Ian Bishop feels cricket is just much more demanding for fast bowlers these days and it’s a challenge for fast bowlers just to stay fit © Getty Images
By Saj Sadiq
A fearsome sight with the cricket ball in hand, Ian Bishop took 161 wickets in 43 Test matches at a strike-rate of 52.20 during a career that was sadly curtailed by back problems. Tall, aggressive and with searing pace, Bishop was a sight to behold when in full flow and bowled a near perfect out-swinger.
Since retiring from cricket in 1998, Bishop has forged a successful career as a television commentator and is a familiar face on television screens around the world.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Bishop speaks about his own career, talks about bowling with his cricketing heroes such as Malcolm Marshall and Courtney Walsh, provides his opinions on the Pakistani pace duo of Junaid Khan and Mohammad Irfan, suggests what Umar Akmal needs to do to establish himself as an international cricketer and also speaks about the importance of ensuring an even contest between bat and ball in one-day cricket.
Excerpts from an interview:
PakPassion.net (PP): How would you rate your own career which was of course curtailed by injuries?
Ian Bishop (IB): Now is a good time to look back at my career and I would say that yes I am disappointed that I did not play more Test cricket which was of course due to a couple of back injuries. But outside of that I’m happy to have just played cricket for the West Indies.
As a youngster growing up there and getting out on the field and playing 40 or so Test matches was a blessing. I have no regrets, yes I could have done more and played more matches but I don’t live in regret. I was just happy to be on the same field as the likes of Courtney Walsh, Curtly Ambrose and Malcolm Marshall, all of whom were of great assistance to me. I feel I was blessed to have played in the era that I did with those legends of fast bowling.
PP: You’ve mentioned some great names in the previous answer, were they your cricketing heroes?
IB: I came through high school between 1979 and 1983/84 when the West Indies started their rise and their period of dominance in the early 1980s. That team under Clive Lloyd was a team that captured my imagination and my interest started with the batting side of Viv Richards and Gordon Greenidge who were players that I really admired, as when I started playing cricket in my first couple of years of secondary school I was a batsman. However I never really played too many shots and people nicknamed me Geoffrey Boycott as I didn’t score that quickly and I really did not take up bowling until mid way through secondary school where I started to have a great deal of admiration for, and started to copy, Michael Holding, Joel Garner, Colin Croft and Malcolm Marshall. I just tried to emulate aspects of their bowling and tried to incorporate them into my style of bowling.
PP: Your back injuries are well documented, but in your own words do you think it was down to your bowling action or just bad luck?
IB: The medics and experts of the day pointed to a mixed bowling action and that compounded with the fact that I was playing a fair amount of cricket at that time. I was playing county cricket and international cricket as well and maybe I was overdoing it as I was only in my early 20s back then. We are seeing a fair amount of those injury problems now particularly with the Australian fast bowlers.
Looking at the issue in retrospect, I made some alterations to my bowling action based on medical and technical advice thereafter where I tried to get my feet and upper body aligned as I was informed that they weren’t aligned when I was bowling. All that contributed to the problems that I had.
However I’d like to think that fast bowlers these days are better informed about such things, even though the volume of cricket is still having an impact on injuries to quick bowlers.
PP: You mention the modern day Australian fast bowlers who seem to be having a terrible time with injuries. Based on your own experience, do you have any advice for them?
IB: Having gone through my career with a couple of stress fractures, one in 1990/91 and then a recurrence of it in 1993, I thought there would be enough examples like mine for scientists and medics to be able to secure or guide up and coming fast bowlers against that type of recurrence. However, these types of injuries are still occurring and maybe as some have said, the body needs to be a little hardened before young bowlers play a huge volume of cricket. It’s difficult to point a finger at why this is happening but people need to be mindful of the amount of cricket some fast bowlers are being asked to play at such a young age.
PP: What would you say was the most memorable bowling spell in your career?
IB: Two spells come to mind. The effort in the final Test in 1990 at Lahore against Pakistan where Ambrose and I took five wickets each was memorable because of the conditions. We knew it was going to be difficult to take wickets unless we were really skilled on that tour of Pakistan.
Another spell that was memorable was my 6 for 40 against Australia at Perth in 1993. I always liked bowling at Perth as did any fast bowler of my generation because of the bounce and the pace on that pitch at that time and to follow up on Ambrose’s six-wicket haul in the first innings was very satisfying.
PP: Comparing your era with the modern day, how do you think fast bowling has evolved, if at all?
IB: One-day cricket has become much more difficult for bowlers in general all over the world with the fielding restrictions, shortened boundaries and various rule changes. Test cricket continues to be a good battle between bat and ball where pitches are good, but the biggest challenge in Test cricket for bowlers is that batsmen are generally looking to score a lot quicker now. But despite all of the problems there are for bowlers now, we need to concentrate on producing better quality pitches that offer a greater contest between bat and ball, irrespective of heavier bats and irrespective of shorter boundaries.
PP: How do you think you would have done on the pitches that we’ve recently seen in the one-day series between India and Australia?
IB: (laughs). I think it would have been a huge challenge. Even bowlers of the calibre of Walsh, Ambrose and Glenn McGrath would not have been able to go for 35 to 40 runs in their 10-over spells in those conditions. They certainly would not have gone for five or more runs per over and would not have been as bad as some of the bowlers we’ve seen in that series. The conditions in India really tested the skill levels of the bowlers and we’ve seen the challenge that the new fielding regulations present to the bowlers and the fielding teams. I do sympathise with the modern-day bowlers because of the conditions and the rule changes particularly in the one-day format which have made things very very difficult for bowlers.
PP: Pakistan toured the Caribbean earlier this year, a series that you were commentating on. You obviously saw Mohammad Irfan at close quarters, what are your impressions of him?
IB: First of all I have a big regret about Irfan and that is that he’s come into international cricket at such a late stage. I wish he’d come into international cricket at 21 years of age rather than 31. He’s one of the few bowlers in world cricket who is exceptional and unique especially as it’s very rare that you see a guy that tall who is bowling as quickly as Irfan does. The world would have had a unique and fearsome bowler who could have played for more than a decade if he had played for Pakistan when he was 21.
PP: You also saw Junaid Khan bowling in the Caribbean, what are your thoughts on Junaid’s bowling?
IB: Junaid is a very skillful bowler and he can develop a full range of deliveries. Whereas Irfan has the advantage of height, Junaid has more variety in his bowling and he could be a better and fuller bowling package than Irfan. I’m not saying that Junaid is a better bowler than Irfan, just that he has the ability to develop a better all-round package when it comes to bowling and be a better all-round bowler.
I like Junaid’s bowling, I like his wrist position and I like the fact that he has heart and runs in hard all of the time. He can also be deceptively quick as well. There’s a lot to like about Junaid, I like his attitude and that attitude will tell us a lot about him in the next couple of seasons as fast bowling is about your attitude and your heart and not just about running in and bowling.
PP: You’ve always praised Umar Akmal during your commentary stints. What advice would you offer Umar to help him become a world class batsman?
IB: Umar Akmal has a great deal of talent. I believe that is part of the reason that fans and some in the media are a little disappointed and disenchanted in how he has done so far in international cricket. He has played some key innings but I think he is a better player and could be an even better player than what the statistics suggest right now. He has the full range of strokes, but the things that let him down are his shot selection and his batting discipline and his cricketing discipline. But that comes with experience and mentoring.
I love what I see in Umar’s batting and maybe a stint playing some cricket overseas other than the Twenty20 leagues would benefit Umar and give him a greater balance in his mental process. This would also give him greater batting discipline and really bring his talent to the fore. Despite the occasional disappointment, I really like Umar and we have to realise he’s still very young.
PP: Many of us who grew up in the great era of the West Indian battery of fast bowlers wonder if we will see those days again. Is it unrealistic to think that the West Indies will be able to develop a team again that contains four great fast bowlers?
IB: That’s very difficult to predict. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen that from West Indian teams. Our teams were judged on the great pace bowling foursomes we had. We had riches in abundance with Roberts, Holding, Marshall, Garner, Ambrose, Walsh, Croft and others and it was always going to be difficult to carry that forward into the future. Those great West Indian fast bowlers didn’t start their careers as great bowlers, but they ended up being great through hard work and every generation of West Indian fast bowlers is now judged by their standards. Very few people dominate for the extended period that the West Indian cricket teams did largely due to their fast bowling resources and the great batsman they had.
It’s going to be very difficult, because there is so much cricket being played, especially with all of the T20 tournaments being played around the globe. I look at someone like Ravi Rampaul who has been playing all three formats for the West Indies and his body will just not let him play all three formats at the moment. Cricket is just much more demanding for fast bowlers these days and it’s a challenge for fast bowlers just to stay fit. I’d love to see that plethora of great West Indian fast bowlers, I’d love to see four great fast bowlers coming along for the West Indies but I think it’s going to be very challenging for that to happen.
PP: The lure of millions from T20 leagues around the world against the chance to represent one’s country in all formats. It’s a tough choice for fast bowlers isn’t it?
IB: It’s an extremely tough choice, not only for fast bowers but for all cricketers. Test cricket is very hard on the body for a bowler as you are running in for five days especially when you are playing on flat pitches bowling 20 or more overs a day. Then you have 50-over matches that you want to play in.
Twenty overs cricket leagues offer a cricketer a chance to secure their financial future in a shorter space of time and with lesser demands on the body. Look at Shaun Tait and the injuries he has suffered. Also look at someone like Brett Lee over his career. These guys love Test cricket but their bodies just don’t allow for the demands of playing in all three formats.
I’m sure they all love playing Test cricket but if pace bowlers get a chance to secure their financial future in a short period of time, with less pressure on your ankles, on your back or on your knees and very importantly more time to spend with your family, then I think it’s a “no brainer”. I don’t envy modern-day cricketers having to make this type of decision. Had we had this choice to make during our era, then I think a lot of players would have eased off their workload in international cricket.
PP: Do you think there are too many T20 leagues around the world and a danger that these leagues have an adverse affect on other formats of cricket?
IB: I think the market will decide on the popularity of 20-over leagues. It’s a free market and it’s impossible to tell any country or board that they shouldn’t set up their own T20 league. You cannot simply let the Big Bash and Indian Premier League (IPL) to take place and then say to the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) or any other board that you aren’t allowed to set up your league!
Test cricket has its challenges because it’s a different era that we live in and some see a day’s play in a Test match as a long day and rather drawn out. There’s a challenge now regarding the length of a Test match. The market will play a huge role in the next five to 10 years in deciding which format(s) they want to see. It’s important to remember that cricket is an entertainment business, it’s not about the media, the players, rather it’s about providing entertainment to the paying public or the people watching matches on television.
PP: There’s a possibility that Mohammad Aamer will be allowed to play domestic cricket ahead of his five-year ban for spot-fixing. Do you think this sends out the right signals and do you think the five-year ban placed on him was fair?
IB: Aamer was young and impressionable and I trust the system that has been put into place for him to make a comeback. Take athletics for example, some athletes fail dope tests and they at some point are allowed to come back and resurrect their careers. We need to move beyond his ban and he needs to ensure that when he does come back he tries to make the most of this second cricketing life he is getting, and to perform to the best of his ability when or if he is back in a Pakistan shirt and to “erase” what he did.
PP: Can the West Indies defend their World T20 crown in Bangladesh next year?
IB: I think they can and I’m not just saying that because I’m a West Indian! If you look at that team that won the last World T20, nearly all of those players are still around and available. India has a dynamic batting unit and the conditions will suit them but I think the West Indies not only has a powerful and explosive batting line-up but they also have a pretty good bowling unit too. I think the West Indian bowling line-up is probably a little more skilled than the Indian bowling line up in 20-over cricket, particularly in the seam bowling department.
I really do feel that the West Indies stand a good chance of repeating their World T20 win if they are hungry enough and if they go out to Bangladesh with the same level of determination as they did in the last World T20.
(Saj Sadiq is Senior Editor at PP, from where the above article has been reproduced. He can be followed on Twitter at @Saj_PakPassion)