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Where have all the fast bowlers gone?

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Growing up in a city that is a scaled up model of a can of sardines when it comes to open spaces meant that you learnt to improvise when it came to playing outdoor sports. The ‘garden’ patch behind the apartment block served as the football field. The L-shaped concrete parking lot was right for tennis ball cricket where a generation of residents of the colony got really good at square drives and cuts. The ‘shortness’ of the long arm of ‘L’ wasn’t conducive to 22-yard cricket. For that, there was the narrow strip, barely 12 feet across, but the requisite 35 yards or so long. That’s where I found my true love. Quick bowling; the one activity that rescues cricket from ignominy of being grouped alongside other post-retirement interests like curling and golf. I don’t mean dinky “medium-fast” bowling a la Venkatesh Prasad but the kind that gets batsmen scrambling to look up the warranty of their protective equipment.

 

Born too late to behold the awe-inspiring pace battery of the West Indies or the partnership of Lillee and Thommo, my first glimpse of pace was from a recently re-admitted South Africa, namely Allan ‘White lightning’ Donald. It is impossible to forget the thrill of apprehension that used to run up my spine as Donald, tall and wiry, sun block applied like war paint, would start his run-up. No languid jog this, quickly getting up to sprint speed, the compact gather and the whiplash delivery stride that ended with the perfect follow-through, the left arm pointing straight up, the bowling arm finishing next to the left thigh. The result, a 165 gm projectile, propelled at frightening pace, at the Indian (and therefore often hapless) batsman.

I’m sure one of the many emotional scars the Indian cricket fan lives with was inflicted on a sunny December day in Kingsmead, Durban in 1996 (Match report / Score Card). The delivery landed on a length just outside off-stump, nipping back off the seam, even as the batsman’s front foot and bat start to take perfect forward-defensive position to impede its path, only to be beaten for pace to sneak through and send the off stump cart wheeling. And this was cart wheeling in the days when stumps were hammered into the ground and not propped up in loose soil to enable glorious TV replays off 120kph bowlers like Praveen Kumar. The batsman was Sachin Tendulkar and his 15 was the 2nd highest score for India out of 100 in that innings.

Since then the cricket world’s fast bowling stocks have been in decline. First with the retirement of Ambrose and Walsh, then Waqar and Akram. Brett Lee and Shoaib Akhtar kept things interesting for a while. Akhtar’s spell at the Eden Gardens to bowl Dravid and Tendulkar off successive deliveries must be part of Pakistani cricketing folklore. Sadly, the list of those who have flattered to deceive is longer than Akhtar’s list of reality TV antics. With the retirement of Shane Bond, cricket loses its last out and out quick bowler good enough to run through the best batting lineups on his day. Given his late entry and the fact that New Zealand haven’t been the most lucrative team to have tours with, the Indian fan has little idea of his lethal late out swingers at 145kph. We have Lalit Modi and Co. to thank for wasting atleast a couple of good test-playing years of his career when he dared to earn a living by turning out for the ICL. Even a glimpse of him in the IPL can give one an idea of how mouthwatering a prospect it must be to watch him in test matches against top batsmen with a well-manned slip cordon and a leg gully.

We still have Praveen Kumar and an arsenal of part-time left-arm orthodox tweakers to enjoy. Sigh.


"Anoop is another one of those millions who thinks that having played some university and club-level cricket qualifies him to critique and analyze the game at its highest level. He blogs at
outsideedge.wordpress.com where the one redeeming feature is the honest disclosure by way of his nickname, donthaveaclue"



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