Declining standards of fast bowling

Too much of one-day cricket and too little of Tests has impacted the pace bowlers adversely. Their line has suffered. The risk of injuries and missing matches and endorsements have clouded their thinking, notes S. Dinakar.

Bangalore has its place among the top cricketing venues in the country. For the journalists too, it is a good place to be in. The open press box is spacious and has an old world charm to it. The stands are close to the ground and this enhances the atmosphere. There is a sense of being close to the action.

The lunch for the scribes is good and the staff are courteous. For a change, the toilets are clean.

The spectators are is good spirits even if the Bangalore hero, Rahul Dravid is dismissed early. The cosmopolitan crowd here is a colourful one. Soon, it is a swinging collection of human beings.

Sourav Ganguly and Yuvraj Singh light up the arena with some blistering stroke-play. The relationship between the spectators and the cricketers is symbiotic and we see the Mexican wave.

These waves of joy can cut both ways. If the home crowd begins the wave when the host is batting, the batsman taking strike can be distracted. The announcer booms, ‘let’s begin the Mexican wave’, and the crowd swirls around the ground.

Ganguly and Yuvraj survive the waves and thump the Pakistani attack. Likes the waves, batting too has a rhythm and a flow of its own.

“What a batsman,” marvels a visiting journalist at Yuvraj’s astonishing stroke-play. The Punjab left-hander is only playing this Test because of injuries in the Indian camp. He wastes little time before wading into the bowling. It’s not easy to warm the bench for a major part of the series and discover form immediately. Yuvraj’s immense confidence shines through.

Shoaib Akhtar breaks down again and former Pakistan opener Aamir Sohail is not amused. “He is the only bowler who looks like getting wickets and they are over-bowling him,” he thunders.

Sohail, as outspoken as they come, is not pleased that Akhtar was made to make the journey from sick-bed to the arena in Kolkata. “All those antibiotics had made his body weak and he was made to play that Test. He was bound to feel the strain here.”

He laments the lack of depth in the Pakistani attack. Mohammad Asif and Umar Gul have been injured but the replacements are not good enough to swing Tests.

The quality of pace bowling, with a few exceptions, has declined worldwide. With Twenty20 cricket gaining in popularity, this aspect of bowling is likely to be further threatened.

Even otherwise, too much of one-day cricket and too little of Tests has impacted the pacemen adversely. Their line has suffered. They are also holding themselves back and not letting go; the risk of injuries and missing matches and endorsements have clouded their thinking.

Former India batsman Yashpal Sharma travels back to his effort in Jamaica during the 1983 series in the West Indies. “I faced Malcolm Marshall in two spells and there were at least 15 marks on my body.” A brave batsman, Yashpal put a price on his wicket and was extremely combative.

That was the campaign when India’s formidable Mohinder ‘Jimmy’ Amarnath took on Marshall, Holding, Garner, and Roberts with guts and aggression. When the menacing four pitched short he hooked and pulled. Jimmy also took blows on his body, but batted for the side.

That was the era of the great speed merchants. Mohinder was struck a frightening blow on the face on a quick Barbados wicket. After receiving treatment that included suturing the wound, he wore the same blood-stained shirt and hooked the first ball he faced — in the same innings — for a six.

Like the bowlers, the pitches, again with a few exceptions, have slowed down worldwide. It’s unfortunate since surfaces with pace and bounce will help both the pacemen and spinners. These issues need to be addressed.

Meanwhile a fellow journalist is banned by the BCCI for allegedly misguiding the scorer to make a false announcement relating to a post-play media briefing. It’s a sad day for the fraternity.

In the arena, the Test develops from a sleeper to a humdinger. And the rumours regarding the composition of the Indian team for the four-Test series in Australia grow stronger.

That Dinesh Karthik’s place in the squad is under scrutiny borders on the ridiculous. Opening for a country that is seeking openers who can deliver away from the sub-continent, Karthik has impressive performances in South Africa and England. Following a few low scores in the home series, his earlier displays in the same year appear to have been forgotten. Some of these speculations are no more than mere speculations.