The pacemen - men with license to cause legalised mayhem

Fast bowler Pandurang Salgaonkar had once hit Sunil Gavaskar on the hand in a Ranji Trophy match. The little master did not forget that injury and would literally clobber Salgaonkar’s bowling whenever the two found themselves in the rival camp © Getty Images


By Austin Coutinho 


“Are you crazy?” a female classmate once asked me after an inter-collegiate match. “Why do you have to run such a long distance to ‘throw’ the ball at the batsman?”


This was after I had bowled some 15 torrid overs and had a haul of three wickets, while the leggie in our team had taken five wickets off seven overs, bowling off two paces.


Twenty years after hanging up my boots, when I watch pace bowlers running in from 25 yards, I ask myself, “Did I do that for a living? I must have been crazy!”


Pace bowling, I believe, is for people who are not quite sane. People who think rationally bowl swing or cut, not fast. We have seen how Shoaib Akhtar got ‘mauled’ by a cricket crazy nation when he wrote in his book, ‘Controversially Yours’, that Sachin Tendulkar was ‘scared’ of facing him. It was considered sacrilegious in a place where Tendulkar is ‘God’, but then pace bowlers don’t talk sense. All batsmen, including Tendulkar, are their sworn enemies.


In the early ’80, playing at the Shivaji Stadium in Satara – a district of Maharashtra – a batsman got a cut under his eye by a short ball I bowled. At the end of the match, when I went to the opposition dressing room to talk to that batsman – not apologise, mind you – seated next to him with a towel round his waist, revealing a huge potbelly, was Pandurang Salgaonkar – India’s fast bowling hope of the ’70.


Looking at the injured batsman, whose left eye was swollen and had tuned black by then,  Salgaonkar laughed and said in Marathi, “Asey kitti $@*$# batsmanna fodlet me!” (“I have hit so many $@*$# batsmen like this!” in Marathi). That is fast bowlers’ lingo and response for you.


Salgaonkar had once hit Sunil Gavaskar on the hand, if memory serves right, in a Ranji Trophy match played on matting, forcing the maestro to sit out a Test match against the West Indies in 1974. Gavaskar was infuriated by the injury as he was to lead India in the following Test after Tiger Pataudi was injured. He did not forget that injury and would literally clobber Salgaonkar’s bowling whenever the two found themselves in the rival camp. I was witness to one such mauling at the Wankhede Stadium, when Gavaskar opened the batting for Mumbai against Maharashtra. The Little Master slogged every other Salgaonkar delivery over mid-wicket and then tapped the pitch at the bowling end, indicating to the bowler that he was bowling too short.


My all-time favourite fast bowler, especially for wit, pride and ‘madness’, is Fred Trueman. He was the self-proclaimed ‘greatest ruddy fast bowler that ever drew breath!”


‘Fiery’ Fred, it is said, was once caught by the traffic police for speeding on the streets of London.


“Hey! It’s Mr Trueman the great fast bowler!” cried the officer. “You were driving as fast as you bowl, weren’t you, Mr Trueman?”


“Nay!” said Fred, “You wouldn’t have caught me if I did!”


Trueman was so crazy that he was thrown out of the house by his wife, supposedly for ‘infidelity’, a day before the 1961 Ashes Test match at Headingley. The fast bowler drove down to Leeds and slept in the stadium’s car park all night. The next morning, he had the Aussies on the mat with a spell of five for 58. He then took six for 30 (at one time claiming five wickets for no runs) in the second innings, to help England win the Test by eight wickets. If that’s not crazy, what is!


Trueman anecdotes are always very humorous. My favourite party anecdote on him is of a county match where the slip fielder let a sharp edge off his bowling, allowing the ball to go through his legs to the third man boundary. At the end of the over, the slip fielder apologized to Trueman for the missed chance, “Sorry, Fred. I should have kept my legs together.”


“Oh, no!” said Trueman, “I reckon it would have been better if you mother had kept her legs together!”


In another county match, he hit Peter Parfitt on the face. Parfitt retired for repairs and came back to bat lower down in the order. The entireYorkshire team was surprised that Trueman went up to the batsman and spoke to him, rather compassionately. But here’s what he said according to Brian Close, who was at short-leg: “I hope you are okay, Peter. When I hit batsmen, they usually don’t come back!”

Ernest Jones was perhaps the fastest bowler to have played for Australia till Jeff Thomson came along. Touring England at the end of the 19th century, he is said to have sent a bouncer ripping through the great Dr WG Grace’s beard.


“What was that?” inquired the legendary batsman.


“Sorry, doctor. She slipped”, replied Jones.


On another occasion, a rather uncouth fast bowler from Australia was asked by his captain whether he had ever been to the university, in a reprimanding way.


“Aye, skip!” he replied. “I’ve been there to pick up a load of sand.”


John Snow, who composed sonnets when he wasn’t bowling fast, once elbowed Gavaskar at the non-striker’s end when the batsman set off to take a run – an act for which Snow was dropped for the next Test.


Snow made life hell for the Aussies on the Ashes tour 1970-71. In a Test match at Trent Bridge against the West Indies in 1976, he was instructed by the skipper to slow things down so that the England openers would not have to bat that evening. The fast bowler came out from tea with a pocket-full of cake crumbs which he deposited near his run up mark. The sea gulls swooping down on the crumbs, in front of the sight-screen caused a hold up. Crazy, but ingenious!


Batsmen are usually friends with good fast bowlers. And for good reason!


Tony Lewis, former England captain recalls the first time he faced Wes Hall: “Third ball of the match against Glamorgan in 1963, Hall spread-eagled the opener’s stumps. I was in next. As I picked up my bat and gloves, I looked around the dressing room to get a nod of encouragement from Gilbert Parkhouse – an ex-Test player and great player of pace bowling. I saw Parkhouse busy wrapping his false teeth in a handkerchief!”


In a Gentlemen vs Players’ match at Lord’s, on a moist wicket, ‘Typhoon’ Frank Tyson was bowling at his quickest. As each batsman, shaken by Tyson’s thunderbolts, returned to the dressing room, John Warr, a lower-order batsman had a wisecrack ready for him. Warr’s humour, however, dried up when he was to go in next and one of Tyson’s bouncers crashed first bounce into the sight-screen. He muttered, “I don’t know whether to mediate, emigrate or defecate!”


Once in a Times Shield match, Balvinder Singh Sandhu and I were bowling fiery spells, incensed by an umpiring decision. One batsman, who usually batted at No 3 and who always troubled us with his dour style of batting, did not come in to bat till the 7th wicket went down. When we inquired, we were told that “he’s in the toilet and refuses to come out!’


Those old enough to remember the mayhem caused by the dreaded West Indies pacemen in the 80s and 90s will agree that genuine quick bowlers are nothing but men who cause legalized mayhem!


(Austin Coutinho, Deputy Manager (CRM) with RCF, is a cartoonist and writer. A former club cricketer, he is also a cricket and football coach)