It is tough to be a one-day bowler

IT'S a hard job bowling in limited overs cricket. Especially these days, when three inches wide of leg stump is declared a wide. Which means the bowlers have very little margin for error.

Cricket is a batsman's game, more so one-day cricket, where the emphasis is on restricting the flow of runs.

I have often wondered what must be going through a bowler's mind, when he has so many elements loaded against him.

At least the one bouncer an over rule in the ODIs, has to an extent, curbed the lesser batsmen from going on to the front foot and slamming the ball.

Yet, in the ODIs, especially on the 'patta' wickets of the subcontinent, there are not too many things a bowler can do. Here, the batsman holds the cards, he dictates terms, and the fielding side has to wait for him to make a mistake.

Yet, even on the most placid of tracks, certain special bowlers can hold their own, rise above the conditions. Somebody like Curtly Ambrose.

He gave very little away, and probably bowled fewer bad balls than anybody else. The West Indian could also be fast on occasions and had a nasty yorker, that came in handy during the end overs. And being so tall, the natural bounce he could extract from most tracks made him even more tougher to score off.

He could bring the odd ball in and if you see in ODI cricket, it is the delivery that comes in from just outside the offstump that is the most difficult to play. Such a ball can cramp a batsman, making it difficult for him to essay a positive stroke.

And Ambrose gave very little room to the batsmen. He seldom let them off the hook, seldom relaxed the pressure. His relentless accuracy and the ability to send down a lethal yorker made him a fantastic ODI bowler.

Wasim Akram is not far behind. Being a left-arm paceman with a quick arm action, Akram is very difficult to pick. And he is deceptively quick off the wicket, forcing the batsmen to hurry their strokes.

The Pakistani stands apart because he attacks even in the limited overs variety, and he can get the ball to do so many things. Given the basic aggression in his bowling, he can go for runs, but the same quality has enabled him to run through sides on so many occasions.

Like Ambrose, Akram has a destructive yorker and it is this delivery that has been his key weapon in the slog overs. Above all, the Pakistani is a shrewd bowler, who is always working on a batsman. In fact, I consider him one of the cleverest customers around.

Akram's greatness lies in the fact that he doesn't really change his style of bowling for the ODIs. This also suggests a good bowler can hold his own in any form of the game.

Talking of aggressive paceman, Malcolm Marshall was extremely dangerous on any kind of pitch due to his quickness off the surface. Like Akram, Marshall could slice through line-ups and because of his pace and control, it was extremely difficult to go after him. Like Akram, Marshall was a match-winner.

In that era, the West Indians had so many match-winning pace bowlers. Men like Andy Roberts and Michael Holding, who could make life difficult for the batsmen.

And I can never forget the spell of Joel Garner in the World Cup '83 final where he was virtually unplayable in the early overs. He was getting so much bounce, which along with his movement and an attacking off-stump line, made the batsmen mere spectators. Garner, like Ambrose before him, was among the all-time great bowlers in the ODIs. Let's not for a moment forget that they were outstanding performers in the Test arena too.

Among the modern pacemen, Glenn McGrath is a fantastic performer in any form of cricket. His probing off-stump line, and his complete command over the away going delivery make him more than a handful; if there is any assistance from the pitch, he becomes lethal.

I had said earlier that the inswing bowlers hold the sway in limited overs cricket. Yet a paceman like McGrath whose strength lies in drawing a batsman into a false shot outside the off-stump, has his place. When the occasion demands, McGrath can bowl a sharp off-cutter and has a yorker to boot too.

It's not the pacemen alone who command respect in one-day cricket. The spinners too have a place and in contemporary cricket we have some of the finest such examples in Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan. Two match-winning bowlers in any form of the game.

Warne has always been a leg-spinner on the look-out for wickets, and it is precisely this quality that has made him such a huge success in both Tests and ODIs.

When the ball is flighted, the batsmen look to get after him, but are either deceived in the air or succumb to the turn; Warne has got so many of his wickets in this fashion. He also surprises them with the flipper - another major wicket-taking ball of his - or gets them with his top-spinner.

It is important for a spinner to have a big heart in the ODIs. There will be times when he will go for runs, but he should have the strength of mind to bounce back. Warne has done this time and again.

Muttiah Muralitharan also has enormous confidence. And he is also one of the most difficult bowlers to score runs off due to the vicious turn he can extract on any surface. A great bowler, this Sri Lankan has added plenty of variety to his bowling in the recent years, making him even more dangerous.

These days, when a side takes on Sri Lanka, this includes the sub-continental outfits also, the best option is to play out Murali's ten overs, without taking undue risks.

Anil Kumble, who has 298 ODI victims at the time of writing, bowled an exemplary line and length at his peak, and the batsmen could not take too many chances against him. The leg-spinner has worked hard on his game.

Off-spinner Saqlain Mushtaq may be going through a lean phase, but he is a versatile bowler who has taken plenty of wickets in the ODIs, because of his ability to turn the ball away from the right-hander, and get them stumped if they gave him the charge.

These special men show that it is not the batsmen alone who hold the key to a one-day game. The bowlers, despite the odds, have a place too.