India's pace spearhead ought to have established himself as a fearsome bowler after playing 62 Tests, writes 1983 World Cup hero Balvinder Singh Sandhu
A fast bowler must have the heart of a champion, a strong body to take the workload, a decent action that keeps him injury-free, mental toughness to compete harder when the chips are down and most importantly, enjoy bowling quick.
Ishant Sharma bowls during Day Four of the second Test against Australia at The Gabba in Brisbane on December 20, 2014. Pic/Getty Images
A well-directed quick delivery into the ribs of a batsman can cause more harm to the batsman's confidence than a direction-less, quick, lifting delivery well outside the off stump or down the leg side. A fast bowler can bowl his fastest ball by putting in an extra effort but if it lands in the area that most batsmen enjoy then it gets hit to the fence in quick time. Great fast bowlers of the past always realised this and did not waste their effort.
I was lucky to play for a few years and watch cricket in an era (1970s and 1980s) when fast bowling was at its best. The legendary Sunil Gavaskar said, 'the best place to play them is from non-striker's end'. This shows the kind of respect he had for the fast bowlers against whom he scored most of his runs.
Most of them were fast and furious, bowling into the zone of discomfort. They were able to land the ball where they intended to because they practiced bowling quick in the nets most of the time. Thus, the release point of the ball for a different line and length entered their muscle memory - to recall in competition. That was their key to success.
Umesh Yadav is an Indian fast bowler I admire a lot. He has worked very hard to overcome his back injury and relishes bowling quick. Umesh said during a recent function: "For a genuine fast bowler, the margin of error is very less. It's not easy for a fast bowler to bowl consistently in one area. It's easier for a medium pacer to maintain line and length at 130-135 kmh.
At times, I try different things and when that doesn't work, it costs me a few runs. Everyone is different. I can't bowl like Mustafizur Rahman and he can't bowl like me. My release point is different from that of a medium pacer. If I change that, I will mess up my bowling. I am in this team because of my pace. I have taken wickets at the international level with pace".
I agree with most of Umesh's views. One thing needed for all bowlers to be accurate is good stability at the back foot landing and at the point of release. Watch shooters or archers. They are calm and absolutely stable at the point of release to hit the bull's eye. But cricket is a dynamic game and any instability at the back foot landing could trigger another part of the body to move in an unintended direction, thus affecting the release point.
Also keeping calm in a pressure situation, backing oneself, believing and having faith in one's ability is vital. Then, the bowler's uncluttered mind is focusing on planning and plotting the downfall of a batman, rather than worrying about landing the ball in the 'right areas' as it is referred to these days.
Ishant Sharma is another Indian fast bowler who, on his day, can bowl a match-winning spell. But despite his eight-year experience in international cricket, he has yet to step into the shoes of Zaheer Khan. Ishant's back foot landing is unstable and being tall, it magnifies this problem, leading to a loss in control over line and length. It also leads to ankle injuries which he has suffered throughout his career.
New boots may work
The shoes used nowadays are extremely good at absorbing ground forces when landing but I think he could try using leather-soled shoes, the wider ones on which the spikes are well spread out for better stability. Kapil Dev, Sir Richard Hadlee, Malcolm Marshall and most fast bowlers of 1980s and 1990s used leather-soled shoes.
There is no harm in Ishant trying them. He has claimed 187 Test wickets. That's a lot of wickets, but 62 are a lot of Test matches to establish yourself as a fearsome bowler by now. Modern-day fast bowlers must be aware that spending time in the gym is important to strengthen their body, but it's equally vital to spend time bowling quick in the areas they want to bowl in during a game. While purposeful practice in the nets makes the muscle memory stronger, to recall at will, mind you, the length varies as per conditions, Hence, muscle memory needs to be rebuilt accordingly and that can happen only by bowling in the nets.
Fast bowlers or for that matter, all bowlers, must strike a balance between fitness training and skill training. Fitness training must be used to enhance the ability to perform cricketing skills. A cricketer must work hard to improve his fitness which helps to translate into skill enhancement and subsequently into performance. Remember, performance, and not fitness enters the scorebook and record books.
Number of Test wickets claimed by Ishant Sharma
The author is a 1983 World Cup hero. Read about how he got into the groove for the big World Cup games on www.mid-day.com