Preparation is the key to success. It involves getting into the right frame of mind, formulating a game plan, followed by a back-up plan, writes W. V. Raman.

Preparation is the key to success, and it holds true in the case of cricket too. Like the batsmen, bowlers also have to prepare and the fast bowlers sometimes have to contend with conditions loaded against them. The preparation involves getting into the right frame of mind, formulating a game plan followed by a back up etc. It is essential to be in the right frame of mind for the other steps to fall in place. One of the techniques used in the preparatory stages is visualisation, made popular by Sir Richard Hadlee.

HADLEE WOULD VISUALISE an opposing batsman taking guard, getting ready to get into his stance. Then, he would visualise himself running in to bowl to the batsman. Most of the time he would obviously visualise the dismissal of the batsman, but this technique helped him stay in a positive frame of mind. Once the visualisation helps him get the right focus, he would then try and formulate a plan to dismiss the batsman. While it would have been impossible even for Hadlee to have a 100 per cent success, he would have been on target on most occasions.

Another remarkable feature of Hadlee was that he never lost his cool even when things did not work according to his plans. We get to see some bowlers indulging in heated exchanges with the batsmen, but this only saps the energy and leads to a loss of focus.

SOME OF THE GREATEST fast bowlers like Curtly Ambrose, Hadlee, Malcolm Marshall, Kapil Dev and Courtney Walsh hardly ventured into exploding verbally on the field. Their outstanding abilities notwithstanding, they had an excellent temperament. This enabled them to be consistent in their job and it is no wonder they excelled as much as they did.

Ambrose, for instance, would have got past the edge on so many occasions but all he would do was flash a wry smile. His consistency is only matched by Glenn McGrath in recent times as they both could hit the proverbial coin at will.

It is tough for a fast bowler not to lose his cool when all the energy expended results in a lucky escape for the batsman, but nothing can be done about it. Controlling one's temper comes with experience and by exercising self-control.

To be able to control one's temper is a boon as it helps in more ways than one. Most of the pitches laid out for Test cricket are flat and in favour of the batsmen and hence the fast bowlers are up against odds. They have the advantage of bowling fast with a new ball, but the batsman-friendly conditions can negate that advantage. This is when the temperament of a fast bowler is subjected to severe test. For example, McGrath is used to bowling on hard and bouncy pitches in Australia but he had to take wickets on his trips to India. The low bounce pitches did not deter him from being accurate and disconcerting the batsmen. That's what makes a good bowler great.

The aspiring fast bowlers in India have to accept the fact that pitches will not be conducive to their craft, but they must draw inspiration from the aforementioned bowlers.

The back-up plan is as important as the game plan because it enables you to get on with the game.

Consistency is the key to success . The hallmark of a great bowler is to bowl consistently well for over a long period and that's exactly what the Ambroses, McGraths, Hadlees and Kapil Devs have done. Their greatness is a product of good technique, planning, preparation, temperament and consistency in all respects. The only problem is that they made it all seem too easy, but let me assure you that fast bowling is not a bed of roses.