Collins lands the big fish

TONY COZIER

HAD he taken up deep sea fishing rather than cricket as a profession, Pedro Collins would be a champion.

AFP

Like the big fishermen, his bowling record is based on quality rather than quantity. In his 11 Tests, the slim, left-arm West Indies fast bowler has landed only 29 victims but most are the batting equivalents of the great white shark, the sailfish and the tarpon. He hasn't dealt much in the small fry.

Three times out of five in the Cable & Wireless Test series against India, Collins nabbed Sachin Tendulkar, considered the biggest catch of them all.

At Kensington Oval, Barbados, in front of his home crowd, and at the Antigua Recreation Ground, he enticed a nibble from the little maestro, dismissing him each time for 0, second ball and then first. At Sabina Park, he breached Tendulkar's defence from round the wicket to shatter his stumps and end a sparkling 86 that lifted Indian hopes of an unlikely victory.

Tendulkar was the latest, if the grandest, addition to Collins' list of prized catches.

Twenty out of his 29 Test wickets are batsmen in the first six in the order.

In his debut series, against Australia in the Caribbean in 1999, he nabbed Steve Waugh three times in three Tests. The rampaging Australian opener, Michael Slater, was his first Test wicket. Others who have fallen to his bait include Sri Lankans Sanath Jayasuriya and Marvan Atapattu, Pakistan's Inzamam-ul-Haq and India's V. V. S. Laxman.

In domestic tournaments, he has twice snared Brian Lara cheaply in three meetings.

Collins has a high runs-per-wicket average of 47.82 but, more often than not, he has had to contend with flat, heartbreaking pitches, both on home and foreign soil. The opposition has compiled over 600 once, over 500 once and over 400 three times as he and the other West Indian bowlers have found nothing to encourage them.

West Indies captain Carl Hooper says Collins offers "something different" as a left-armer. He is not express in pace, more what the players call "sharp", and critics note he doesn't swing the ball in the air much.

A round-arm action and rotating wrist means that he depends mainly on cut, away from the right-handed batsman, for his effect.

His variation is his principal asset, presenting contrasting angles from over and round the wicket.

The late Malcolm Marshall, himself one of the greatest fast bowlers of all time, was coach when Collins came into the West Indies team against Australia in 1999. Noticing Collins didn't bend the ball in the air but did make it move away on pitching, Marshall recommended he occasionally deliver from round the wicket. Almost immediately, he removed Steve Waugh, Shane Warne and Stuart MacGill, all caught off the outside edge.

Hooper gave a detailed background to Tendulkar's key dismissal in the last innings of the Test series at Sabina.

"Sachin was troubled by the ball nipping back all series and Peddi has got the ability to bring the ball back and also angle it across," he said. "It was something we talked about. The first two dismissals he had against Sachin were from balls pushed across him, then he got him the last time with the one that nipped back from round the wicket."

The same combination worked against Steve Waugh three years earlier twice caught by the 'keeper and first slip off balls angled across him and then bowled off the inside edge with one that came back.

Collins was born on August 12, 1976, in the northern village of Boscobel in Barbados, the birthplace of some of the most feared fast bowlers the game has known.

Their names are etched in the pages of Wisden and in the memories of a passionate public longing for the successors to Herman Griffith, George Francis and Manny Martindale of pre-World War II vintage and Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith, Malcolm Marshall, Joel Garner, Sylvester Clarke and Wayne Daniel more recently.

The production line has slowed to a trickle of late and, for all his promise, it is unrealistic to expect Collins to join such illustrious company. But he had sound grounding from two former West Indies fast bowlers of different eras, Keith Boyce and Richard "Prof" Edwards.

For the sake of experience and self-confidence, he now needs more opportunity at international level.

His potential was spotted as a schoolboy by Boyce, an all-action cricketer whose aim was to hit the ball as hard as he could and bowl it as fast as he could. He coached and encouraged both Collins and Corey Collymore, another Boscobel boy to move into the West Indies team.

After Boyce's untimely death at 53, Collins came under Edwards' wing at the Wanderers Club.

His development was such that he was included in the West Indies 'A' team on tours of South Africa in 1997-98 and Bangladesh and India in 1998-99, preludes to his promotion to the Test side for the home series against Australia in 1999.

A lengthy pause in his international career followed as back problems kept him out of the game throughout 2000 and into 2001 domestic seasons. A spate of injuries to other fast bowlers Merv Dillon, Cameron Cuffy and Kerry Jeremy prompted his return earlier than he might have expected during the tour of Zimbabwe in July, 2000, since when he has played in eight Tests there, in Sri Lanka and against Pakistan in Sharjah.

Like all West Indies fast bowlers of late, Collins' right-handed batting is such that a double-figure score is something of an event. But, on the insistence and under the guidance of coach Roger Harper, he and the others have taken practice more seriously.

The effort paid dividends in the final Test against India when his highest Test score, 24, helped steady the faltering West Indies second innings in a partnership of 48 with Shivnarine Chanderpaul.

In future, he shouldn't be such easy prey but his main mission will be to ensure that his opponents are, especially when they're the best.