'We've to encourage fast bowlers'

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

ANDY ROBERTS was known as a very crafty fast bowler. It was not just the speed but also his skills with the ball that made him such a successful fast bowler.

V. V. KRISHNAN

Along with Michael Holding, he formed a lethal combination and was instrumental in fashioning some great triumphs for the West Indies. The first Antiguan to play for the West Indies, Roberts, who took 202 Test wickets at an average of 25.61, shared his experiences with The Sportstar during the fourth Test.

What have you to say about the progress fast bowling has made from the time you stopped playing?

I think the West Indies was able to maintain some good fast bowlers for about six years after I retired. After that it just seems to have waned. It isn't encouraging any more in the region to become a fast bowler. The coaches and captains focus more on bowlers who can keep it tight and feel that it would be able to keep the pressure on the opponents. It's simple. If we want to get back fast bowlers we've to learn to encourage fast bowlers.

Can just speed be the deciding factor for a fast bowler?

It can't be the only factor but it can be the deciding factor in certain circumstances. That's where you start work. That's where you need to put in that extra yard and work on the other elements of bowling fast.

How does one add a yard or two?

You have to have it first because not everybody can bowl fast. If you see someone with pace, you have to encourage him to bowl fast. As they grow older, they'll start to learn the art, the craft, try movements, try variations, try to swing the ball or cut the ball but the initial thing that you must have is pace.

How would you have adapted to today's cricket with the batsmen so secure with the protective gear?

The helmets came in while I was still playing. The arm guard had just started and the chest guard had been there for a long time. But I think the advent of all this protective gear has stifled the technique of many batsmen. Because they don't look at the ball as much as they used to in the past.

How much importance did you give to the state of the pitches?

Not much, really. Might be on the subcontinent we didn't get pitches with pace but pace will survive anywhere because the ball is quicker through the air than off the pitch. It never bothered me because I knew I was quick enough to beat the batsmen on pace through the air. That's the way we need to look at.

What makes a fast bowler lethal?

Some bowlers get the ball to bounce from a good length and those are the lethal bowlers. Like Jeff Thomson. He could get the ball to bounce from very close to the batsman.

Any difference or similarity between the bowlers of your era and those of today?

A lot of difference. Big difference. (Shoaib) Akhtar and (Brett) Lee are two genuine fast bowlers in today's game. I don't think they are as quick as those genuine quick bowlers of the era in which I was playing. But by today's standards they're extremely quick.

It was said that you had two bouncers. Would you tell us about them?

Just that there was a little bit of extra in one of the bouncers. That's something you had to plan. I would know two balls before I bowled them. I always knew what next I had to bowl to rattle the batsmen.

How did you read the batsmen to bowl the bouncer at the right time?

I didn't like batsmen getting on front foot. I tried to push them back. Any batsman committed to be on the front foot would ask for a bouncer. If he was playing on the backfoot I wouldn't bother much.

What is the overall standard of fast bowling today?

Declined. You have a number of bowlers who can bowl a consistent line outside the off stump but I don't think they are anywhere close in pace. The focus is more on containment and that's not a fast bowler's job at all. His job is to get wickets. They look for containing the batsmen to create pressure on them and hope to get them when they try to score runs.

You never bowled to contain.

I did in one-day cricket but in Test cricket I bowled to get the batsmen out.

What motivated you to bowl fast?

I needed no motivation at all to do that. At the time I was young I can't remember doing anything but bowling fast. And I always strove to be the best. Later on I switched to control and swing.

Can a fast bowler be crafty?

Yes, he can certainly be. He can bring in variation. Vary the pace, use the crease. Some deliveries you bowl from behind the crease. You set batsmen up.

Best batsmen you bowled to?

There were quite a few of them actually. It would depend on various factors. I never had a chance to bowl to Viv (Richards) in Test cricket but he was the best batsman I've played with or against. Sunil (Gavaskar) was a great player. Barry Richards was a good player. Ian Chappell, Javed Miandad, they were all very good batsmen. Outstanding. They scored in any conditions. It differs today. You have a number of batsmen who score very heavily in one condition and really fail to score in another condition. All in all, cricket has changed in the last 15 to 20 years.

What would you like a youngster to remember most?

You have got to love what you do. Put your all into it, make sacrifices to be the best that you can be.