Saturday, February 23, 2013

Ishant's greatest trick

Ishant Sharma is playing his 48th test match for India. He has137 Wickets at an average of 38 and a strike rate of 67.6. At the moment, among bowlers who have bowled more than 9000 balls in test cricket and one who plays as a specialist bowler, he is probably the worst pace bowler and one of the worst bowlers ever. Go through his records series by series -  a few good one-off matches or series thrown in along with a lot of poor returns. What is worse is that his record is not getting any better - it is becoming worse !
I have nothing personal against him. His spell at Perth will forever be a part of Indian cricketing lore. But the guy is literally - learning to bowl at the highest stage. He is not good enough for test cricket at the moment. But it is the selectors who need to be questioned for giving him 48 test matches (and counting). Maybe we don't have better options but till we try newcomers we will never know. Why does he keep getting chances over and over again and others don't get a game ? Is it because he is still perceived to be "promising" and "talented" ?
It is all very confusing, but I think Mr. Kevin Spacey sums it up very well. The bloke has gone under the radar.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Vernon Philander: The Template

49 All out. Pakistan have just been decimated by Dale Steyn and company. Right now, South Africa have one of the best pace bowling line ups of the last 30 years. Steyn, Philander and Morkel are quite a trio.
As an Indian fan, I look at them with a great deal of envy. I mean look at them - Dale Steyn is a magnificient athlete. He runs in beautifully - possibly the most beautiful to watch fast bowler since Michael Holding, bowls at a terrific pace - almost always above 140 Kmph, and he swings the ball at that pace. It is quite simply a lethal combination - one that has taken him to be an all time great. Ladies and gentleman, we have a living legend in our midst here. 
Then I look at Morne Morkel and I see a really tall, hostile fast bowler, who is damn awkward to handle. He is a great foil to Steyn, asks different questions to the batsman and what is more, he is getting better and better.
So, as I said I look at Steyn and Morkel, with a sort of envy, and realise that it is almost impossible to see fast bowlers of their style playing for India. I just cannot imagine seeing an Indian fast bowler that quite bowl with both the pace AND swing of Steyn. I also can't imagine too many bowlers with Morkel's build being found in India - the closest we have seen recently is Ishant and well we all know how he has gone.
Vernon God Little
Then I look at Philander and I say - hang on - this guy is not THAT big and tall. He is not that quick also - generally bowls in the 130s, we can do that you know. I can see he is extremely fit and all that - but as a physical specimen, he is not quite outside the realms of possibility for an Indian pace bowler. But as you all know - he has one of the most staggering records in world cricket right now ! 74 wickets @ 17.40 in 13 test matches ! And he has already toured England and Australia. Yes, he will tour the subcontinent and yes, his bowling average will go up eventually, but despite that we are seeing a miraculous test match career developing.
So, what is it that makes him so special ? Well, experts have analysed and questioned him, but he seems to be doing a fair job in continuing to take wickets with his methods. Which are : Bowl from close to the stumps (without running down the centre of the pitch in his follow through), bowl an extremely tight line and length with metronomic accuracy, swing the ball at a decent, not sensational, but decent pace, make the batsman play often, aim to hit the stumps often etc etc. Most good bowlers have some of these qualities, but only the very good are able to consistently deliver them - over and over again.
Philander's success doesn't mean that it is the only method to succeed for a pace bowler - as I have written before - Steyn and Morkel are different but successful pace bowlers. However, to me, Philander provides the best, most likely to be replicated template for an Indian pace bowler. To me, there is much to learn and copy from this man's bowling for Indian pace bowlers. A Steyn or an Akram might be great role model to have, but I believe that in Philander, a lot of India's young pace bowlers can find a bowling template to follow. I am not asking those blessed with the gift of pace - Umesh Yadav or Varun Aaron to go out and become medium pacers, but a number of our other pace bowlers such as Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ashok Dinda, Shami Ahmed or even a Praveen Kumar can look at Philander's success and take the right lessons from it. 
Vernon Philander's skills have been developed by playing a lot of good, competitive - first class cricket and bowling a lot of balls on sporting pitches. One would hope that our young fast bowlers get similar opportunities in our domestic cricket and go for the odd county stint as well, because for most, there is no substitute for bowling a lot to become a very good pace bowler.
Pic: Courtesy -

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