Category Archives: Bowlers

Harbhajan Singh The Truckdriver

Rahul Dravid makes Harbhajan Singh interesting:

To have played 100 Tests for India is proof of both effort and determination, and Harbhajan has overcome many obstacles in getting this far. Between the time he made his debut for India and his 2001 breakout series, he ran into trouble at the NCA, had difficulties with his action, was dropped from the team, and lost his father, which made him the sole earning member of his family at 20. I remember talking to him about that time, and he told me that he had had thought of migrating to the US and earning a livelihood driving trucks [emphasis added].

Two points: one, it’s very rare for cricketers to talk in specific terms about the sacrifices — and, often, the impossibly difficult choices — they have to make. Every young kid in India wants to be a national cricketer, but you have to be a little insane to still want it after you become a teenager and realize the arduous path to achieving the goal. You have to be completely crazy to pursue cricket (especially in pre-IPL money days) when you know that your family could face potential ruin if you fail.

Two: Rahul Dravid is an incredible writer; a much better writer than commentator (in my view). I take a dim view of the recent trend to turn the commentary squad into a band of ex-cricketers; often times, I think amateurs and ardent spectators make for better dialogue. But if we must have ex-cricketers, then I want them to do what Dravid does — to explain the strange, surreal world of being an international cricketer without devolving into pointless nostalgia (a la Gavaskar), worn-out catch-phrases (a la Shastri) or braggadocio (a la Shane Warne). For all the new camera angles and HD technology, the experience of being a modern sportsmen remains a mystery to most. Dravid has made me understand Harbhajan just a little better now. (Which isn’t to say I loathe him any less.)

 

 

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The Poetry Of Bishen Bedi

Taken from here; inspired by this; [and a previous post on the poetry of Waqar Younis]:

————-

When you buy a shirt,

A pair of trousers,

How do you buy it?

It is very simple:

You

give

a

few

runs,

You

buy

a

wicket.

——————–

Flight is a trajectory,

It is a loop It is

Quickish in the air

But,

It has a rainbow effect.

——————–

If the batsman is shaking his head

While negotiating the spinning ball,

Then advantage bowler.

If you are setting a field for bad bowling,

Advantage batsmen.

———————-

“Right areas” is not on the 22 yards of the playing surface;

“Right areas” is the six inches between your ears.

You have to plan a strategy;

You have to plan a man out.

——————–

What is the job of the batsmen?

To score runs.

What is the job of the bowler?

To get wickets.

The Infuriating Case Of Parvinder Awana

I don’t follow domestic Indian cricket as closely as others, so I don’t know as much as I should about promising prospects for the national side. As a result, Parvinder Awana is pretty much a stranger to me, even though he’s apparently been on people’s radars since at least 2004. While Awana, the latest Indian fast bowler messiah (after Ishant, Varun Aaron, Umesh Yadav, Sreesanth, Munaf, etc.) may fully deserve his place in India’s international squad, I think his journey to selection shows what’s wrong with India’s planning process. Evidence:

Awana expected to be on the plane to the Caribbean for an A tour after the IPL [in 2011-2012], but was overlooked by the selectors…However, an injury to RP Singh opened a slot for Awana. He played one game on tour and took three wickets. He was overlooked again for the A tour of New Zealand but was picked for the A team’s match against England at Brabourne Stadium. He went wicketless, but his two five-fors this Ranji season were a timely reminder of his talents.

Ideally, you’d have a system that spotted talent in young players and then nurtured it through a testing process that ultimately leads to an international debut. Instead, what I think we have in India is a haphazard system that flirts with a promising player but then insists on making the courtship as stormy as possible. Awana misses out on an ‘A’ tour — basically, among the more surer ways of finding a spot in India’s national team — to R.P. Singh, last seen plucked from a Miami nightclub to play against the English. Singh then disappears; Awana takes three wickets but cannot secure a spot on the next A tour (but he does get called for the tour after that).

The Indian team has done something similar (and equally annoying) in the past: it will pick a player as part of a touring squad. This player will not get a game, and he will then be dropped for the next tour. It’s never clear why this happened — did the player not show any promise in nets? Did he piss someone off? I don’t know if Awana will get a game soon — Dinda probably deserves first pick — but I’d hate to see Awana then fall back into IPL obscurity, or worse, into the level of hell where V.R.V. Singh now lives.

The Poetry Of Waqar Younis

From this (and inspired by this):

Sometimes it is good not to know

Too many things.

When you see a fast bowler trying too many things

It is not good for his future.

I was lucky that I knew only one thing:

To bowl fast.

——-

Big bananas come out of his hand.

——-

Yes, the pitches are flat,

They are slow,

But you have to learn.

We learned it too.

——-

Remember this:

It is not swinging the ball,

It is about dipping the ball.

And when you have a side-on action,

The ball dips more.

——-

What is tampering?

Is applying Vaseline or creams on the ball tampering?

Is scratching the ball tampering?

Is picking the seam tampering?

All these are ways of tampering.

——-

By the time you take that final leap,

You know what you are doing.

 

The Stages Of A Fast Bowler’s Life

I remember little from middle school, but I do recall a lesson on the Hindu conception of the stages of life. (Hint: you eventually reject life and wander the hills as an ascetic.) It seems fast bowlers go through an evolution as well, until they reach the final stage — a place currently occupied by the likes of Lasith Malinga and Zaheer Khan. It is here that bowlers learn (cue sonorous zen master voice) that to beat a batsman, you must first learn how to think like one.  And not only do you understand batsmen, you have the skill and control to execute the arcs of your plans.

Listen to the way commentators talk when Khan or Malinga run to the crease. They talk about each ball as if it’s part of a specific plan; it’s all evidence of a master plan — and watching it unfold over the course of a few overs is watching a master at his craft. He controls everything in his domain and the batsmen have little hope to do more than survive. I had this impression last night; Malinga bowled slower full balls; slower short balls; fast yorkers; slow yorkers; fast short balls — apart from a bad wide, I didn’t think the batsmen were going to make it. (They didn’t.)

I think these types of bowlers are much more respected than those like Dale Steyn. Don’t get me wrong; Steyn is a great bowler with a similar level of control. But he relies on sheer pace, and he hasn’t been through the trial and tribulation Malinga or Khan have. Steyn is all about innate talent; Malinga and Khan are about bowling within very strict limitations. Wasim Akram may have been the first true fast bowler guru who understood mortality and ascended to nirvana; he shortened his run-up, figured out how to hold a ball, and then knew exactly where it would land and what it would do. All those who follow are reincarnations.

Lay Off Saeed Ajmal

Here we go again: another South Asian off-spinner takes a few wickets (at the hands of some clueless white men), and the commentators start yapping about his action. Saeed Ajmal gave the performance of his career after a week of breathing fire to anyone who would listen. Matt Prior had the decency to say he couldn’t care less about his action, but here’s Bob Willis:

“The delivery that I have a problem with is the doosra,” Willis said. “The ICC have accommodated this delivery; they changed the rules to allow these bowlers to bend their elbow 15 degrees, which is what makes it so difficult for the batsmen.

“The authorities are now allowing these mystery spinners, unorthodox offspinners to bend their elbow to a degree. If they are going to be allowed to do that then England have to address this and decide whether we should be teaching our young spinners to bowl like that as well.”

Let me say this once more: the rules were not changed to accommodate any specific type of player. They were changed because the science showed that it was impossible for the human eye to see any inflexion below 15 degrees. I know that Willis — and many, many others — refuse to accept this tale, but to indulge in silly conspiracy theories makes them sound, well, positively South Asian. If you believe the ICC committee that decided this rule based its decision on something other than science, then show me the evidence.

And here’s some pseudo-science from the Daily Mail, which purports to do what an independent ICC panel didn’t and make the case against Ajmal’s arm. I’m not sure taking a crappy picture and putting an angle on Ajmal’s arm is going to beat the 3D modeling the ICC panel used, but at this point, I’d rather stick with the authorities than a tabloid. The real danger is that these people will do to Ajmal what they did to Murali; that is, it’ll come to the point that even when commentators finally agree about the validity of his action, they’ll still bring it up to say it’s cleared, only serving to reinforce the ambiguity behind the whole affair.

Let’s nip this in the bud, people, and enjoy the prospect of an overseas defeat for England. Let the revenge begin!

One More Quick Note On the Indian Cricket Transition

So far, the most criticism has come in for India’s batsmen. That makes sense because of the scorecards, as well as Dhoni’s own self-diagnosis (that the bowlers did their jobs, but the batsmen did not). But we shouldn’t forget that India’s bowling line-up is also on a fine edge and that solving its problems will likely be harder than anything else.

Kartikeya (over at A Cricketing View) knows the data and arguments better than I do, but once Zaheer Khan goes — which can’t be long, given his injury-prone body — we could see repeat after repeat of the England tour. In Melbourne and Perth, the Indian bowlers did reasonably well (barring David Warner’s innings, there would have been little to choose between the two sides), but I’m not entirely convinced Ishant Sharma, R. Ashwin or Vinay Kumar are the answer. (I’m happy with Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron, but I’d like to see how those fast bowlers handle the rigors of international circuit.)

Are we happy with Ohja or Harbhajan? Who will lead our pace department once Zaheer goes? We have suggestions for improving the batting side because Indians know how to bat (generally). But to deal with the bowlers, we’ll need to start talking a little bit more about our cricket academies, our flat pitches and whether or not the IPL is getting in the way of bowlers touring English counties.

 

How Weak Cricket Teams Take Wickets

While Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid were holding off the Australian attack just after tea on Day 2, Sourav Ganguly and Tom Moody raised the question that has haunted Australian cricket for the past few years: How do they take wickets without Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath?

Moody responded with an interesting thought he didn’t complete. “They have to find other ways to take wickets,” he said. That may sound obvious, but the larger question is more interesting: how do you change strategies to better take advantage of mediocre/good talents (as opposed to the once great ones you had)? How do you best manage declining talent?

They say that the tennis player Brad Gilbert (who went on to coach Agassi and others) never had any great weapon in his arsenal (no big serve, or forehand, or anything like that). Instead, he consistently stayed among the best by running around the court, forcing opponents into long rallies and ruining their rhythm. That’s what I’m talking about: when you don’t have great players, how do you find other ways to win games?

This is a lesson Australian cricket hasn’t yet been able to answer. Take, for example, Australia’s disastrous two-Test tour of India in 2008. At one point, the Australians decided they would remove a huge deficit by simply attacking, an approach that worked when the batting line-up included Adam Gilchrist at 7. This time, though, it fell flat on its face and they lost wickets quickly.  They looked like a gang of over-aged bullies.

So what do you do instead? What teams do you know that out-perform their individual team members’ averages? (Pakistan, maybe?) I don’t know enough about cricket to answer, but I imagine the answer involves more patience, less attacking; more restrictive fields that build pressure rather look for striking gold; more variety in bowling…? Send any feedback to Cricket Australia, please.

So Long, Varun Aaron

When Varun Aaron was first picked, I worried he would soon join the list of injured Indian fast bowlers. And so he has:

The 22-year-old, whose fastest delivery has been clocked at 153km/h, has succumbed to a back injury, just a fortnight after making his Test debut against the West Indies in Mumbai.

Aaron is the second first-choice fast bowler to pull out of the Indian squad after Praveen Kumar suffered a rib injury a fortnight ago.

The back injury is a worry; ultra-fast bowlers typically get them and occasionally have to change their action as a result. And meanwhile, we still don’t know what’s going on with Ishant Sharma. So, no Aaron, no Kumar, possibly no Ishant — and Zaheer still iffy. This will be a long winter. (I will not include a long-standing plea for cricket-crush Irfan Pathan to rescue us from our latest quagmire.)

India’s Vaunted Injury Management System

After the 4-0 drubbing in England, the BCCI bigwigs said the most pressing objective was to improve India’s injury management system. During the tour, journalists gushed over the system in place in England, which apparently watches its players like hawks and mandates everything they can do and eat and sing and dance (etc.) to keep them match-fit. So, how close are we to that ideal? Let’s take a look at the recent announcement that Praveen Kumar will not make it to Australia:

According to the original BCCI media release sent on Monday evening, Praveen had been ruled out only for the first three ODIs of the West Indies series. This came after Virender Sehwag, the stand-in India captain, had said on the eve of the Cuttack ODI that Praveen would be available for the second match on December 3 as he was suffering from “a niggle”.

It is understood the selectors were not aware of Praveen’s original injury when they had picked him in the squads for the two series. “On the day of the selection, if there is no adverse fitness report then you assume they are fit,” a BCCI official told ESPNcricinfo. “If you have not reported you are unfit you are assumed to be fit.” According to him the turn of events in Praveen’s case caught the selection committee completely by surprise. “The selectors only came to know a day after the Mumbai Test (which ended three days ago).”

I’ll say this much: we’ve made progress in that Praveen’s injury hasn’t come to light during the actual tour, but about one month before it. Just so people are clear about the stakes: We still aren’t sure about Zaheer Khan’s fitness, which means we could send a bowling attack to one of the biggest cricket series of the year led by Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron. Granted, Australia’s own team has been beset by injuries, but I’m still very, very worried.