That thing I do: Manoj Prabhakar shows his Delhi charges a trick or two© Mid-Day
One way or the other, Manoj Prabhakar's name has by default come to be linked with the match-fixing scandal of the 1990s. But before he was tarred with that brush, Prabhakar was that rarity in India: the swing bowler. This man could swing, and swing it big. Ask the top batsmen of the 1990s and they will agree. Ask Delhi, who have appointed him their bowling consultant for this Ranji Trophy season.
Two days ahead of Delhi's match against Mumbai, Prabhakar, 44, showed he could still swerve the ball in the air. As the sun dipped into the Arabian Sea, Prabhakar came off a short run-up and showed the Delhi youngsters at the Wankhede Stadium how to do it.
Prabhakar is happy to be back in the cricket fold, which he exited in 1996 after the Sri Lankan openers Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana mauled him
for 47 runs off four overs in a World Cup game. He was dropped for the next match, and walked out of the game immediately. Later he opened a can of worms with his match-fixing allegations against Kapil Dev and still later, at the turn of the century, had fingers pointed at him. Since then, his name has come up occasionally, usually for reasons not to do with cricket.
Now, though, he is back, and wants to give back to the game. "I feel proud to be back. The feeling still is the same with the ball. I still want to open my arms and show the kids how to do it," he says.
The return came about after Prabhakar approached Arun Jaitley, the Delhi District Cricket Association president, to ask if he could offer his services to the team, because "it was frustrating to see the way Delhi cricket is these days ". Jaitley was only too happy to oblige.
Immediately the remarks column next to each Delhi fast bowler's name began to be filled in red ink. Prabhakar has had plenty to say about his charges. He cites the example of Ishant Sharma, who he thinks has the work ethic but needs to develop his intelligence - which can only come with experience. "He wasn't swinging it before I entered. His grip was wrong, the last part of his action was stiff.".
Prabhakar is frustrated at the absence of the type of swing "myself, Kapil [Dev], [Ian] Botham, [Terry] Alderman and Richard Hadlee could bowl.
"It's all about pace now. They are so aggressive; they are just aiming and hitting the deck. They are not bothered if it's seaming or swinging - they just want to bowl fast. That's fine if you get support from the wicket, but if the response is not there, what do you do?
"Swing is an art. Use your aggression to your betterment, because if you want to upset the batsman then you should know how to do it. Don't use your mouth, use your fingers to talk to him and then smile - he will get unsettled."
Prabhakar is frustrated at the absence these days of the kind of swing he, Kapil Dev, Ian Botham, Terry Alderman and Richard Hadlee bowled
Bowling coaches all over the world have been trying to find a cure for the death of swing for some time now. To Prabhakar, the answer lies in the attitude of the bowlers. "If they just want to run in fast, I can't help them. It's of no use in international cricket. The rhythm in your run-up, your arc, and the follow-through are the most important."
The remedy he offers is in harmony with the classical theory of swing. "You need to align your leading hand with your bowling hand and hold the ball lightly with your wrists. I always loved to bowl against the wind, but bowlers today want the wind behind them to support their pace."
On Irfan Pathan's loss of ability to swing the ball, Prabhakar, himself a lower-order batsman who was used as a makeshift opener later in his career, says: "With someone like Irfan Pathan it could be, perhaps, that he lost his interest as his focus moved to his batting. I was also a batsman, but I was a bowler first and then a batsman. When I got hit badly, they didn't ask me to perform as a batsman. They made it clear that I was there as a bowler. You should know what you are doing."
Prabhakar doesn't buy into the theory that Pathan's swing disappeared suddenly. "The swing never goes," he says. According to him, in international cricket, bowlers want to swing the ball at extra pace and in the process lose some swing, but not entirely. "When I started playing for India, I could swing more than an arm's length, but when I left, I didn't swing it that much. And that was more effective. Swinging and beating the bat is not enough. I can still beat the bat, but to get the batsman out, you should know how to cut the swing, how to use the soul of the wicket."
So, does swing bowling come naturally or can he, and others like him, teach it? Prabhakar goes back to the bowler's attitude. "If the bowler can't open himself to me, I can't push him. I can help any bowler with swing, but the bowler's work ethic will matter more."
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo