Pat Cummins and James Pattinson - Australia's pace bowling nuclear warhead  © Getty Images
Pat Cummins and James Pattinson – Australia’s pace bowling nuclear warhead © Getty Images

 

The year 2011 saw fast bowlers steal the show and bright new prospects emerged across the board from Australia to India, defying conventional wisdom and doomsday predictions. In the first of his three-part series. Madan Mohan takes a look at how the bowling units of some of the Test nations performed in 2011 and what we can look forward to in 2012.

 

Since the inception of the Indian Premier League (IPL), doleful obituaries of the fast bowler were repeatedly written and urged administrators to act. Instead, cricket took care of itself, as pace bowling made a thumping comeback!

 

Only as recently as 2010, cricket fans lamented that Dale Steyn was the only active international pace bowler who could be called “great”. But a slew of promising pace bowlers from different nations made sparkling debuts in 2011 to infuse much excitement in the world of international cricket. Old hands also lifted their form, making for potent pace attacks. Suddenly, Steve Waugh’s idea of restricting Test matches to four days seemed a good one again as some matches barely lasted three full days!

 

This pace ‘boom’ was not restricted to ‘traditional’ pace powerhouses like Australia or South Africa. Indeed, even India had at least one Umesh Yadav to crow about. Pace bowlers became a vital part of every bowling attack as Chanaka Welegedara bagged a fifer at Durban, a crucial effort in Sri Lanka’s first Test win in South Africa. None of these bowlers could perhaps be considered out and out tearaways except perhaps Marchant Da Lange or Steven Finn, but they all mixed pace with the right channels and right lengths to concoct a more potent recipe. Back to the ’80s?  Maybe, maybe.

 

So here then is a three-part series on fast bowling with focus on cricketing nation.

 

In this first instalment, we will look at how Australia and England’s pace bowling attacks fared.

 

Australia

 

Australia began 2011 unable to salvage pride at the SCG against England, losing the Ashes 1-3.  Their pace attack looked ordinary and unthreatening and Ben Hilfenhaus and Peter Siddle fell out of favour. Cut to January 2012 and things couldn’t be more different.

 

The revival was actually led by old warhorses Shane Watson and Ryan Harris whose performances clinched a 1-0 series win in Sri Lanka. Both bowlers demonstrated the ability to generate good, if not intimidating, pace and exploit reverse swing with the old ball. But both were injury prone and didn’t offer much stability to a unit that was in the process of rebuilding.

 

Enter teenage sensation Pat Cummins. Ian Chappell declared him as one of the exciting pace prospects for cricket who gave an encouraging display in an ODI series in South Africa. And when Harris succumbed to injury again in the run-up to Australia’s 2nd Test against South Africa at Johannesburg, Cummins was pressed into service.  With Mitchell Johnson being his usual self, Cummins had to lead the bowling attack right on debut and very well he did too. He not only generated pace but produced some beauties, like the one that nabbed Jacques Kallis in the second innings, to take six wickets in that innings and seven for the match. One, however, feared he was a bit too much on the lanky side and on cue, he was ruled out of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy with injury.

 

No matter, James Pattinson was waiting in the wings. Stronger but perhaps a little less imaginative than Cummins, he nevertheless showed a lot of heart and kept at it untiringly.  He bagged fifers in both Tests against New Zealand and a four wicket innings haul against India at Melbourne. Importantly, most of these wickets were of specialist batsmen and he didn’t merely knock off the tail to get on the scoreboard. With experience, he could become one of the key members of Australia’s bowling unit.

 

Hand in hand, first Peter Siddle and then Ben Hilfenhaus got back their mojo to form a potentially lethal unit. Their sternest test, the next Ashes, is some distance away but Australia now finds itself with problems of plenty. Who do they leave out of this unit if and when Mitchell Johnson, Harris or Cummins are fit again?

 

England

 

England had served notice of their well-oiled pace unit in the 2010-11 Ashes. They carried on from where they had left off in the home season. It used to be said of Australia in the 1970s that if Lillee didn’t get you, Thommo would. Visiting teams would be tempted to substitute these names with those of James Anderson and Chris Tremlett. And Tim Bresnan, Stuart Broad and Steven Finn!

 

It could be argued that England provided the template for the pace revival to the rest of the world.  They rehabilitated proven talents instead of scouting for the next Ian Botham as has been their wont in the past. They also relied on a mix of pace, accuracy and pressure. Of those English bowlers, only Finn could be considered an out and out fast bowler but each of them were capable of regularly breaching the 140 kph mark. Relentless pressure from both ends brought the famed Indian batting line-up down on its knees in a shocking 0-4 rout.

 

But their dismal performance in the ODI series in India suggested they still haven’t overcome their vulnerability in the subcontinent. As their subcontinent sojourn comes up in the first half of this year, the cricket world will be watching to see if they can be effective enough in the most disheartening of conditions for pace bowlers.

 

The portent of the above is that the two oldest cricket playing nations are not in bad health at all. Whether that is good or bad news is up to you and your cricketing allegiances.

 

(Madan Mohan, a 25-year old CA from Mumbai, is passionate about writing, music and cricket. Writing on cricket is like the icing on the cake)