Shane Bond: The ferocious spirit that never escaped its fragile body
As an enthusiastic nine-year-old in my cricket coaching class, itching to hog the limelight any which way possible, I used to mimic every contemporary bowler’s action in the nets. It was amusing both for me and for everyone around, as Lee, Srinath and McGrath all hurled their deliveries through me, albeit with feeble pace and infinitesimal swing.
One day, realising that I was going nowhere with this pointless exercise, I finally went up to my coach and asked him what action I should bowl with. He glanced up and down at me, shined the already tattered cork that he was repeatedly tossing, and heaved a deep sigh.
Disinterested, and tired of hearing pointless queries from kids the whole day, he asked me to run till the popping crease and hurl the ball in whichever manner I felt like. When I began walking back, he summoned me to his side. In a slow but firm drawl, he asked me to draw a perfect six with my bowling arm whilst in my delivery stride.
I skimmed through my mental directory, trying to correctly match the ‘six’ with the list of bowlers in my head, and out came an answer.
Just weeks ago, a strapping young pacer had decimated the Indian batting in Wellington and Hamilton. Dravid had been cut in half, Tendulkar had seen his stumps flattened, and Ganguly had lost all his bearings. The Indian batsmen seemed to have been facing his cannonballs with mere toothpicks.
I got the idol I wanted to emulate.
The man’s appeal had several facets to it. His overall demeanour looked like the scrawny pacers of yesteryear had been injected with Captain America's serum: here was a guy who looked as good on a cricket field as he would have on a horse with a cowboy hat and a lit cigar in one hand.
The Tom Cruise-esque mane, the armband (alternating between black and white based on the format) adorning the bulging left forearm, and the bull-like chest – they all added up to make the ultimate fast bowling specimen.
And then there was the name. Bond. Shane Bond. The batsmen used to get both shaken and stirred.
His action, smooth as it was, looked like he was hurling a shotput with all his might, the front leg thudding and subsequently sinking into the pitch. You couldn’t help but feel bad for his left ankle, absorbing Pascals of pressure as he went about his fluidic round-arm motion.
He made you taste the leather, smell it, and then slipped it through the aperture between your bat and front pad. If you managed to get some wood on it, it would end up in the safe hands of the slip fielders. Bond, on his day, was completely indecipherable.
Sadly, those days were limited. The spirit was housed in a brittle body, impressive from the outside but crumbling within. It started off with stress fractures in his back and metastasized outward. He played 18 Tests in eight years. South Africa’s Makhaya Ntini played 80 in the same period.
In a way, it’s good that he did not feature much in the T20 era. Menhir-like bats have ruined the charm of fast bowling; pitches now resemble parking lots and boundary ropes will soon reach the square leg umpire. The appeal would have disappeared, much like my bowling career – one that saw me pick up just 87 Test wickets fewer than my hero.
Thunderball, Diamonds are Forever, License to Kill...reel-life Bond titles fit perfectly for the real life Bond. If only he lived long enough to Die Another Day.Published 07 Jun 2017, 19:02 IST