should just appreciate it.
Fast bowling is hard work too, as we're finding out. Jasprit has an injury, Mohammad Amir has retired from red-ball cricket. So let us just appreciate this generation and be thankful pitches are encouraging fast bowling.
Which fast bowlers across the world will make you switch on the TV no matter where you are?
There are so many. Jofra Archer. I almost feel when he's on song that it's the perfect streamlined technique. Naseem Shah. Jasprit Bumrah. Mohammed Shami - oh god, I love Shami! That whole core group of what India bring, where I don't want to pick anyone and say, "This one more than the other."
Kagiso Rabada. Kemar Roach - I love watching Kemar. He has developed into a fantastic bowler. He's not fast, he has lost pace, but with Jason Holder, that's two excellent fast-medium bowlers. Lockie Ferguson… there are too many! I want to say Neil Wagner, but I don't know how Wagner does what he does! All of those guys provide a cutting edge that excites me.
I'm eagerly waiting to see if Shivam Mavi and Kamlesh Nagarkoti can be fit and continue their progress. Nagarkoti, in particular. Jofra wakes me up every time. To me, he's the No. 1 guy, but I can't look past the other guys too.
If I had to pick the best technique right now, Jofra Archer when he's firing. But man, I am salivating about world cricket. Because anytime I flick on my television now, I can see a Mitchell Starc, a Josh Hazlewood, or someone somewhere. That is exciting.
How does Archer generate 150 clicks while jogging to the crease? It sounds impossible.
Well… he doesn't jog, you know. In the first Test in New Zealand, his pace had dropped, for some reason. But when I saw him in England in that Ashes series, he doesn't jog to the crease like people think he does. He is such a fine athlete that makes it look easy. But he actually races to the crease when he's at top pace. No fast bowler can bowl at optimum pace - and we're talking 145kph to 150kph - without good acceleration in their run-up. Because a lot of your ball speed comes from that. Malcolm Marshall, Dale Steyn, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis all sprinted to the crease. Jofra sprints in, but he does it easily, so he fools a lot of people.
What makes an ideal fast bowler?
First, the mindset of that person: is he willing to work his tail off? Then, is he a strong-shouldered bloke who manages to get the ball down the other end at some unique pace? Or maybe you're looking at mechanics: Is he bowling over a braced front leg? Is his upper body in alignment with his lower body? It's a number of things.
People who are responsible for unearthing fast bowlers are charged with the responsibility of seeing beyond what is obvious. You're not going to walk down the street and find a 145 clicks bowler. You have to develop them.
Roddy Estwick was saying when they first saw Malcolm Marshall, they saw a medium pace swing bowler. But eventually Malcolm developed, maybe in his early 20s, into an express fast bowler. An Ian Bishop, if I ever bowled quickly, it wasn't that I came with it. In teenage years, I was a medium pace bowler. So with repetition, and with that, strength work and physical development, you can bring your Mohammed Shamis from 135 to 145. That takes an eye for people to find.
But it's not like anybody can become a fast bowler just by building strength is it?
No. Otherwise you'd go to the gym and pull guys out of there. I can't say I know the science as to why it happens. There's some fast-twitch fibre that has to be there. You look at Mitchell Starc at his best - rapid. Very few fast bowlers are the big, burly Shannon Gabriel, Wayne Daniel type. It takes all kind of body shapes. Some of the smallest guys are the fastest. Jofra is the thinnest, wiriest guy. Naseem Shah is not a big man.
From all the fast bowlers you have played with and seen, if you could build the perfect fast bowler…
(Interrupting) Malcolm Marshall. He was the greatest, smartest, cleverest fast bowler that I played with. He was a great, great teacher, and I'm not saying this lightly. When I had just arrived in the West Indies team in 1988, '89, '90, Malcolm would put me at mid-on in state games, in England, in Australia, and tell me what he was going to bowl. He would tell me why he was changing the field, what angles he was hoping to create. And just his sprint to the crease, his quick arm. And the brain? Perfect for me.
If I was to take Jofra Archer's alignment at the crease, add that to the height of a Curtly Ambrose, and the repetition that Curtly was able to bring, ball after ball… brilliant. Standing at fine leg and watching Curtly bowl was one of the greatest sights that I experienced. Looking at him, running in ball after ball, under pressure, and it's in the same area, making batsmen hop and leaving them unable to score. And I'm standing there at fine leg thinking, "I want to be able to do that, and I can't do it to that level." I think we underappreciate him, and a Glenn McGrath, who played at the back end of my career.
Richard Hadlee's side-on action. I mean there are so many things to love, I couldn't put it into one person, that would be unfair. But okay, the brain of Malcolm Marshall, the ease with which Jofra Archer - at his best, which is key - gets to the crease. I also want the height and ability of a Curtly Ambrose to repeat his action. All of those attributes are great.
People talk a lot about wrist position for fast bowlers. What's a good wrist position?
A good wrist position would be: at the point that a bowler is releasing the ball, as it begins to slip out of the hand at the top of the action, I would say the palm of the hand is facing the target, with the wrist in an upright position. The fingers are coming directly down behind the ball so that the seam comes out of the hand like an arrow. It's not wobbly. That to me is what we call a strong wrist.
The opposite of a strong wrist - Allan Donald and Ishant Sharma, for example, had that. Even the current Ishant has a "laid off wrist", which means that the part above the wrist slants slightly to one side. Now the seam can still come out upright, as Ishant has shown us. Donald always talked about his wrist being "broken" in some ways. But it doesn't allow you to get swing each way. Generally with Ishant, the ball mostly goes in a certain direction as a stock ball. Whereas with Marshall, with Archer, you can go either way. With a strong wrist position, bolt-upright seam and each way movement.
The key thing is facing the target at release, because there are times when the palm is slightly skewed to one side or the other. That's when it flies down the leg side or wide of off stump. So any young bowler who is looking to develop his wrist position: palm towards the target, wrist cocked back, and the trigger pulled just as you get to the top of your action.
Looking ahead to the India series, it is surprising that West Indies are ranked No. 10 in T20Is. They're defending world champions. How did they slide so far down?
It has been a surprising dropping off in the rankings. Since that T20 World Cup win, they have lost a number of series. They've lost more games and series than they have won. They've had issues with getting the best team on the park, which I understand. The landscape of the game has changed. So many players are in demand, for big sums. The Pollards, the Bravos, the Narines.
Injuries have not helped. Narine's had his finger injury, [Andre] Russell's had his knee, and availability-wise, will Dwayne Bravo be available? So to navigate the landscape has been difficult. But if they can bring it together, then I still think they have a seriously competitive team. But for all that we've identified just now, that falling off in games since the T20 World Cup win has contributed to the slide down the ladder.
What should West Indies realistically expect from the limited-overs series against India?
Well you always have a chance of winning. I can't speak for anyone else, but my expectation and hope is for them to win - but if they don't, I'm not going to be put off. This is what I want people in the Caribbean particularly to understand: India are a dominant force in the world game. West Indies can't go from winning one World Cup game to beating a team that got to the semi-finals of that World Cup with assurance.
How many people come to India and beat India? It's a cauldron. What I'm looking for in the one-day series is to see how the pieces fit together. This is a build-up of 50-over cricket towards the next World Cup. It's not that if we don't beat India, all is lost in West Indies cricket. And in the T20 format, I hope there is more assurance by the West Indies, but again that will be building towards the T20 World Cup next year. Victory will be important, but if it doesn't happen against this dynamic Indian team, it is not, "Break the house down and build it over." It is about fine-tuning their game for the T20 World Cup next year and then in 2021.
Let us put it in perspective. [Kieron] Pollard has taken over that captaincy, we still have to see how he leads. We need to get Russell back, we need to get [Sunil] Narine back. Whether Bravo comes back or not, I don't know. The fans will want to see victory, but what I'm saying is, maybe this Indian tour is a bridge too soon. If it doesn't happen, all is not lost.
There is a whiff of change in the air with a new management in charge of West Indies cricket.
Every year, or every two years, there is always a renewal of hope. I'm not going to be negative; we have far too much negativity. But I'm also going to be a realist. This has been happening in West Indies cricket since the mid-1990s, so 20 years now. But we have the talent, so whatever the politics has been - not my business, I couldn't care less - what I want to see is for each player to get the opportunity to play.
This is where I like Phil Simmons as a coach. Phil creates a culture within a team of hard work and meritocracy. You come in and you work hard, Phil gives you every opportunity to perform, he makes you feel wanted. So I want to see players, whether it's Fabian Allen, Nicholas Pooran, Justin Greaves - I want to see all of those guys given the opportunity to develop their game. And I think the world will be surprised, pleasantly, as to how much talent there still is in West Indies cricket. I think if the people are patient enough, they'll make the people proud.
How should West Indies ensure that the highs they experience aren't just blips, but are springboards to better performances?
Give a consistent run to the players. Get the best people - and there have been efforts made now to get the best people in certain areas. If I were to break that down a little further: you want selectors who understand talent. Not guys who will look at the stats database and pick a team off that. Anybody can do that. You and I can sit and do that. You want guys who are able to see talent, understand what Test cricket needs, what one-day cricket needs from an opening batsman. Identify those players.
Then you want coaches at the domestic level who know how to improve a Fabian Allen, a Rahkeem Cornwall, a Nicholas Pooran, a Justin Greaves, young Dominic Drakes, Oshane Thomas… who know how to bring those guys from A to B to C. Then once they get up to that level, you need a good coach to plan.
So I'm happy to see Brian Lara, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh, Gus Logie now incorporated into various teams in West Indies cricket, whether it's the women's team, Under-19 team or the Test team. Just like Rahul Dravid is now. He is the ideal man for India's youth players. If we can utilise that [sort of approach] in the Caribbean, I think we'll be better in a couple of years.
Jason Holder feels finishing fourth or fifth is a realistic goal at the end of this World Test Championship. Is it?
I think you have to aim. I don't know how Jason will quantify it, but in order for that to happen a couple of important things have to be in place. We need to find, or develop, better batsmen. We're getting fast bowlers coming through, we need to find batsmen now. Most of our batsmen, their averages have come down over the last two years to mid or low 30s or the late 20s. It's critical that we find that, and a couple of match-winning spinners. Cornwall is showing a steady improvement there. So there's a lot of work to go into that. Jason has said it, but I know he understands how much work and investment that will take.