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Nantie Hayward grows rapidly into fast-bowling coach role

Nantie Hayward works with a bowler in the nets Shumit Khan

It is a '90s fan thing that when you have a player from that era in front of you, imaginations tend to go wild. I had Nantie Hayward's attention last week and asked him what he would do with the ball in a T20 today. Top of the mark, what would he be thinking?

Hayward, Sylhet Thunder's fast bowling coach this season in the BPL, said his plan would be to bowl fast and wicket-to-wicket in the powerplay, and then use the slower ball and yorker generously in the slog overs. And then, because he is Hayward, the same Hayward of our youth who roughed up the best batsmen in the world with his pace and awkward bounce, his fantasy bowling spell in a T20 these days, too, would include a bouncer.

"If it's a little up and down, I will go six metres to start off. Try wicket to wicket. Don't give any room so that batters can't free their arms and get through the line. In the end overs, I will try to vary with slower balls and yorkers," Hayward says. "Now and then a bouncer, because I don't think a lot of okes set themselves up for a bouncer at the end. It is important as a bowler to understand your own ability - what works for you and what doesn't work for you."

That last sentence, however, tells you it is no longer Hayward the bowler who is sitting in front of you. It is the 42-year-old bowling coach who has seen it all. He wants his wards to understand themselves better, in order to perform better. Hence, no mention of a bouncer when he is prescribing the same tools for younger bowlers.

"If you can bowl a good slower ball and a yorker, you will be successful 99% of the time. The top T20 cricketers like [Jasprit] Bumrah can bowl yorkers whenever they want. It is the difference between a normal and top fast bowler. It is a skill.

"My biggest philosophy in T20s is to keep it as simple as possible. Things will happen for you. Don't change your ideas or plans," he says.

Hayward has been saying these things to Ebadat Hossain, the young Bangladesh seamer who has been looking to become faster. Hayward says that they are currently trying to correct an aspect of Ebadat's landing that may give him an extra yard of pace.

"To become a fast bowler, you have to work hard in the gym. Get strong. Get your core work sorted. There are a few techniques [to help too], like we are busy now with Ebadat. We feel he can bowl faster. His back leg is coming around himself. But if we can drive on that, there's an extra 5kph we can pick up," he says.

Hayward hasn't seen many fast bowlers in Bangladesh but he is working with one who is regarded as one of the fastest. He says that the young fast bowler must gain experience by listening to others, before becoming experienced himself.

"Ebadat has all the attributes to be a top fast bowler. He has got a beautiful action, nice set up, really nice rhythm. It is just really tweaks here and there. It would make him one of the better fast bowlers in Bangladesh.

"I don't know his background but he lacks experience. The more he plays, better he will get. If the senior guys around him keep telling him what to do, for another two or three years, he will be an awesome cricketer."

Ebadat is only the latest fast bowler Hayward is working with. His other protégé, Anrich Nortje, is playing for South Africa.

"I love to see young cricketers get through the system and do well. We have Anrich Nortje bowling at 150kph for South Africa. I spent a lot of time with him when he was a youngster. He comes from the same town where I am from. We are still in touch."

Hayward believes that anyone who touches 150kph regularly can get away with certain things. But he insists on hard work at the gym and at the bowling crease, where every session must count.

"Bowling 150kph, you can get away a lot because of lengths. If you bowl at 130kph, it is easier for batters to get on top of you. But at 150-plus, you can err with length and line but get away with it. If you are a 120 or 130 bowler, you need consistency.

"With young bowlers with whom I want to work with twice a week, I would set up four spots for the bowlers and stand around to see how good our grouping is. If you are bowling in the nets for the sake of it, your skills are not getting better," he explains.

Hayward speaks from experience. After giving up baseball and being fast-tracked into professional cricket through a chance sighting by Kepler Wessels in the mid-90s, Hayward only played 16 Tests and 21 ODIs between 1998 and 2004. His peak coincided with a great period of fast bowling in South Africa.

Life became tougher after he quit playing and delved into the tyre business for a few years. But soon he realised that he still loved cricket and coaching became his new calling.

"I have been in coaching for a long time, after my playing career. I had a stint with Northwest Cricket as an amateur coach for two years. I thought that it would be better to do freelance stuff, and not be connected to one provincial set-up.

"I moved back to the Eastern Cape for a long time. I worked with a few young boys, some of whom played the Under-19 World Cup. I am based in Durban for the last three and a half years. I do a lot of work with bowlers all over South Africa," he says.

After his stint as the Sylhet bowling coach, where he is working alongside former team-mate Herschelle Gibbs, Hayward is looking for new opportunities. He has got wind of the vacancy in Bangladesh where fellow South African Charl Langeveldt recently quit his job as the pace bowling coach.

"I would love to [get one of those roles]. It is one of my dreams. They say you have to crawl before you can walk. It will be nice to move up to get those opportunities," he says.

When you converse with former fast bowlers who were known to be aggressive in their playing days, you tend to relive those moments with them, not just for a sense of nostalgia, but to feel for a moment what it was like. You want to bowl fast and scare the batsman. With Hayward, you understand that a fast bowler comes a full circle by acquiring more skills, even if that means teaching younger players how to bowl fast.