By Faisal Caesar
In the recently-concluded Test series between India and England, more than the batting feats of Rahul Dravid, Kevin Pietersen or Ian Bell, it was the domination of ball over bat which was most heartening. There was a glimmer of hope that the era of pace and swing bowling will revive again.
After the retirements of Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Curtly Ambrose, Allan Donald and Courtney Walsh, cricket had lost its thrill. The focus had shifted to marauders like Adam Gilchrist and Virender Sehwag. It’s not that there were no fast men around, but sadly there is none in the mould of an Akram or Ambrose. Glenn McGrath dominated, but he was too mechanical and not the kind who would create adrenalin rush.
It was almost boring to watch runs scored in the last decade as bowlers went on the defensive. There had been the occasional blitz from Shoaib Akhtar, Steve Harmison and Andrew Flintoff, but such moments were fleeting. The last decade saw the death of the fast men.
While people in the last decade rejoiced in the splendour of stroke play, bowling seemed to have become more stereotyped and less glamorous pursuit. It was all about nagging in the “the corridor”, “the channel” and “getting it in the right areas” rather than letting it rip.
The overdose of limited-overs cricket had an adverse impact and then T20 just let the bowlers forced to cut down swing and pace. Bowling in Test and limited-over cricket is far different than those of Test and ODI batting.
Test cricket arena was sorely missing the likes of Akram and Ambrose.
The defensive mindset of fast bowlers in contemporary is irritating for connoisseurs of fast bowing like me. Akram or Ambrose, too, played ODI cricket, but they never compromised in executing skills. One was yearning to see quality swing and pace.
The arrival of Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif brought in much-needed joy to see the thrills of fast bowling. Balls pitched on length allied with movement made Asif a feared bowler while the bustling, energetic and charismatic qualities of Mohammad Amir occupied a special place in my heart. Amir had pace and he applied skill and brains. Both of them did not compromise on applying skills even in the limited version of the game and that’s why the duo was being hugely feared. Sadly, cricket lost them in unfortunate circumstances.
Dale Steyn, who has the ability to move the ball even on dead, is one to watch out. He is not someone who goes on the defensive. Then there is the slinger Lasith Malinga with deadly yorkers. What a terrific package he would have been if he continued playing Test cricket! Malinga’s absence just made Test cricket poorer.
Mitchell Johnson has pace, if not movement. But he lacks consistency. Shaun Tait generates pace, he cannot be relied upon for the longer versions.
Zaheer Khan has pace and movement, but lacks in fitness.
But England have bowlers who the skills and fitness to revive ‘Chin Music’. In the Test series against India, James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Tim Bresnan exhibited top quality pace and movement. India had Ishant Sharma and Praveen Kumar, but they did not have the attacking mindset of the English bowlers to capitalize on the helpful conditions.
The English bowlers unleashed the joy of pace bowling along with astonishing movement only because they didn’t compromise with a defensive mindset which most of the fast men do nowadays – the ill-effect of excessive T20 cricket.
Broad pitched it up and then swung with astonishing pace, while Anderson banged the ball short to send shiver down the Indian batsmen’s spine. Bresnan was the perfect foil for Broad and Anderson.
Credit must also go to Andrew Strauss who never told his bowlers to go defensive and set his fast bowlers set free to prey upon like hungry tigers.
(Faisal Caesar is a doctor by profession whose dream of becoming a cricketer remained a dream. But his passion is very much alive and he translates that passion in writing about the game)