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An ode to fast bowlers - the warhorses of cricket

A brief write up about the fast bowling aspect in Cricket

The Great West Indies Attack
Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Colin Croft and Joel Garner

?“I am a warrior. I take fast bowling more seriously than anything else.”

 – Sir Andy Roberts

Fast bowling is by far the most demanding and excruciating aspect of cricket. The vast amount of raw energy that the fast bowler has to put while steaming in to bowl, and the force of the impact that the knee as well as the landing foot has to tolerate every single delivery are both phenomenal and astounding.

A fast bowler puts a great deal on the line every time he is handed the ball. The tremendous torque that the bowling arm has to generate and the pressure on the shoulder and the elbow joint are insanely high. Pacers are perhaps the mentally toughest characters on the cricket field.

A fast bowler may be down and out with an injury, but call him to the bowling mark and he will shed all the pain and give his hundred percent. Most fast bowlers have played their entire career with fractures, torn muscles or snapped bones .

The most important thing to note is their undying love for the game. They rise stronger every time they are forced out due to injury; they give so much physically to the game. People like Shoaib Akhtar and Brett Lee (to name a few) have actually have had bone shards surgically removed from their foot and bones chipped off so that they could elongate their careers.

It is not uncommon to see a fast bowler returning back to battle against medical advice even after going through five or more sets of operations. This speaks volumes about their character and the passion to bowl, and to bowl with serious pace and aggression.

Shoaib Akhtar (L) and Brett Lee (R) the fastest bowlers of their era
Shoaib Akhtar and Brett Lee

“You do need some type of element that borderlines on hyperactivity or craziness. You have to have a very strong mindset to be a bowler. Great to bowl spin, great to be a batsmen. But to see the stumps fly when you deceive the batsmen is the most exciting”

 – Brett Lee

Fast bowlers are the first to be thrown into the battle. Be it Test cricket, one-day cricket or T20 cricket, if you have a premier fast bowler in your ranks then you can rest assured that he will be the first one to adorn the mantle of responsibility and get you the prized wickets. Fast bowlers are also the skipper’s first choice to bowl those toe crushing yorkers in the death overs. They are the undertakers, the ones to put the last nail in the batting order’s coffin.

Never ever shy of having a word, just the sheer arrogance of a rowdy fast bowler giving the kitchen sink to the batsmen is a sight that every cricket fan loves to see. The most unique thing about all fast bowlers is that they are by nature very aggressive. As Imran Khan puts it – “You can’t be a quality fast bowler if you are not aggressive.

Quality fast bowlers will always be in your face, giving you that long cold stare. They like to bully you around. Once you let a fast bowler taste blood early in his spell, he is like a serial killer on a killing spree. They can make you hop like a belly dancer.

Those vicious bouncers and the superbly disguised yorkers will leave you gasping for air. Let the crowd join in the act with them, and the batsmen will get to know what it means to be truly singled out in a capacity-filled stadium

When one thinks of great teams of yesteryears, the indelible mark that the premier fast bowlers of the respected teams have left is perhaps the crowning jewel in the legacy of their teams. For every student of the gentleman’s game, most of the 70s, 80s and early 90s are brimming with artifacts of great fast bowling. It was only in the early 2000s that we had the spinning greats like Warne, Muralitharan, Kumble dethrone the great fast bowlers from the record books.

What a sight it was, with the batsmen trembling in fear as the great West Indian fast bowlers let the ball breath fire. You are talking of a pace quartet with serious red hot pace. Forget about scoring, the batsman’s primary motive was to survive. There was no relief – none whatsoever. Even great batting line-ups looked like grasshoppers placed on a hot pan, hopping frantically just for the sole purpose of survival.

Every cricket fans from the late 80s and the early 90s owes a lot to Pakistan for giving us “reverse swing”. It was an instant taboo as no one could figure out what the ball would do. But thanks to expert opponents like Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Imran Khanm we were shown that reverse swing was an art and it required a special skill to master.

‘Personal’ quality of fast bowling

The most captivating thing about fast bowling is that it is so heartfelt. Compared to a spinner, a fast bowler typically gets 8-10 over spells and he has to put his heart and soul into it. There is such a personal aspect to pace bowling.

When you see a Michael Holding come in to bowl, you are not just seeing a great fast bowler showcase his art to the whole world. What you see in his run up is a typical manifestation of the Caribbean rhythm. Calm and composed but not lacking in purpose, Holding was aptly named “Whispering Death”.

Brett Lee kick starting the chainsaw after uprooting the stumps of a top batsman is a typical example of the Aussie arrogance. Shoaib Akhtar taking off in that “Aero plane Stride” once he catches his prey is yet another example of the over-the-top Pakistani lifestyle.

The Australian crowd shouting “Lilee , Lilee … Kill Kill Kill” just showed how involved even the crowd can get at the prospect of a serious spell of fast bowling. We don’t need batsmen whacking every single delivery for a six or four to bring in the crowds.

One of the most exciting aspects of the game

There’s no sight quite like a world class fast bowler’s aggression channelled into that steaming run up and that bombastic release and then finally the ball rattling against the timber – the off-stump going for a toss.

To see that stump flying mid-air, to see that toe-crushing yorker, to see the batsmen foxed by reverse swing or to see the ball whiffing past the batsman’s nose as he smells the leather – these all require genuine skill, and definitely attract audiences.

Genuine fast bowlers are always an attacking option. They may leak some runs in the midst of a fierce spell but they will intimidate the opposition and get you the wickets. They are the warhorses, built and trained for battle. They are a captain’s delight and a nation’s pride.

Here’s to all the great fast bowlers that we have loved watching! Cricket wouldn’t have been the same without you.

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