Ian Pont: ‘Indian youngsters bowl way too much and are rarely monitored’

Ian Pont, a former Essex fast bowler, he launched UPFcricket.com to provide coaching to aspiring students of fast bowling.

Ian Pont has launched a website to help develop more fast bowlers.   -  K. Bhagya Prakash

Ian Pont, a former Essex fast bowler, is considered one of the technically well-equipped coaches on the circuit. On Friday, he launched a path-breaking website (UPFcricket.com) to provide coaching to aspiring students of fast bowling. In this exclusive interaction with Sportstar, he explains his project in details.

Why the need to coach through website? How will it work?

One of the things with India is the sheer size and scale of the country. Despite having coached in India with the Ultimate Pace Foundation (UPF) for more than four years now, I just simply cannot get around to see everyone. The second issue is cost. Without a sponsor it makes it cost prohibitive for many local fast bowlers to come to our camps, which is a great shame. Ideally, we would charge a very small amount if a sponsor was assisting us. So the simplest way round was to launch UPFcricket.com as a Fast Bowling website. That way we can allow players to get access to coaching online. My experience is most coaches tell a young fast bowler to slow down - and that is simply unnecessary. Our website encourages and teaches speed & accuracy together through proven methodology that most coaches are yet to understand.

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What is this link between javelin, baseball and fast bowling that you talk about?

I spent time throwing baseball in the U.S. and a javelin in the U.K. What fascinated me was the strong link between the movements in the biomechanics of both, which hadn’t been identified way back then. This movement has led to identifying the base of the action (feet to hips) as a key part of establishing a strong base to bowl from. The more I researched into those other sports the more I realised two things: we don’t teach fast bowling technique and neither do most cricket coaches understand where speed comes from. I’ve spent 25 years working on this stuff and written a couple of books on the subject. But the proof is in the students who all get faster using the coaching methods, which I now call “The 4 Tent Pegs”.

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Keeping the leg straight…Can you explain briefly the advantage of this technique?

When you lock out the front leg or brace it, you create a ‘braking force’, which we know is ideal from transferring run up speed into the cricket ball. Simply running in fast isn’t what creates speed - it is transferring ground forces from the base to the top of the body and ultimately into the ball that makes a bowler bowl faster. We know the top gets whipped forward when the front leg is braced, rather like the occupants of a vehicle if it hits a brick wall. This bracing is a key indicator in speed. It doesn’t mean that bowlers who bend their front leg cannot bowl fast, or that bowlers who maintain a front leg will all be rocket bowlers. But it is a desirable trait.

How is your coaching user-friendly?

I always believe you should coach others as you wish to be coached yourself. And in India, many of the students appeared to be scared to ask questions initially. But after they realise the coaching UPF uses is very interactive and easy to follow , they ask tons of questions! It is not just about speed; it’s the variations, slower balls, trick, hints, tips, mental aspects plus swing, Yorkers, bouncers etc., that also makes our coaching both user-friendly and can be duplicated. That’s important. We have to produce coaching methods that our students can continue and persevere with in their own time in a logical manner.

“My view is that bowlers don’t actually bowl enough in practice and too much emphasis has been put on gym fitness. Time in the gym eats away from time spent honing bowling skills. So internationally, I feel much of the world is seeing injuries due to poor technical actions as well as not being fit for purpose - but rather fit for the gym.”

How can one increase speed?

Speed increases are possible for every fast bowler. Unless someone has a ‘perfect’ biomechanics action they can always squeeze an extra few kph out whilst not compromising on accuracy. The fallacy is you have to slow down to bowl a line and length. Sadly this outdated view is what is killing fast bowling youngsters. The 4 Tent Pegs model identified that fast bowlers all share the same common positions in the areas: back foot impact, front foot impact, ball release and follow through. These 4 Tent Pegs are the fast bowling skeleton we all have. How you move through those positions is your style, which is unique but the common thread is the structure. And it’s by working on structure (technique) that you coach speed. Even in batting we know how important something like technique is, which is what sets apart players like Tendulkar and Kolhi. So fast bowling is getting there and I feel that this is the start of a huge wave for fast bowlers to learn that extra missing dimension to their art.

How many balls should a fast bowler bowl in a season…

Fast bowlers are managed very well at the moment. But obviously a caption and coach will want to play their best quicks as often as possible. This is why squads need a large amount of fast bowlers available to maintain a campaign across a calendar year. I grew up with players like Sir Ian Botham bowling 500 overs a season in County Cricket and then 500 for England. He rarely broke down. And of course, he was a top 5 batsman. So my view is that bowlers don’t actually bowl enough in practice and too much emphasis has been put on gym fitness. Time in the gym eats away from time spent honing bowling skills. So internationally, I feel much of the world is seeing injuries due to poor technical actions as well as not being fit for purpose - but rather fit for the gym. Having said that, India youngsters bowl way too much and are rarely monitored in nets or training.

Much of the net coaching I have seen in India involves bowlers bowling for hours on end as human bowling machines. This is clearly wrong. My own view is that an hour’s bowling is fine and I strongly advise technical drill work to break up the boredom of simply bowling aimlessly, often with a poor action and wondering why players get injured. Bowling twice a day is fine, but the key is rest and recuperation and not just smashing yourself day in, day out in the nets believing the more you bowl the better it is. It’s about bowling smart. A little and often is fine.

Kagiso Rabada's bowling action has impressed Ian Pont.   -  AFP

  Why do you think fast bowlers are dominating world cricket’s bowling?

It is not a surprise that when a side has a great fast bowling unit it will always dominate world cricket. Pace unsettles a batsman and the difference between facing 140kph and 150kph when batting, is a huge amount. The West Indies had a battery of quicks during the late 1970s and early 1980s going up to 1990. India’s pace attack is evolving well. I feel with a country of 1 billion people, India should have a fast bowling unit simply untouchable.

Are you surprised with the increased number of fast bowlers in India. The team played with five fast bowlers at Johannesburg recently and not a spinner.

Numerically, India should have four or five quicks. The surprise has been it never really has had that. There is simply no reason why India cannot have a conveyor belt of talented fast bowlers such as Kamlesh Nargarkoti. He has a very good biomechanical action (close to the 4 Tent Pegs) and if I didn’t know better I would say he has worked with the 4 Tent Pegs. Indian cricket fast bowling needs an icon to be honest. Once there is a 150 kph world-class quick in the ranks, I feel Indian youngsters can aspire to be like that bowler as they have done over time with Shoaib Akhtar, Brett Lee and Dale Steyn. Youngsters want to be like their heroes after all.

Who are the fast bowlers who have impressed you and why?

Kagiso Rabada of South Africa is an easy one to praise. Only 21 years old and sitting at Number 1 in the Test rankings is incredible. Yet he has much more to come with his action if he wanted it. I like Hasan Ali of Pakistan. He has kept things simple with bowling swing into the channel outside off stump and this causes issues. But like Rabada, there is far more he could improve technically to gain speed.

The sensation who is bursting through is Jofra Archer from West Indies but wanting to play for England. He has been incredible in the Big Bash, nudging 150 kph and has a simple action that is very repeatable. From England the best 4 Tent Pegs action is owned by Chris Woakes who bowls 140-145 kph. I feel he could bowl faster with some genuine desire for pace as he has many of the right attributes technically.

Both Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah are showing they can transition between the various forms of the game and are starting to have success with both the white and the red ball. Yet again they both have much they could add to their bowling technically to make them faster whilst not losing their skills and control.

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