Tuesday, November 03, 2009


India v Australia: He Bangs, He Bangs

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I was tempted to add another "he bangs" to the two above, but I decided to spare you the overkill. What is the difference between the pace men representing India and Australia in the this 7 match ODI series? For one, Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle and Doug Bollinger are at least 10 km/h faster than their Indian counterparts. Second, they manage to get life out of the deadest of wickets. How? They bang it in.

Javagal Srinath was one of the most successful fast men ever to come of out India because he dug it in and was constantly at the batsmen (it's a separate matter that he would have taken truckloads more wickets had he been a foot fuller in length). When Irfan Pathan started his international career, he achieved success by bowling quick and banging it in. When Ishant Sharma burst onto the scene, he had the best in the business hopping about the crease because he bowled at top pace, with intent and banged it in. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, hitting the pitch hard is the key to a fast bowler's success on all surfaces, most importantly the lifeless variety found in India.

The most common cry from Indian coaches, experts and anybody who thinks he knows something, upon seeing a bowler who bowls faster than 105 km/h is of "line and length". Line and length have their places in the formula for a fast bowler's success, but by no means are they the most important. Nor should they be prescribed in isolation. Just ask Praveen Kumar.

At his fastest Kumar bowls at 130 km/h, moves the ball both ways, and except on the most helpful of pitches, gets hammered. So why is it that every young fast bowler with any semblance of promise and talent is asked to follow a similar path?

Ashish Nehra took Team India and international cricket by storm by bowling over 140 km/h, moving the ball, hitting the pitch hard and making batsmen look silly. Like many young Team Indians, success got to his head, he became lazy and was content to serve the ball to the batsmen on a silver platter at 130 km/h. Nehra is now back, fit and firing. He's bowling with pace, venom and movement. Ditto Zaheer Khan.

Ishant Sharma does not need to traverse this well beaten path. He has more talent than any of his Team India pace bowling colleagues - it's not often Team India is blessed by the presence of a man who can consistently bowl at 145 km/h, move the ball and stun batsmen with bounce. Sharma needs to realise this and follow the lead of Johnson, Siddle and Bollinger. He also needs the older heads in the Indian camp to tell him to let rip like the tiger he once threatened to become and not trundle like the mouse he is currently imitating.

My loathing of Ricky Ponting and dim view of his captaincy skills are well acknowledged. However, the one shining light of Ponting's reign has been his handling of his fast bowlers, particularly Johnson and Brett Lee. Ponting has always asked his bowlers to bowl quick and with aggression. By realising the real strengths of his arsenal, Ponting has helped them punch above their weights. Dhoni and co need to learn this, but only this, from Ponting's book of weak leadership.

I can guarantee India's pace bowling stocks would be in much better health if this structural shift in thinking is implemented. It is a big a shift to undertake and one that needs to start at the top, but the rewards will be well worth the effort.


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