Swing will do the trick

K. SRIKKANTH

THE conditions in India are often a nightmare for pacemen. It is hot and humid, and the wickets, by and large, are placid.

I have seen many a promising career being nipped in the bud, the bowler in question giving it up, unable to surmount the odds. The conditions and the pitches in India can break a paceman's heart.

Over the years, only two breed of pacemen have succeeded in India. Someone genuinely quick like Malcolm Marshall or a bowler who swung the ball around a la Kapil Dev.

Now Marshall was so fast that he would strike even on the most placid of tracks, beating the batsmen in the air. The Caribbean would thus be a handful even in the most demanding of conditions for a fast bowler.

Kapil was different. He was not as quick as Marshall, but his late swing won him several battles. The batsman would be in a perfect position to play the ball and then it would swing away late, often kissing the edge of the blade.

This special delivery was God's gift to Kapil, who had such a copybook side on release. And he could activate this delivery in any condition, such was his mastery over this particular ball.

Now, the late outswinger is one of the most difficult deliveries to bowl in cricket, and if Kapil was an outstanding success on the world stage as a bowler — let's forget his stirring batting deeds for the moment — it was because he could find the outside edge of the bat so often.

I recently watched the India-Australia ODI at Gwalior and it was immediately apparent that unless a paceman could swing the ball around, he would find things extremely difficult on a slow wicket.

I mean, in a limited overs contest, things are loaded even more in favour of the batsmen with the field restrictions in the first 15 overs. Unless a paceman is quick and accurate or can make the ball do things in the air, he stands little chance.

Pakistan's Wasim Akram is a great example when it comes to operating on batsman-friendly pitches. He was a magician with the ball.

Akram had a stinging yorker in his repertoire, a vicious delivery he would send down during the end-overs. However, what made this ball so dangerous was the swing he achieved. I have seen Akram run through sides on the placid Sharjah pitches where the other pacemen would be struggling. It was a lethal combination of pace and swing.

Though he was not quite in the same league as Akram, his pace bowling partner Waqar Younis could bowl deadly yorkers when his team needed them the most. These deliveries were fast and they would swing.

Kapil Dev is a master of swing bowling.-

Talking of genuine movers of the ball, I remember well India's wily Manoj Prabhakar, who could make the ball talk when he got his rhythm right. He was not quick, but his ability to swing the ball both ways, apart from delivering a well disguised yorker, meant that the batsmen could never relax against him.

On the 1989 tour of Pakistan, Prabhakar was at his very best, troubling all the batsmen with movement in the air and off the pitch. In fact, the great Javed Miandad was never comfortable against Prabhakar in the series, and each time Miandad walked in, Prabhakar would come running to me requesting me to give him the ball!

Javagal Srinath is another paceman who has done well on Indian pitches. The fact that he got his deliveries to straighten in the second half of his career helped his cause greatly.

A bowler need not move the ball to a great extent. A little movement either way could do the trick for him. New Zealand's Darryl Tuffey showed us in the recent series that this was not impossible even on a Mohali pitch that had little in it for the pacemen. Tuffey moved the ball just a shade either way off the seam, and emerged with a bagful of wickets from the Test.

Wasim Akram is a master of swing bowling.-

The sub-continent is a challenge for pacemen, but it is a challenge that can be met, provided the bowlers adopt the right methods.

I would also like to take the opportunity in this column to congratulate V.V.S. Laxman for a wonderful comeback into the ODI squad. Laxman has already shown us in this season that he can bat with felicity in any form of cricket.

What stands out in his batting is his sense of timing. Even when he does not strike the ball powerfully, it still races to the fence.

That Laxman can find the gaps so easily suggests that he is always likely to get runs at a fair clip. Having him in the ODI XI offers much solidity to the Indian line-up; a fact that should not be ignored.

I have always been a great believer in quality, and knew it was only a question of time before Laxman found his way back into the Indian one-day side.

Though I was a little disappointed that he fell to an indiscreet stroke when well set against the Kiwis in the Chennai ODI, Laxman gave no room for complaint at Gwalior, where he gathered his runs skilfully at the expense of the Australian attack.

I wish Laxman all the best for future campaigns. He is back, where he belongs.