Category Archives: Bowlers

Murali and Swann, Together At Last

This has been making the web rounds lately. Great video: Murali and Swann try to knock a coin off a glass perched on an off-stump. Enjoy.


The Munaf Patel ‘Spin’ Question

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.


A History Of Cricket’s “Twirlymen”

The Economist reviews a new book on the history of spin bowling. An interesting point to note:

Spin bowlers are the game’s revolutionaries. Even their mysterious lexicon—googlies, Chinamen, flippers, doosras—suggests constant innovation. When the googly was first unleashed at the end of the 19th century, batsmen huffed that it wasn’t in the spirit of the game because they couldn’t tell which way the ball was about to spin.

You see these protests about bowling methods from time to time. In recent history, we have seen controversies over the doosra and reverse-swing fast bowling, debates made all the more intractable and difficult by racial/post-colonial issues (i.e., West v. South Asia). That’s not to say opposition to these deliveries is prima facie racial or motivated by less-than-honorable motives. It just helps explain why we get so touchy when these issues arise.

Bowlers Or Batsmen: Who Are More Intelligent?

During Day 2 of the West Indies-Pakistan Test, Rameez Raja and Ian Bishop began an interesting discussion about Wahab Riaz’s action. The specific discovery that triggered the topic — Riaz’s angled wrist position — wasn’t what caught my attention. It was more Raja’s tone. He asked Bishop, his voice conveying genuine bemusement, why it was so hard for a bowler to slightly change the delivery angle of his hand. Surely, this was something relatively easy, no? So why hadn’t it been done? To be fair, Raja later qualified his remarks, but his undercurrent was clear: Are bowlers dumb? Why can’t they do a simple thing like change their action? 

When we say cricket is a batsman’s game, we not only mean the rules give them the upper hand, but also that they are the main attraction — the elite of society. By contrast, bowlers are generally depicted as creatures of habit. Like the underclass, they are unappreciated and expected to toil under a hot sun while the batsman lounges in his crease and decides a ball’s fate. (This bias may be encouraged by modern commentary. I haven’t studied this closely enough, but I’ll bet the ratio of batsmen to bowlers in the media box clearly tips to the former.)

Think of the language we use to discuss batsmen — their technique, especially. Raja’s question about Riaz’s wrist implied that, compared to fixing a batsman’s technique, bowlers face relatively easy puzzles. A batsman has to work on his defensive game by learning proper footwork and a level head, but a bowler just needs to make minor adjustments to his action, which they then can repeat endlessly on a loop, for God’s sake.  (Ian Bishop gave a meandering reply, but he noted that for many coaches, the toughest thing is to decide what to leave in a player’s arsenal, and what to change. Imagine trying to shift or reform a golfer’s swing — the danger is that if you insist on changing one thing, some other problem will emerge as the athlete adjusts.)

This reminds me of something Wasim Akram once said about batsman-captains. He noted that, during a bad bowling spell, they would often run up to him and offer useless bromides like, “Good line and length, Wasim.” And he would wonder, “Yes, but why am I not hitting a good line and length right now?” A related problem is that we have words and vocabulary to describe a batsman’s failure — he’s out of form, say, or his stance makes him liable to particular balls (short, yorkers, in-swingers, whatever). But for bowlers, we still rely on vague — almost mystical — notions like “rhythm.” Why a bowler does well on one day and badly the next is still largely a mystery to me. Why a bowler suddenly finds swing, and otherwise not (a la Irfan Pathan) — let’s just say I suspect it has more to do than the position of his wrist.

Goodbye To Shane Warne

From Mike Selvey, of The Guardian:

No bowler in the game’s history can so much have mastered the dark psychological art that all great spin bowlers have. Warne teased, and talked. He got under the skin. He took the mickey and insulted, the coat cut according to the cloth. “Come on Ramps,” he mocked Mark Ramprakash at Trent Bridge, “you know you want to.” Eventually the batsman contained himself no longer, left his crease to hit over the top and was stumped. The manner in which, single-handed, Warne psyched England to defeat in Adelaide in 2006-07 was something that surely no other cricketer could have done.

G’bye, Warnie.

Slow-Motion Michael Holding

This footage had a special moment in Fire in Babylon (the last time I bring this up, I promise!): slow-motion Michael Holding, a.k.a. Whispering Death. This YouTube video should have more than 140,000 views, people. Watch until a little past the first minute:

“Some bowlers are ugly, some who are beautiful. This fellow, I think, is magnificent.”

A Little-Known Indian Bowler Makes It Big At The IPL

A second IPL fairy tale story (after P. Valthaty, of course). Meet Prashant Parameswaran:

Bagging the prize wicket of Delhi’s star batsmen and captain Virender Sehwag and prolific scorer Venugopal Rao, this 25-year-old left-arm pacer played a pivotal role in Kochi’s win. His rise to fame has been remarkable as he never thought he would be part of the Kochi Tuskers team.

Speaking to Gulf News, S. Ramesh, Director of the Kerala Cricket Academy in Thiruvananthapuram, said: “Parameswaran will rank among the best pacers in South India. He is very promising and will go a long way.”

Born in Thannermukkom, a village in Alapuzzha district, the tall Parameswaran had come to Kochi Tuskers training camp as a net practice bowler.

Kochi coach Geoff Lawson wanted a left-arm pacer to bowl at his batsmen and was impressed by Parameswaran’s bowling.

As I’ve said before, watching small-fame Indian players get a shot at fame — no matter how fleeting — rests among the more palatable attractions of the IPL. Stories like the one above also help answer my previous question — why do domestic players get involved with the IPL?

Sreesanth’s Ayurvedic Treatment

This is about two years late, but I wanted to ask: does anyone know how wise Sreesanth’s decision was to opt for ayuverda instead of recommended shoulder surgery? This is what he told Cricinfo in 2008:

“I am feeling good and the ayurvedic treatment I underwent at Coimbatore really helped,” Sreesanth said. “Though all the surgeons I consulted did speak about the need to undergo surgery, I thought I would try ayurveda and believe me, I have recovered well. I would have lost six months if I had undergone surgery but now I have gained some time and I am able to bowl, bat and even throw, which was a bit of a problem earlier on.”

At the time, I joined in with a loud chorus in mocking Sreesanth. But as I’ve learned more about American health care, and the s0-called bio-medical industrial complex, I’ve grown more curious in the validity of “alternative” treatments. This skepticism may be less pronounced in India, but in America, my sense is that anything not recommended by a white coat in a shiny hospital is seen as fringe and hippy-ish.

But, again, recall Robin Utthapa’s testimony:

“Surgery in itself was a difficult one for me. I never had a fracture, I never wore a cast, I never had stitches, never been on general anaesthesia, never had a nerve block, and now I had all of it in one day,” Uthappa told Bangalore Mirror. “I had a cast right up to my forearm, a sling. I never ever experienced such excruciating pain in my life. I was on narcotics for 20 days, sitting and slouching on bed, passing out almost all the time, and then you lose shape.”

So my question is: has Sreesanth injured his shoulder since 2008? Did he go back and opt for surgery after all?

Imitating Bowlers’ Actions

Did anyone else catch the IPL4 moment when a bowler — I think it was Manpreet Gony — used Lasith Malinga’s ‘slinga’ action instead of his own? As I remember it, the experiment didn’t work so well, with the balls landing wide off the off-stump. But I recall a certain amount of shock: a bowler’s action is his signature, almost his DNA. It’s exceedingly rare to see one bowler’s action look like another (Munaf Patel currently tops my list for Glenn McGrath impersonations).

So, for example, you will notice, as I wrote earlier, that every bowler has a personal habit — Malinga kisses the ball; Sreesanth has to put his hands out and calm himself; M. Morkel has to do a semi-circle before he begins his run-up; H. Singh has to cast his arms back (which Vettori kindly mocked at one point during the Ind-N.Z. series). Bowlers are creatures of habit — they have to do the same thing over and over again, and it helps if they can focus on the tiny things they need to change (a hint of swing, a change in line), rather than what needs to stay constant (their action). It’s always shocking, then, to see bowlers do strange things and abandon routine, as Gony did.

Anyway: I recall imitating a bowler’s action to be one of the chief delights of alley cricket. I remember pompously telling a friend — I was in 5th grade, mind you — that my decision to bowl like Allan Donald had clearly delivered measurable improvements. Imitating Kumble and Srinath was also a particular favorite — Srinath’s action was incredibly complicated but also beautiful in its flow. Which action did you guys pick?

An Old Cricket TV Convention I Miss

Is it just me, or do cricket broadcasts now rarely show a bowler’s run-up? I seem to recall, in bygone days, watching the slow-motion shot of a fast bowler (from front and side) approaching the crease and finishing his follow-through. It was always a lovely thing to see, because bowling is such an unnatural thing to do (and even more unnatural to do well). It was also educational — commentators usually pointed out problems in a run-up, or after a delivery, that needed to be changed. (On that note, has anyone else noticed how Ishant Sharma seems to do a mini-stumble after he bowls? Or is this just me?)

Anyway, cricket broadcast world, bring this feature back. Maybe even play it during those strategy time-outs? Just a thought.