Pace talent aplenty worldwide

It is true that during the past 30 years there have been some real pace bowling greats. But I also think it’s x unfair to sayx that there are currently not as many fast bowlers with the same quality. There have been some exceptional fast bowlers in recent years and there is also a very fine crop of youngsters emerging right now.

Reuters

Kagiso Rabada has pace, bounce and accuracy, the essential attributes of a successful speedster.   -  Reuters

It’s occasionally said that the world’s fast bowling resources are not quite what they were back in the 1980s and 1990s, a time when the West Indians dominated with their terrifying pace quartets and then there were the great all-rounders Sir Ian Botham, Sir Richard Hadlee, Imran Khan and Kapil Dev. The next decade saw the emergence of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, geniuses of swing, both traditional and reverse. And, of course, the ever-reliable Glenn McGrath plugging away for Australia with his immaculate line and length and subtle skills.

It is true that during the past 30 years there have been some real pace bowling greats. But I also think it’s unfair to say that there are currently not as many fast bowlers with the same quality. There have been some exceptional fast bowlers in recent years and there is also a very fine crop of youngsters emerging right now. Several countries have really bright prospects developing and that is exciting for world cricket.

If you look in India, for example, there is a good group of talented fast bowlers emerging to join the older faces and that is giving India a new depth of talent. You have the likes of Ishant Sharma and Ashish Nehra who have x been around for a while and then exciting bowlers like Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami. All are really good performers who if managed well could have great careers.

 

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Elsewhere in the world the traditionally pace-strong Australia have a great practitioner in Josh Hazlewood along with the likes of Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins. England will have the services of Stuart Broad for perhaps 3-4 years and Jimmy Anderson for 1-2 years. Both have been brilliant over a sustained period. They also have the likes of Jake Ball and Mark Wood emerging in the background.

South Africa, meanwhile, have unearthed a real diamond in Kagiso Rabada. He is one pace bowler who could definitely become a great with his natural pace and bounce combined with accuracy. That is all you need. If you bowl at a great pace and get the ball in the right areas consistently then you are going to be successful.

Pakistan have the services again of Mohammad Amir, after a ban, and he is another gem. Although he’s missed a critical five years of his career, he is still in his mid-20s and you can pay no greater compliment than to say that he has many similarities in the skills department to the fast bowling magician Wasim Akram. I am also a great fan of Junaid Khan. New Zealand are well-served by Trent Boult and Tim Southee and Lockie Ferguson is a good white-ball prospect just emerging.

The point is that the talent is there. The biggest issue for all these bowlers is that the volume of cricket played in the current era is immense. Those bowlers who want to play all three formats are going to find that very tough. It’s physically very demanding and in most cases unrealistic to play Tests, ODIs and T20s if you want to have a 10-12-year career. If you are planning a long stint you will need to be managed very carefully.

And that is one of the big challenges now for different coaching teams around the world. They need to think carefully how to manage workloads and utilise bowlers in the right formats to maximise their value for the country. In some cases that means specialising in a specific format — like Bumrah and Nehra for India or a Faulkner for Australia and a Jordan for England — or ensuring they get plenty of rest and play just the key series.

In that regard India look like they are in a healthy place right now. Anil Kumble is a wise old fox and he is carefully building up his bowling stock and looking at managing them strategically so that they don’t all burn out and disappear due to injuries. There is more depth in India’s fast bowling stock now than there has been in living memory — and possibly ever. That talent needs to be protected and used strategically for maximum impact.

From a Sri Lanka perspective this is a critical problem. Since the retirement of Chaminda Vaas several years ago we have failed to find another fast bowler to achieve sustained success over all formats. Dhammika Prasad promised much for two to three years but he’s been on the sidelines with injury for the best part of 18 months now. Several others have emerged with talent and potential but they have just not been able to stay injury-free.

Ironically, for Sri Lanka, the issue is arguably one of insufficient bowling rather than too much. Our young quicks bowl only 10 to 12 overs per day in First Class cricket with the spinners dominating. And that does not help build the fitness necessary to be able to bowl 20+ overs per day in Test cricket. Somehow we need to address that within our domestic set-up or we will continue to grapple with a long injury list.