Ian Bishop: India reaping the rewards of collective endeavour to improve fast bowling

India’s “excellent all-round pace attack” has taken years of fast-bowling research and changing the pitches, notes the former West Indian pace spearhead.

Through India’s potent pace attack, it has been able to turn the tables on the West Indies.   -  Rajeev Bhatt

India’s new pace attack reminded former West Indies cricketers Brian Lara and Phil Simmons of the iconic Caribbean pace battery comprising Malcolm Marshall, Michael Holding, Joel Garner and Andy Roberts.

But Ian Bishop, a former Caribbean pace spearhead, doesn’t want to draw a comparison. Now a popular television commentator, Bishop believes that through years of hard work and by changing the tracks in the domestic circuit in favour of fast bowlers, India has finally been able to produce a quality pace attack. He says the “process” should only continue.

“For so many generations, everybody wanted to be a Sachin Tendulkar, a [Virender] Sehwag, a [Rahul] Dravid, a [V. V. S.] Laxman. Now, you have got these role models, these fast bowlers — they are on television, they are on the internet, they are being seen and are being promoted by India,” Bishop says during an interaction with Sportstar on Friday evening.

Q. This has been a home season to remember for India’s pace attack. While spinners have taken 37 wickets, three fast bowlers have scalped 59 wickets — that too, in the absence of Jasprit Bumrah.

What are your thoughts on India’s pace attack?

A. It is a good thing for the world game that [the culture is back again] in India and also outside India. Look at Pakistan, they have a few young guys in Shaheen Afridi [and] Naseem Shah who are coming through. In the last U-19 World Cup, India had [Kamlesh] Nagarkoti. And now, their seniors — Ishant Sharma, Mohammad Shami, and Umesh Yadav — these are guys are doing very well. For India, there seems to be a determined effort a few years ago to try to get pitches to be more accommodating, to encourage the batters to play fast bowlers. It was an effort to help fast bowlers come through and it’s happening now!

For any fast bowler, it is very important to maintain the workload and ensure they are well protected. In a game like cricket, it is difficult not to be injured. But even then, what should be kept in mind?

I don’t know if there is a fool proof way to avoid injuries. So many things have been tried to make bowling action safer over the years and there has been an evolution from the side-on to the chest-on to alignment of the feet, so that’s one starting point. There is a strengthening of various aspects of the body — the lower body, the upper body, and of course, load management is now a key. When you have a generational bowler like Jasprit Bumrah, India has tried very best to make sure that it didn’t over-bowl him in every aspect, but he still has pulled up. Work management, strengthening, good medical advice are the things you really want to do as best as you can. Then, you just trust that [the] genetics of the bowler is good. Apart from that, fast bowling is an unnatural action, so eventually, it’s going to catch up someone, somewhere along the line and you hope it’s never a serious injury.

In the recent past, Brian Lara and Phil Simmons said that this Indian pace attack reminded them of the iconic West Indies pace attack. What are your thoughts?

It’s really hard for me to quantify or qualify that statement. But I would say that India, ironically, has turned the page on the West Indies. In times past, the world knows how West Indies would hunt Indian batsmen with their fast bowlers. Now, Indian fast bowlers have hunted West Indies batsmen, successfully. It’s an excellent all-round attack. We talked about Shami being able to swing the ball, seam the ball and there’s Ishant with his bounce. Whenever Umesh Yadav and Jasprit Bumrah are fit, there is a nice, healthy competition. I don’t know if I would want to compare them with the West Indies’ ‘Fab Four’ — Malcolm Marshall, Joel Garner, Colin Croft or Michael Holding. I will stay away from that but I will say that since India recognised that they need to win both and home and abroad, they needed a balanced attack of spin and pace. Through years of MRF Pace Foundation, changing the pitches, fast bowling research, they have got there.

Read | India's pace attack exciting for world cricket, says Phil Simmons

These days, most of the bowling coaches rely on bio-mechanics to monitor the growth of a fast bowler. Belonging to a time when bio-mechanics was an unheard-of term, do you think technology can actually help in the development of a fast bowler?

I am not an old school sort of broadcaster or cricket watcher. I am very open-minded, so I would say there is no one thing that you can look for. Bio-mechanics is, to me, an excellent aspect of the medical profession, in terms of looking to procure actions. You have got to look at other things — whether you are looking at a youngster, who is a good athlete. You could say, a young Michael Holding or Malcolm Marshall — we are talking about teenagers who can be fast bowlers. But you can’t leave it at that. Because for example, when Marshall started, he might have been a good athlete but he was a medium pacer in his teens and then he matured into a fast bowler, putting on pace. If you look at a big-shouldered guy like Shanon Gabriel, may be you look for a combination of a tall guy like a Morne Morkel or a Courtney Walsh.

Ian Bishop played 43 Tests and 84 ODIs for West Indies. Photo: Getty Images

 

The most important thing is to find scouts, coaches, people who understand what to look [for] potentially in a fast bowler and put them to work. Once they identify a guy who has decent mechanics, they can work with it. Strengthen the person and hopefully, if that individual wants to work hard, I think it’s a key aspect, not only in fast bowling but in everything.

In an interview to this publication, former India captain and the director of National Cricket Academy, Rahul Dravid, said that India’s senior pacers are now inspiring the younger crop. There was a time when West Indies was a powerhouse of pace bowling. Now, again a new crop is coming up in Jason Holder, Kemar Roach — what do you think is the difference between the two set-ups?

(Laughs) Difference between the set-ups? Millions of dollars!

To me, looking on, when I came into the system, it was because there were role models. There were the Holdings, Garners, Roberts and Crofts — who were a couple of generations before me. So, as a youngster, I looked at them and wanted to be like them, regardless of how fast or slow the pitches were in Trinidad. Now, in the similar way, India has created role models. Nagarkoti, Mavi and everyone of that generation will now want to be a Shami, Ishant, Umesh. These guys must be inspired. For so many generations, everybody wanted to be a Sachin Tendulkar, a Sehwag, a Dravid [or] a Laxman. Now, you have got these role models, these fast bowlers — they are on television, they are on the internet, they are being seen and are being promoted by India. The West Indies pacers were not seen [promoted] as much, but they were great. It’s excellent and shows us the importance of role models in bringing forward another generation.

You spoke about a generation who dreamed of becoming a Tendulkar or Dravid. But there’s a generation which also wanted to be a Anil Kumble, or Harbhajan Singh. Is the demand for spin slowly going down?

Yes they wanted to be, and I don’t think that will ever go away. You talk to Jason Holder, Kemer Roach, and they would tell you that they were inspired by Courtney Walsh or Curtly Ambrose or may be the great Malcolm Marshall. So many people have talked about Marshall — like Ottis Gibson, who now coaches around the world. In the same way, a Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal or Ravindra Jadeja will have their time and leave their mark as well. The only thing is, the pitches may not be as conducive domestically as they were three decades ago.

I am sure, if India makes an effort — in a similar way like it did to unearth fast bowlers — to bring out spinners, over time, they will find that as well. But in Ravichandran Ashwin, they have already got role models there and I am sure their attack is now balanced.