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The fast and the furious

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Fast bowling is a talent that cannot be developed. One can be born with the ability to bowl quick, but cannot make oneself into a fast bowler. Adding a few yards of pace is a different thing, but becoming a quick bowler from a spinner or medium pacer is rarely seen.

In today’s cricketing world, genuine fast bowlers are few and far between. The most likely reason for this is the amount of cricket that cricketers today need to play. Fast bowling is probably the most injury-prone job in the game of cricket. Maintaining one’s body, fitness and pace together is not an easy job with the busy schedules they have to keep up with.

In the 80s, the likes of Malcom Marshall, Andy Roberts, Kapil Dev, Imran Khan, and Sir Richard Hadlee were considered great fast bowlers. Not only were these men extraordinary bowlers, but they maintained their fitness over a long duration of time. Except Andy Roberts, all had a Test career spanning over 13 years. 

Pakistan’s Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, along with Allan Donald and Glenn McGrath dominated the fast bowling scene in the 90s. On their day, all of them were dangerous and accurate. Their career’s longevity and their consistency over that large span is the reason the world respects them. 

With time, more and more cricket with varied forms is being played day in and day out. The amount of rest days for the players is very less as often players fly from one tour to another without even getting a chance to return home. Add to this the kind of tracks that the bowlers have to bowl on. Often, these placid tracks have nothing to offer to the bowlers who end up working really hard only to see the match ending in a high scoring draw.

In fact, the amount of cricket played these days is so substantial, that there is not only player fatigue and injuries, but also fan fatigue. Asking a fast bowler to bowl quick without giving him adequate rest is unfair. They must have stamina in abundance and also be smart enough to save as much energy as possible.  

Fast bowlers these days, often bowl short spells with immense energy and then take a break. Still they are often injured. Shaun Tait is a classic example from recent times as he often broke down with injuries. Tait ended up retiring from both Tests and ODIs and now only plays T20 cricket.

Even Brett Lee, who probably is the best athlete among modern day fast bowlers had to give up Test cricket since it was too much for his body.  The remarkable Lee had to pick and choose in order to prolong his career. Perhaps that is what all fast bowlers need to do. Sri Lanka’s half-fit Lasith Malinga also felt he wasn’t fit enough for the longer version of the game and decided to stick to limited overs’ cricket. 

Dale Steyn, arguably the best fast bowler in the world currently is just 28 years of age right now. His being number one and also being among the fittest in the business is no coincidence whatsoever. Steyn is fast, accurate and sharp in the field. But, what will be interesting to see is, if he can maintain the same fitness over the years especially when he goes past 30. 

Fitness is what makes the difference between a good fast bowler and a great one. Longevity is one of the traits that are highly valued. Good fast bowlers like Shane Bond and Shoaib Akhtar could not be termed as ‘greats’ or ‘legends’ due to their regular absence from the team. The Pakistani went onto play just 46 tests in a test career spanning over 10 years (Of course, there were issues with the board amongst other things.). Bond on the other hand, played merely 18 tests over 8 years. Bond and Akhtar were both players with wonderful ability and genuine pace. Definite game changers on their day, but both were out of gas in their early 30s.

Also, maintaining fitness to be able to play is one aspect and being able to preserve the pace is altogether different. In Indian cricket, there have been numerous examples where fast bowlers have managed to recover from injuries, however they have lost their zip on their return.

Ishant Sharma, Munaf Patel and Zaheer Khan were all fast and regularly bowled at around 90 mph when they came onto the international scene. Munaf and Zaheer have now become medium pacers with better control, while Ishant usually bowls in the mid-80s. This is rather surprising considering the facilities that the modern cricketer gets. 

From physiotherapists looking after fitness to technical experts for taking care of one’s technique, the support staff is always there and plays a vital role. Yet, fast bowlers from around the world have consistently fallen prey to injuries and lack of form. Irfan Pathan, for example, was a superb young prospect for India but faded away due to his faulty technique.


What can help?

At the grassroots level, physiotherapists and experts to look after techniques should be appointed to closely monitor and correct youngsters in their teenage itself. At this age, adapting or correcting one’s problems is a much simpler process than at a later stage. This would certainly reduce cases like Irfan Pathan.

Secondly, the boards of various countries should have better scheduling to allow adequate rest for the players. Considering how little the boards care about their players, this is highly unlikely. So, the players need to be smart and should ask for rest whenever possible. 

Preparing some bowler friendly pitches is also a must. Not only will it make cricket far more exciting, but also give some space for the hard-striving yet underachieving speedsters. After all, who doesn’t like to see a fast bowler running in and then beating the batsmen with sharp pace?

As I mentioned earlier, fast bowling is a skill which someone can only be born with. So, these three ways may help in taking off some of the pressure that bowlers face, but they do not guarantee an increase in number of speedsters. Being a typical cricket tragic, all I hope for is to see more and more of young men who run in with aggression and beat the batsmen all ends up with their pace.



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