Matches (16)
IPL (1)
ENG v PAK (W) (1)
WI vs SA (2)
County DIV1 (5)
County DIV2 (4)
CE Cup (1)
USA vs BAN (1)
ENG v PAK (1)
The Heavy Ball

Where have all the quick bowlers gone?

It's a smear on the good name of Venkatesh Prasad that India haven't produced any top-class fast men recently

Venkatesh Prasad gives some advice to RP Singh, Kingston, June 24, 2009

".. .And when you get to the fork in the road, take the path less travelled"  •  Associated Press

I was watching this documentary called Fire in Babylon, about the West Indies cricket team of the '70s and '80s. Apart from the focus on cricket, it also looked at the influence of the cricket team on West Indian culture. The thing that struck me most, though, was the fast bowling. I watched footage of Lillee and Thomson destroying West Indies, and then of Marshall, Holding, Garner, Croft and Roberts obliterating everyone.
I then switched on Ten Cricket, and the West Indies innings had just begun. Praveen Kumar opened the bowling for India. "Right-arm fast-medium", said the graphic. Okay. If you say so.
An avid India fan, I grew up in the late '90s and early 2000s on a staple diet of bone-crunching, short-pitched, toe-breaking yorker bowling by speed demons like Venkatesh Prasad, Dodda Ganesh and, of course, Anil Kumble. And now there is Praveen Kumar. And Munaf Patel. Sigh.
Where have all the fast bowlers gone? It's not just a question that plagues Indian cricket but a problem for the world game. Look at the bowling descriptions of the bowlers of yesteryear and compare them to those of bowlers today. Allow me to illustrate.
Michael Holding: Right-arm whispering-death.
Dennis Lillee: Right-arm the-batsman-had-better-watch-out-for-his-head
Jeff Thomson: Right-arm Holy-cow-that's-fast!
Joel Garner: Right-arm Empire-State-Building-throwing-the-ball-at-you
And, of course,
Venkatesh Prasad: Right-arm extremely fast, occasionally very fast.
And you compare them to the "quick" bowlers of this era:
Mohammad Amir: Left-arm banned
Shane Bond: Right-arm policeman; retired
Lasith Malinga: Right arm somewhere below that mop of hair.
Sajid Mahmood: Right-arm, left-arm, does it even matter?
And, of course,
Shaun Tait: Right-arm injured.
Where, then, have all the fast bowlers gone? There are the occasional genuine quicks like Brett Lee and Dale Steyn, but let's face it, one has plugs for hair and the other the name of a chipmunk. They're not really going to be taken seriously.
I am saddened at India's plight. Take the case of Munaf Patel. He burst onto the scene as a tearaway fast bowler. Under the tutelage of Venky, I half expected him to break the 100mph barrier. You'd have expected the kid would pick up some pace just by being around the great man. Alas, Munaf now bowls medium-paced spin that generally goes straight on.
Perhaps Twenty20 is to be blamed. What is this slow bouncer anyway? It's slow. So what is a fast bowler doing bowling it? If it's slow and a bouncer, it's not going to hurt anyone. What is the point? To borrow from Ebenezer Scrooge, "Bah, humbug!"
When I was a kid, we played backyard cricket. Professional backyard cricket, mind you. I remember that the batsman took guard by showing one or two fingers, asking for leg- or middle-stump guard. The stump was, of course, a chair. The bowlers had to "tell their guard" too, lest they be called for a no-ball.
As an opening batsman, I'd hear the bowler scream to the ump from the top of his run-up: "Right-arm face." I always thought that the kid could just not pronounce "pace" but it was only later that I truly realised the impact the stalwarts of yesteryear had made on these kids. The balls often whizzed past my face. (Of course, I played them expertly, but that's for another day.)
I happened to chance upon a game of cricket in a ground next to my house, the other day. There was this kid who wore sweatbands on both wrists and a headband on his forehead. His collar was up and the top two buttons of his shirt were undone. "Ah, Lillee," I thought to myself.
"Right-arm fast-medium," he said to the umpire. Damn you, Praveen Kumar!
I was still hopeful. He marked his run-up, started steaming in with an athlete's rhythm and a menacing growl on his face. Perhaps I would see fire in Babylon after all. I waited with bated breath. He ran in, a full head of steam. He bowled a slower ball. Right-arm fast-medium.

Amrith Rajasekaran is the world's foremost cricket expert who thinks that "batsman" is the plural of Batman. He blogs here and tweets here.