By Ashish Shukla
Antigua: Jun 14, 2011
West Indian fast bowling legend Andy Roberts has said that reverse swing was not the preserve of the Pakistani bowlers in the 90s. He feels instead that it was West Indies who pioneered the art of reverse swing.
"We began the reverse swing. When Pakistanis came here in 1977 they were surprised to see us do it. It's no rocket science, you keep the ball polished on one side and it would reverse swing. For it to happen, the other side must have a bit of moisture on it.
Speaking of Indian fast bowlers he said that he is baffled as to why young Indian pacers suddenly lose speed after showing early promise and start "spinning the ball", pointing out Munaf Patel as the most recent example.
"When Munaf Patel came here in 2006, he had some pace," said Roberts wryly, "Now he is spinning the ball!"
Roberts was speaking from his experience of having worked with Irfan Pathan briefly during the 2006 tour by the Indians after the then coach Greg Chappell requested him to look at the left-arm seamer's problems.
"You have to remember this happens only once they make it to international stage. May be they are better off without these coaches.
"These coaches turn you into line-and-length bowler. Not what you naturally are. These boys then lose their ability."
Roberts, who picked up 202 wickets from 47 Tests at 25.61 average, is hailed as the father of fearsome West Indian fast bowlers of 70s and 80s. He certainly is not impressed by the fast bowling in world cricket presently.
"Shaun Tait throws his arm. Dale Steyn, whom I like, also occasionally throws his arm. Less said about the West Indian pacemen the better. The likes of Kemar Roach, Jerome Taylor and Fidel Edwards are not running in fast enough at the batsmen," he said.
"They saw Curtly Ambrose run in smoothly and ping the ball. But he could do it because he was so very strong.
Others must run in hard in their run-ups.
"There are two ways to bowl fast? Either you steam in or you have a lot of strength to bowl even if you are relaxed in your run-up," Roberts explained.
Roberts is dismissive of the notion that today's cricketers play a great volume of cricket.
"Too much cricket? They play mostly Twenty20s and one-dayers. It's 4 or 10 overs a match."
Inevitably, Roberts is asked to compare who he thought was better between Sachin Tendulkar and Sunny Gavaskar.
"Sachin is one of the game's greats. No questions about it. However, you judge a batsman on how he handled the best of pacemen and best of spinners of his era.
"In the 70s, West Indies had the quick ones. England had a very good spinner in Derek Underwood. And Sunny always did well against them."
Nobody was said to have a more deceptive bouncer than Roberts in the game. Gavaskar has mentioned he had two bouncers -- one a slower one with which he set a batsman up and the other a quicker one which a batter could only see as a blur.
"You can't bowl 95 mph all the time and hope a batsman would surrender. They get used to it after a while. You need to vary the pace, the angle, the seam or swing," Roberts said.
"I could bowl everything: seam, swing, pace, slower one, bouncer, cutters, everything."
Asked to pick the favourite batsman and fast bowlers of his era, Roberts said, "Viv Richards to me was the best player of short-pitched bowling ever.
"I liked Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson, Malcolm Marshall. Imran was a great bowler but he wasn't an out-and-out fast bowler. Same was the case with Richard Hadlee."
Like most of his era, Roberts can't see the revival of West Indian cricket any soon.
"The top brass needs a kick in the back side. Presently our cricket is flat on its back. The board at one time had 18 directors.
"I was once told by a director that I could become a coach if I had a level 2 or 3 coaching certificate. The same man asked me to come to Trinidad and give a lecture on fast bowling in his academy. The knowledge is with me. But I can't be going around asking for work," he said.