Ian Bishop: Pace renaissance key to world domination in all formats

Ian Bishop speaks to Subash Jayaraman on the nitty gritty of pace bowling and its future in the likes of Rabada, Bumrah and Archer in Episode 01 of our cricket Podcast, Couch Talk.

Former West Indies pacer Ian Bishop took 161 wickets in 43 Tests at 24.27.   -  Getty Images

In a hark back to the halcyon days of West Indies cricket, former fast bowler Ian Bishop talks about how the Caribbean islands continue to be a hot-bed for seamers. The 51-year-old also weighs in on workload management, Jasprit Bumrah and more in the first episode of Couch Talk.

Let’s talk about fast bowling and fast bowlers of the last 30 years from when you debuted for West Indies in 1989... You walked into a team with Walsh and Ambrose. Later that year, Waqar Younis would debut to join Wasim Akram. There were a couple of Aussies, Alderman and Lawson. In terms of fast bowling at that time and just before it was the West Indies, day light and the rest. Is that how you saw it too as a bowler?

It was a privilege to follow as a youngster; remember, from 1967-77, obviously my knowledge of cricket wouldn’t have been great. Once I got into secondary school, West Indies had become World Champions or were heading towards the beginning of their reign under Clive Lloyd, and we are talking 1977-78 and going forward. All I knew was West Indies fast bowling - Michael Holding, Andy Roberts, and later [Joel] Garner and [Malcolm] Marshall and those guys going into the ’80s. After starting as a batsman in secondary school, it just transformed me into wanting to be a fast bowler because West Indies were so good.

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Listen to the full episode of Couch Talk with Ian Bishop here:

So, when I got into the West Indies side, Malcolm Marshall was the leading light, since Mikey and Joel had retired in 86 and 87, and we were the new batch with Curtly [Ambrose] a little earlier than myself but the same year. So having Courtney [Walsh] around - who’d been there for around 4 years, and Malcolm around before me getting into the West Indies side was a great boost. Malcolm took me under his wing - May God rest his soul; he showed me the ropes of training. Courtney Walsh and Patrick Patterson were there. So, it was a great initiation, something I wish some of the players in the modern era had the benefit of; but unfortunately, there aren’t many senior players around. I was blessed with that.

Ian Bishop: "When I got into the West Indies side, Malcolm Marshall was the leading light, since Mikey and Joel had retired in 86 and 87."   -  THE HINDU ARCHIVES

And then there was Waqar [Younis]. Yeah, Waqar, the first time I saw him I think was in Sharjah. One of the great things about him coming along and Wasim [Akram] always being there and Allan Donald was playing at Warwickshire - if I may stretch it a little further, was that once I started playing county cricket - because Mikey was there I decided to go to Derbyshire - I’d pick up the newspapers and see what Waqar was doing in 1990, what Wasim Akram and Alland Donald were doing… If they got four, I wanted to take five. It was a nice era, and at least for me, I found that they pushed me to the best I could be.

In terms of the pecking order of Test nations, there was West Indies and a gap, and the rest. As South Africa came back from isolation, there were a few more, including Allan Donald, as you said… there was a very good pool of fast bowlers. How did you that group of talent develop, metamorphosing in front of your very own eyes as you developed into a fast bowler in the West Indies system?

I was fortunate in that we had a great history and those great guys to help me along and from around the world such as from Pakistan, and A.D. from South Africa when they came out here in 1991-92 for their first Test match (since readmission). I was just trying to carry on the legacy. I’d spent a year with Mikey, as I said, it was a boost to me, and I had contact with Joel Garner in my first year of playing first-class cricket. So that was my aspiration. And then of course, Curtly was there; Courtney was there’ the Benjamins came along; so, fast bowler is all I wanted to be even though I started as a batsman; we were still dominant, you know. We were dominant for another 3 or 4 more years but on reflection, we saw the cracks in the armour by the time I joined the team. In 1988, we steamrolled England, we played well against India in ‘89 here in the Caribbean, and in 1990 England ran us close with some debatable decisions; so I think the cracks in the armour were there more from the batting perspective than fast bowling perspective.

We talked about the Pakistani fast bowlers... You and other fast bowlers from the Caribbean played in the English county as well. That was an era when reverse swing was taking over. They were the exponents of it and the craft was kind of shared - if you were to listen to Wasim or Imran Khan - about how it was used in county cricket, but no Caribbean fast bowlers were using the reverse swing. Was it because you could do the first things so well that you didn’t need reverse swing, or what was it?

(Laughs). We didn’t know much about it. I remember when we went to Pakistan in 1990; New Zealand had been there before us. So, as we were entering, they were leaving. They had their issues with reverse swing. So one or two members of their team were in touch with one or two members of our team, and saying, “Look, this is what’s happening, this phenomenon is growing, however, they went about doing it.”

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But, as a fast bowler, as a tall guy, and most of our fast bowlers were tall guys but of course Malcolm Marshall was of average height; I, and Courtney and Curtly sort of depended on the bounce and the nature of West Indian wickets as well… We certainly look to carry people to slips and have people glove here, there and everywhere. So the stumps were a target but not in the same way it was for Waqar and Wasim who grew up on slow-ish wickets in the subcontinent. So I don’t think we ever really learned the skill of how to [reverse] but then, not that we cared too much about it.

Courtney and Curtly were still phenomenal bowlers; Malcolm was as skilled even in the last couple of years that he played as a bowler, but we were fascinated that Wasim and those guys were able to get it done the way they got it done in Pakistan. I think the series ended 1-1 in 1990, we couldn’t finish them off in Lahore in the last Test match. We still had our skills and we were continuing to perfect our art which was different from hitting the stumps and pads.

Since the time your playing career ended, you’ve been watching cricket as a commentator. When it comes to observing cricket by people that haven't played it, they seem quick to criticize batting but it appears it takes a lot more to appreciate the bad, the good and the ugly of bowling, especially fast bowling. A bowler could be hitting the back of a length on a good wicket [for fast bowling] and beating the edge but that’s not good; How do you observe fast bowling?

Ian Bishop: "A lot of the countries learned from the quartet that Clive Lloyd developed from 1976. He started with Mikey, Joel, Andy and Colin Croft."   -  getty images

 

I have a great appreciation for the skill because I think the game is a lot more difficult because there are three formats of the game that exist; because of all the technology that exists now and the scrutiny that bowlers and batsmen are under now. A lot of the modern game learned a lot from West Indies’ cricket because there is a saying that “If I can see farther, it is because I am standing on the shoulders of giants.” A lot of the countries learned from the quartet that Clive Lloyd developed from 1976. He started with Mikey, Joel, Andy and Colin Croft for a little while and Malcolm carried the baton even further to be probably the greatest of them all. 

The skill that I see now - the slower balls that have come in, in the shortest format; the ability to be consistent is something I admire. The athleticism of the modern fast bowler has gone to another level where the guys are now as good a fielder [as any] as a fast bowler instead of sticking the old boot in at the boundary line but then, I think some skills have been lost as well, unfortunately. The skill of swinging the ball, maybe it’s because of the ball, maybe it’s because of flatter pitches, and that seems to have been revived in the last 2-3 seasons of international cricket where the ball is swinging more, the pitches are offering more as we have seen in the Caribbean.

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To be honest, from the West Indies cricket point of view, we have a lot of fast bowling talent here still that can come to the fore. It is my heart’s passion to be able to contribute to the development of that talent wherever I can. So, there are one or two guys that I’ve taken to advising privately over the years, because Malcolm, Courtney and Curtly encouraged me when I was coming through. Even Wasim. One of my greatest experiences and it was in 1990, it was against Lancashire in Chesterfield. It was a bouncy ground. Derby, we overran Lancashire. They just couldn’t handle the bounce on that pitch. I went to Old Trafford later that season, and I tried to do the same thing there and it didn’t work. Wasim pulled me aside and gave me a simple advice, “Bish, look, you can’t bowl the same way on all the pitches. You need to be able to adjust to different conditions.” Simple advice and it stuck with me forever, and Wasim didn’t have to do it and I am very thankful to him for that.    

Shoaib Akhtar, one of the quickest bowlers, is known to have said “Pace is Pace yaar” but not everyone’s going to be gifted with the ability to bowl fast, and it takes a huge toll on your body. So, when you see a fast bowler or a fast-medium bowler and seeing them for the first time, how do you break their bowling down to the essentials that an average Joe can’t?

It’s a good question because I’ve learned so much about fast bowling and its technical aspects after I stopped playing and now commentating and seeing things and learning about the braced front leg. And getting off your back foot quicker. The first thing that strikes you I suppose is the pace of the individual - someone like a Shannon Gabriel or a Jofra Archer - the first thing that strikes you is their pace. Then, I start looking at the foundation, obviously, from the feet up. At the delivery side, a braced front leg is a critical thing; you don’t have to have it - Shoaib Akhtar didn’t have it - but you get the most out of you with that. Then you look at the alignment of the feet. Then, I am coming up now and am starting to get technical - I look at the hips relative to the upper body, how the non-bowling arm pulls through.

But I can’t say it has to be any one way because I see Jasprit Bumrah and comparing him [with others], he just does things differently. Those are the fundamentals - I love a braced front leg, I love a decent sized delivery stride without it being too lengthy a stride and then trying to decipher from the bowler’s run-up. The fastest bowlers have great momentum and speed coming to the crease and not just ambling up, 95% of the time. Those are some of the things I am looking for.

Ian Bishop: "I see Jasprit Bumrah and comparing him [with others], he just does things differently."   -  getty images

 

Those are the essentials of a good fast bowler...

well, the essentials to bowl fast… whether you are good or not is a different story.

Well then, in your eyes, how do you separate a good fast bowler from an average fast bowler, and a good fast bowler from a great fast bowler?

Most great fast bowlers will have a semblance of brainpower, in that, they are great thinkers of the game, most of them. Malcolm Marshall, for me, as a tutor and a mentor, as an example, was brilliant to stand at mid-off or mid-on while he was bowling. He would tell me at times what he was going to do because of what the batsman was doing and manoeuvre the field and show me what he was doing. He understood how to break down a batsman’s technique. Obviously, he had played a lot of cricket around the world and in the U.K. The willingness to work hard to bowl fast because it is an unnatural action and then, just the technique.

We can talk about two of the modern guys that people can understand. Jasprit Bumrah, a very level headed guy and very articulate, understands the game; unusual action whereas someone like Jofra Archer - the efficiency of his technique, the alignment is almost perfect, the way he lines up his feet, the economy of his run-up which is not as slow as people think, and I look at the way he reads the batsman and tries to understand what length is appropriate. I am fascinated by them. Those are just two examples and are not the only guys.

You talked a lot about Malcolm Marshall and if you ask people around the world - of a certain age - they’d say he was the most complete fast bowler that they ever saw, and people in your shoes would say he was the most complete fast bowler they ever played with or against. Since that era, of the times that I have watched, Dale Steyn would be the most complete fast bowler since Malcolm Marshall. Would you share that opinion? Yea or Nay? Why or why not? And this is meant as no disrespect to any fast bowler between Malcolm and Steyn...

I wish I knew Dale better. I think Dale is a great fast bowler because he must understand batting. He was such a gifted athlete as well. His outswing, his ability to reverse the ball in the subcontinent, and perform in all conditions just as Malcolm did. I just wonder if Malcolm had more variety. We are talking about different generations. Malcolm had greater control over a range of deliveries. For example, he was a great outswing bowler for most of his career. When we went to England, my first tour there in 1988, he developed this big booming inswinger that he bowled a lot to Graham Gooch, and Graham struggled for a while. And then when Malcolm was in his pomp in 1983 he had this battle with Mohinder Amarnath, I remember. He used the short ball; he came around the wicket; he changed the angles, and he always spoke about angles. So, even when he had reduced pace, he was still significantly an impressive bowler.

Dale’s strike rate is probably greater, I don’t know the numbers...

It’s in the 40s.

That’s beyond imagination, to be honest. I don’t know how he did it, but a great athlete in his own right, and for various reasons is right up there with the best if not ahead of the guys that went ahead and some of his contemporaries. It’s just different. Malcolm I thought had a great cricket brain. He would have made a great captain of the West Indies, if that opportunity ever presented itself, for a long period. Everybody has different strengths.

Who would you say - I’m not saying next Malcolm Marshall - but in your experience of having played, watched over life in cricket, has ever even come close to what Marshall was as a fast bowler?

Wow, I don’t think that anybody does. It’s not that I rever or worship Malcolm. Malcolm had a big impression on me. Mikey, for example, had me under his wing, in Derbyshire but I missed his prime years. But in terms of a guy who knows the game and is a no-nonsense person, that left an impression on me.

I have a lot of time for someone like Kemar Roach. I think he has flown under the radar. As he approaches Sir Andy Roberts now, who was the first person to make something of my technique as a coach in my younger days, I thought Kemar would have been the next guy to get 300 Test wickets and more for the West Indies but he has had his injuries and such.

Coming through the system now, you’ve got a guy called Chemar Holder who is a very impressive young kid. I’d love to see him take over the mantle when the incumbents start to go towards the twilight of their careers. I’m looking forward to seeing how Chemar and Alzarri Joseph do the job of carrying on the legacy because I think they are about the same age, and very talented.

You talked about Jasprit Bumrah and Jofra Archer, unquestionably great fast bowling talents. Could you talk a bit about Kagiso Rabada? It almost seems unfair that as Steyn retires from Tests, Rabada is there to take over the mantle. How do you see Rabada’s bowling?

If we want to talk about the current young group of fast bowlers, it would include Kagiso, Jasprit, Jofra, and even Shaheen Afridi of Pakistan, who have had their successes, obviously of different ages. One of the things that Michael Holding has been talking publicly for a while is the workload that Kagiso has already gone through. That is why modern fast bowlers have it so difficult. Guys play all formats. Jasprit does, Jofra does and will for some time, as is Kagiso Rabada. I worry that it will lead to an injury; he wasn’t effective in the World Cup partly because of that. I worry that he will lose pace. The pace is the main ingredient that separates Jasprit, Jofra, Kagiso and Shaheen to a lesser extent, from the rest of the pack. They all have the skills and the know-how but if you lose that edge in pace, it brings you back closer to the group and it brings your team back as well. I pray that Kagiso - who knows the game - will be managed properly so that he can fulfil what I think is a great talent.

Ian Bishop: "One of the things that Michael Holding has been talking publicly for a while is the workload that Kagiso has already gone through."   -  AFP

 

The first time I ever heard someone talk about him was Kieron Pollard. I was watching the T20 tournament in South Africa. He was competing in that tournament and Pollard was there as well. Pollard came back to the Caribbean and I said, “Kieron, that Rabada guy… How good is he? How quick is he?”, and Pollard just shook his head rapidly up and down in a sort of nervous shake and said, “Yeah, Quick. Really really quick and outstanding.” What we have seen of Rabada confirms that. Again, his workload, like Michael Holding, concerns me.

You talked about the pitches becoming better in the Caribbean lately, but there seems to be a resurgence of fast bowling around the world. Every team seems to have 2-3 legit fast or fast-medium bowlers. What do you attribute it to? 

I don’t know what that is attributed to. I really couldn’t pinpoint it. What I know is that I am happy about it. I am happy to see it, I am happy that the pitches encourage those guys a lot more in many parts of the world, not necessarily all but many, because it redresses the balance of the superiority of bat over the ball for far too long, and that makes the game more interesting.

In the Caribbean, I know for a fact that the pitches have been a big help and encouragement. For a long time, the pitches in the Caribbean both domestically and internationally were slow and low pitches which did nothing to encourage the fast bowling we had. Now, Roach is enjoying it, Shannon Gabriel is enjoying it. Jason Holder is enjoying it. Chemar Holder and Alzarri Joseph are coming through at a good time.

I love Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood. I wish they could get [pitches with help]. I know there was a mandate some years ago about getting some more life into Australian pitches, I don’t know how it played out, to be honest, but there was a mandate.

India have a number of young quicks coming through as well as we have seen. Nagarkoti and Shivam Mavi we saw in the last [U-19] world cup but have been injured for a while but, fingers crossed, I hope they come through.

Fast bowling is having a renaissance because there is encouragement and a recognition that if you have to win Test matches, yes you need a good spinner but if you want to win all around the world, if you want to compete even in 50 overs cricket, you need fast bowlers, we are seeing how important that is now.

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What is one of the fascinating spells of fast bowling that you have witnessed, as a player or as a commentator or something that you read about and caught up on YouTube or something?

Ian Bishop: "It was fascinating from the point of view that Shoaib took the pitch almost totally out of the equation. It was just a sequence of full, fast deliveries. That to me was mindblowing. That was brilliant."   -  AP

 

I wouldn’t do that [checking it out on YouTube]. I recall Shoaib Akhtar taking seven for whatever, 12 I think against New Zealand in Pakistan. At that time, international cricket was still being played in Pakistan. It was fascinating from the point of view that Shoaib took the pitch almost totally out of the equation. It was just a sequence of full, fast deliveries. That to me was mindblowing. That was brilliant.

Shannon Gabriel’s haul against Sri Lanka here [in Jamaica] a couple of years ago where he took 13 or 14 wickets or something like that. I thought it was outstanding because the pitch itself was fascinating. Dinesh Chandimal had played a wonderful innings, but to sustain the ferocity of fast bowling, [it was outstanding].

Any spell from Curtly Ambrose, watching it as a player, standing at fine leg. I have always talked about it as one of the great treats for me as a player because I would be running in, trying to do things and there would be Curtly, every single time. One of the most consistent performers that I could only dream of being. I was often jealous because of the control he would have over almost every situation, the bounce he would generate, the pace… However tough the situation, If I couldn’t do it, (snaps finger), he was always number one. Courtney was there as well. So, there are many spells but those are a couple of the key bowlers and spells that I thought were quite riveting.

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Finally, the fast bowling workload is not going to reduce. How do you see fast bowling being nurtured and developed so that more get into it and make the sport that much better? 

Boy, I think it’s got its work cut out. It will come down to the player. I’d hate - since West Indies are playing India right now [at the time of recording] - for Jasprit Bumrah, for example, to lose any pace or be injured. I'd hate Jofra Archer to lose anything that he has because he plays all formats, as do Jasprit and Kagiso. The world of cricket has so much to gain from these guys and the popularity of the sport they can grow. So, there is a huge challenge to manage these players so that they can get their financial security but they can also fulfil their potential. Shaheen Afridi, my God, is an exciting prospect. I can’t emphasise that enough. I don’t know whether he is the all-format player yet that he could be, but if you take those four and the interest they generated in the world cup; it is for the management of countries to sit together with these young kids and take some criticism. You are gonna take some criticism for probably not playing Jofra in a series here or a series there, a match here or a match there.

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India do a wonderful job with Bumrah. He didn’t come to the Caribbean for the white ball aspects of the tour and that’s brilliant. Sure, the spectators would miss it but the management of these guys is the key because there is so much money to be made out there. So, if I could reinforce that, I am happy to see a series go by where Shaheen doesn’t play, or Jofra doesn’t play in it or Jasprit doesn’t play in it. I am happy because I am thinking long term and I know there are some people out there who are thinking the same. I am happy for these guys; I’m glad that they have come [to the fore] but just their management [is key].