`I really put a lot of work into my bowling'

PATIENCE is a virtue and, as Corey Collymore can attest, it has its rewards.

TONY COZIER

PATIENCE is a virtue and, as Corey Collymore can attest, it has its rewards.

The speed gun clocked Corey Collymore at an average of 80 miles an hour, with a top of 85. It was not what it used to be but it was still sharp enough to startle batsmen. Here Marvan Atapattu takes evasive action against a Collymore bouncer. — Pic. AFP-

For four years and three weeks after the persevering fast bowler first appeared for the West Indies, against Australia at the Antigua Recreation Ground in April 1999, he waited patiently for his second chance in Test cricket.

It eventually came in the two Tests of the home series against Sri Lanka in June and Collymore immediately made it many happy returns. He had five wickets in his first innings back and nine for 82 in the second Test, including a second innings seven for 57 that set up a significant West Indies victory.

It was a measure of the regard in which he is held that captain Brian Lara entrusted him with the new ball in both Tests and delegated him to take charge of the two exciting new, young fast bowlers, Jerome Taylor and Fidel Edwards.

``Throughout the Test (in Jamaica) we went to dinner together every night, spoke about cricket, and next morning before play, I'd have them in the pool getting the muscles nice and loose,'' Collymore said.

It was further evidence of new spirit in the West Indies team although Collymore was already close to Edwards who, along with his brother, Pedro Collins, the left-armer with 19 Tests, are his neighbours in the northern village of Boscobelle in Barbados. There were two reasons for Collymore's lengthy absence from the Test team - injury and peculiar selection.

A recurrence of a stress fracture of the back, first sustained in his teens, put him in doctors' care and out of the game for eight months soon after his solitary Test as a 21-year-old of genuine pace and potential.

He returned to the team for the 2000 tour of England with a necessarily modified action that led to a reduction in pace. It was sufficient to raise doubts among a succession of selectors who proceeded to confine him to intermittent appearances in one-day internationals.

While he pegged away in 42 matches in the shorter form of the game, earning a couple of Man of the Match awards, 13 other fast bowlers were used in Tests in a vain attempt to find eventual replacements for Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh.

It took a back injury and an adverse umpires' report on the action of Jermaine Lawson, the latest hope, and the failure of several others to earn Collymore his overdue reinstatement.

His immediate success was based on control of length and line at the end of a long, sprinting approach and quick arm delivery. His each-way movement off the pitch, a little away swing in the air and variations of pace brought him eight of his 14 wickets through catches to the 'keeper or slip.

The speed gun clocked him at an average of 80 miles an hour, with a top of 85. It was not what he used to be but it was still sharp enough to startle a few batsmen with his bouncer.

``My strength is to keep line and length going and move the ball around,'' was his appraisal of his role. ''I've stuck to that and worked hard on it.'' Work and commitment are words that recur regularly in Collymore's story.

Keith Boyce, the late West Indies fast bowler from the same parish of St. Peter, who coached him before his sudden death in 1996, first identified him as a Test bowler of the future when he was 19.

By then, the back pain had set in that revealed a stress fracture. It put young Collymore out of action for almost a year and in the charge of a physiotherapist. It required plenty of rehabilitation but the effort seemed to pay off when he spent a successful season in English league cricket in 1998 and gained his Test call-up a year later in his first full season of domestic cricket for Barbados.

"It wasn't long before I felt the pain in my back again and I knew it meant trouble," Collymore recalled. "I'd been told (after the first injury) to be open in my action to take pressure off the back but I didn't get my feet correct and that aggravated the original problem."

It meant another break, this time for eight months, while he gave the back a rest and set about getting his feet in the right place for his adjusted action.

He had a television cameraman to take footage while he bowled in the nets and Bill Bourne, the former Warwickshire fast bowler who was Barbados coach, to analyse where he was going wrong.

Joel Garner, the giant West Indies fast bowler of the glory days under Clive Lloyd, and Darnley Boxill, a former Barbados wicket-keeper, also worked with him.

"Bill did some diagrams and, to tell the truth, it wasn't that hard to make the necessary adjustment," he said.

In fact, it took him only two days.

"Instead of getting my back foot square on, both feet now come straight down which gives me a chest-on action," he explained. "I've lost quite a bit of pace. When I came into Test cricket I was pretty sharp but now I'd say I'm just fast-medium so I've tried to compensate in other areas."

Far from becoming frustrated and depressed by the selectors' neglect, Collymore kept diligently practising and training.

He was in the squad for the World Cup but didn't face or bowl a ball in his solitary match against Bangladesh that was abandoned half-way through because of the weather.

"When I came back from the World Cup, I really put a lot of work into my bowling," he said. "I set up a gym at home a couple of years back and I bring back some new piece of equipment from every tour and I find that's a big help."

He claimed five wickets in an innings in both the semi-final and final of the domestic Carib Beer tournament prior to the Test series against Australia but his form was still not enough to convince the selectors. Instead, they stuck to Merv Dillon, Collins, Vasbert Drakes and Lawson and gave the pacy Tino Best one Test. At last, they turned to Collymore against Sri Lanka. Patience had been duly, if belatedly, rewarded.