I just read Andy Roberts’ comments on Munaf Patel’s lack of pace, and I’m a bit confused:
“When he [Munaf] came to the West Indies in 2006, he was quick,” Roberts said. “But now, he is spinning the ball. Ishant Sharma with his height and action was very promising when he began, but now he seems to have lost steam.”
Roberts claims to diagnose a larger ‘problem’ with Indian bowlers: as soon as they make their international debut, a conspiracy of pressure and know-it-all coaches convince them to change their style. The evidence comes in a batch of three: Irfan Pathan (who famously disintegrated during the last West Indies tour); Munaf Patel, and Ishant Sharma. The reason I’m confused by this critique is that Patel’s recent performance cannot be impeached; the guy was the third highest wicket-taker at the World Cup and has an average in the low-20s over the past dozen games.
I suspect the source of this criticism — and the reaction it provoked from Javagal Srinath and Roger Binny — may come arise from two subtle undercurrents: 1) Indians are generally sensitive to claims their pace bowlers aren’t really ‘pace’ bowlers. Foreign bowlers are routinely described as ‘fast,’ but ours are ‘medium fast’ or simply ‘medium.’ This wouldn’t be a problem, but there’s a large segment of cricket fans who connect pace with masculinity, and not hurling a ball down the pitch is apparently a girly thing to do. The insecurity is compounded by Hindu-Muslim relations; I’ve often heard it said the best cricket team would combine Pakistan’s bowlers with India’s batsmen.
And 2) Roberts has just come off a tour promoting the new cricket documentary Fire in Babylon. For those who’ve resisted my (and others’) countless reviews, the film basically is a paean to ultra-fast bowling, exemplified by the likes of Roberts and Holding et al. Roberts unabashedly argues his fast bowling was merely giving back to Whites (particularly the Australians) what they had dished out for decades. So, for him to see fast bowlers not use pace but guile and mystery to achieve the same ends — i.e., taking wickets — must be difficult. And indeed, that has always been my central problem with Roberts’ kind of argument: in order to defeat the West, we have to imitate it. That line of thinking leads to less creativity and a benchmark not at all suited to diversity and self-expression.