Shoaib Akhtar (left) and Brett lee (right), two men who could fire the ball consistently at 150kmph © Getty Images
By Ian Pont
There was a time in the 1980s when speed ruled the world. The West Indies had a quartet of quicks bowling around 150kmph at their best and used intimidation as a main weapon. They were aggressive. They were hostile. But above all, they were quick. Or, at least, perceived to be quick; and that is all that matters.
When the West Indies played on subcontinent pitches and turning strips, they didn’t pack their team with spinners. They simply used speed as a hammer to blast open batting line-ups and change the game into an awkward one for the batsmen.
Fast forward almost 30 years to the modern day. You would expect to see a world stage loaded with such fast bowlers, given the advances in training, strength, conditioning, footwear, lifestyles, diets, nutrition and mindsets. Instead, we see the cupboard is almost bare of such bowlers. And a few who can generate the sort of speeds that cast fear into a batsman’s heart, are injury prone or have issues that often keep them out of cricket more than in it.
We have technological advances, but no increases in speed. We have better monitoring, but we have fewer and fewer pace bowlers bowling at high speeds than ever. Many that can get it down the other end fast, often end up slowing down or losing their pace. It is only exceptions such as Shoaib Akhtar and Brett Lee, who have managed to bowl in excess of 150kmph deep into their 30s.
So, what is happening? What is the issue?
In all of the modern-day sports, fast bowling within cricket is one of the most backward when it comes to coaching. Many still think ‘fast bowlers are born’ or that speed cannot be increased or improved. And sadly, this is the genuine issue. Where other sports improve and increase their power and speed in throwing, running and jumping – fast bowling coaching goes the other way and often coaches speed OUT of a bowler.
Every coach that tells a bowler to ‘slow down, bowl a line and length’ shows they do not understand that speed can be created in a straight line to improve accuracy, not hinder it. Much of it is simple physics. Understanding what works and how, then applying it with bowling drills. But myths continue to be perpetrated such as ‘brush your ear’, ‘stand tall’ and ‘bend your back’. Unless and until this misinformation is corrected, bowlers, commentators, fans – and coaches themselves, will continue to limit what is truly possible with a fast bowler.
Harold Larwood, it was estimated, bowled in excess of 150kmph. He played in the 1930s. Eighty years on, if a bowler bowls 150kmph, we get very excited. By comparison, Jesse Owens won the 100m in 1936 in 10.30s. In 2012, Usain Bolt won it in 9.63 with seven finalists beating the 10.00s mark in that final. Bolt would have beaten Owens by around seven meters and Owens would have been last! In fact, his 1936 time wasn’t good enough to even make the final in 2012.
Whatever speed a bowler can generate, it can be improved. This is a fact. No one is 100% efficient. Some bowlers have poor actions, but it doesn’t make them bad bowlers. So the challenge is to understand how to work with bowlers with small, incremental improvements, that they feel comfortable with. It should be remembered that something is only natural if you do it often enough, so what feels natural can be altered. A poor coach doesn’t understand this. A poor coach education system also keeps this going.
To get a bowler’s speed to its maximum, it is vital to know and help develop key aspects of that bowler’s action. He cannot copy what another player-turned-coach ‘used to do’ and neither can we clone a bowler to mimic someone else. We can only take what a player has and make him the very best version of himself.
I do not expect this to change anytime soon though. If Larwood showed us the way (back foot drag, front foot block, slingy action, big follow-through, chest drive and arm delay) then we haven’t learned very much in 80 years, let alone improve on it. The game will continue to be filled with more and more technology, training, video analysis and strength and conditioning, but less and less knowledgeable coaches on teaching speed.
The gold mine has been there all along. But you have to be looking for it in the first place.
(The above article has been sourced with permission from PakPassion.Net. Ian Pont is a former English player who played for Norttinghamshire and Essex. Early on in his coaching career he chose to specialise in pace bowling and it is his work of coaching speed into bowlers whilst improving accuracy that is hailed a breakthrough for developing long-term bowling attacks. His first book The Fast Bowler’s Bible is used by coaches and players at all levels all over the world as a blueprint. His second book Coaching Youth Cricket is recommended reading by the English & Wales Cricket Board. His latest publication, Ultimate Pace Secrets, reveals how speed is generated. Pont was Bangladesh’s bowling coach from September 2010 till the 2011 World Cup)