It is not difficult to imagine what would be going through the minds of the batsmen who take guard against a top class bowler like Dale Steyn. Any batsman on strike would only try to steal a single so as to be comfortably placed as a non striker by the time the next ball is bowled. Any bowler, if he succeeds in creating such panic in the minds of the batsmen, can be logically referred to as a fast bowler.
Among the present lot of fast bowlers, I feel Dale Steyn is the only one who has got that sort of pace which can traumatize the players facing him. It is quite evident how good a bowler he is from the way he has been bowling for Deccan Chargers in the ongoing IPL. The batsmen all over the world seem to have developed jitters when they are pitted against a bowler who bowls constantly at a pace of 150 plus km/hr every time.
State of fast bowling in the present era
However, when you take a bowler like Steyn out of the equation, as of now, there are not that many bowlers, existing in the world, who look menacing. It is a real pity to see the absence of genuine pace bowlers in the modern era. The batsmen in the present era are having a less difficult time as a result of this situation. I’m not sure how likely it would be for the modern day batsmen to score at the same rate as they have been doing now if they were to play fast bowlers from the previous eras.
The fast bowlers have been vanishing gradually ever since and right now it has become a rare sight to see them in any form of the game. Even West Indies, a team that produced genuine fast bowlers for a long time are nowadays dwelling on the spinners and slow bowlers to pick up wickets. I’m unable to figure out the reason behind the dearth in fast bowlers among the present generation.
The shortage of genuine faster bowlers has lessened the viewer’s interests in test matches. Nowadays people have labelled tests as very “uninteresting”. The reason for this is pretty simple. Most of the times they have seen enough of the bat dominating the ball in all versions of cricket and to see it again and that too for all of five days is definitely nothing short of boring.
Probable reasons for the absence of genuine pacers
Now let us analyse the reasons for the shortage of genuine pacers. Apart from selective pitches, there aren’t many pitches in the world which offer assistance to bounce and seam movement. The flat pitches have become a graveyard for fast bowlers and so the youngsters nowadays are not getting any assistance whatsoever. In fact, I feel this is one of the prime reasons.
Secondly, the art of fast bowling had undergone drastic changes in the last few years. The so called fast bowlers who followed the likes of the West Indian greats have really slowed down. Majority of them had learnt to surprise batsmen by bowling disguised slower ones, leg cutters, off spinners, etc and in fact with that sort of variations, they were able to constantly fox the batsmen into fetching wickets. So, as time went by, the fast bowlers started to give less importance to pace as they were able to take wickets without having to bend their backs on a consistent basis.
Also, the the cricket calender gets more and more cluttered by the year and if players have to be injury-free they cannot keep on bowling express deliveries. During the good old days, since the amount of fixtures used to be much lesser, the bowlers could not afford to relax and produce faster balls day in and day out. This is not the case now and so players cannot be completely blamed for not bowling faster. I reckon this could also be a reason for the decrease in fast bowlers over time.
Genuine fast bowlers of late 80s and early 90s
Hither and thither, we have seen genuine pace bowlers such as Dale Steyn but the problem is they are only a handful of such individuals left. We have had the privilege of watching bowlers such as Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram from Pakistan in their prime and not to forget the legendary West Indian duo of Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose. No matter how good and economical they were, the batsmen were able to negotiate their deliveries quite intelligently. Atleast there was always a chance of survival, may be a bit more than what it used to be, when the Australian and West Indies bowlers were breathing fire during 1970s and better part of 1980s.
Since I cited the example of Dale Steyn when I started writing this article, going through the pedigree of fast bowlers, if I have to equate another bowler with him, then only man that comes to mind is the ‘White Lightning’, Allan Donald. The way his ball uprooted the off stump of Sachin Tendulkar in a test match at Durban in 1996 and the one which shattered the off stump of Mike Atherton, a few years later, linger in my memory. Except the batsman who gets dismissed by getting clean bowled, every other person, not to mention the bowler himself, enjoys the scene whenever the stumps go flying. Donald was one bowler who rearranged the stumps many a times during his playing days and if I had to pick a bowler as threatening as Dale Steyn, it has to be him. Of course Shane Bond was another genuine quickie in the footsteps of Richard Hadlee but his career was jolted by injuries more often than not. Since the bowling action of Shoaib Akthar had always come under scrutiny, I have not bothered excluding them in the elite list of pace bowlers.
A glimmer of hope
But, anyway, talking about the present, it is good to see one genuine fast bowler in the present age. The fast bowlers, in my mind, can be considered as lethal only when they have the ability to pick up maximum wickets on their own without the assistance of the fielders or through mistakes committed by the batsmen. I mean a person who gets wickets by bowling a batsman out comprehensively or by winning a plumb lbw decision, can be called, in my opinion, a genuine pace bowler and we can see that quality in Dale Steyn. I wouldn’t hesitate in comparing him with the West Indies greats of the past and so I am over-joyed to see such a bowler in an era dominated by the batsmen. But one such fast bowler is not enough. We require a lot more bowlers in the same vein. Seeing Steyn’s spell in IPL, I hope, like how a small spark could induce a bush fire, youngsters get motivated and take us back to the era which were dominated by great fast bowlers.
Let the era return
When the golden period of fast bowling returns, pace bowlers will get more respect and the batsmen, with all due respect, cannot fool around by playing, scoops, reverse sweeps, switch hits etc. Nowadays, crossing 10000 runs in both tests and ODI’s for many a batsman seems to be a walk in the park but if they had to take on bowlers like Steyn, most of the batsmen would have retired even before scoring half of those runs.