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How India Became Fast
Birbal (IP Logged)
31 August, 2018 23:02
The recent series in England has seen Indian bowling unit on average quite a bit quicker than the English unit... How did this happen...

Nice article in The Hindu on this phenomenon...


In late June of 1932, India, playing its inaugural Test at Lord’s, had England wobbling — 19 for three inside 20 minutes on the opening day.

But two gritty innings from England captain Douglas Jardine, who would gain infamy later that year with Bodyline in Australia, turned the contest.

Not even the 158-run defeat, however, could take the sheen off India’s pace trio, who took 14 wickets combined.

Fifteen years later, when the country was partitioned, two of them, Mohammad Nissar and Jahangir Khan, moved to Pakistan. The other, Amar Singh, had already died, at the age of 29, of pneumonia.

It looked as if Pakistan would claim the lion’s share of the sub-continent’s fast-bowling resources. This seemed especially true from the 1980s, with Imran Khan inspiring several young Pakistanis to bowl quick.

Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Shoaib Akhtar, Mohammad Zahid... fast-bowlers came out of Pakistan like singing talents from reality shows. India could only glance across the border with envy; all it could boast of was Kapil Dev, who, although sharp at the start of his career, was essentially a swing bowler.

But an academy set up by a corporate house, a glamorous league in which a bowler has to exert himself for only 24 legitimate balls, and a professional system changed all that.

So much so that all four pacers India fielded in a Test recently bowled quicker than their English counterparts.

That, as veteran journalist and author of History of Indian Cricket Mihir Bose admits, is something not many would have imagined. Even more significantly, perhaps, in the match against Australia at the Under-19 World Cup in New Zealand early this year, the three fastest balls were delivered by Indians.

At Trent Bridge, the senior pacemen bowled India to one of its finest Test victories ever. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who was tipped to swing things India’s way in England, wasn’t part of the team. Neither was Umesh Yadav. But Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah and Hardik Pandya more than made up for their absence.

And there are about a dozen others — many capable of clocking 145 kmph — waiting patiently for their turn. Indian fast-bowling never had it so good.

“They have been excellent in terms of swing, line and length, and planning [in England],” says Javagal Srinath, probably India’s first genuine quick. “Bumrah was outstanding in the third Test and Ishant in the first.”

Srinath had made the world sit up and take notice in Australia in 1991-92. He took only 10 wickets in the five Tests but one recalls Australian captain Allan Border predicting a bucketful in the future. He ended with 236 Test and 315 ODI wickets, and there were times when he was as speedy as anybody in world cricket.

The Mysore Express wasn’t the only uncapped pacer India took Down Under for that series. There was also Subroto Banerjee.

Given his cap at Sydney, the swing bowler removed Geoff Marsh, Mark Taylor and Mark Waugh on the opening day. He never bowled again in a Test.

A couple of years before that, Vivek Razdan had claimed five for 79 in Pakistan’s lone innings in the Sialkot Test, only to be discarded right away.

Subroto and Razdan were part of a lost generation of Indian seamers that included Salil Ankola, Atul Wassan, Prashant Vaidya, Ashish Winston Zaidi, Rajiv Seth and Jaspal Singh.

“There were many quality bowlers across the country those days,” says Subroto, now a successful bowling coach who has worked with the likes of Mitchell Starc, Umesh and Rajneesh Gurbani. “The MRF Pace Foundation, where most of my contemporaries trained, can take a lot of credit for revolutionising fast-bowling here.”

That tipping point for a spin-heavy country came in 1987. Ravi Mammen, who is credited with the aggressive marketing of tyre manufacturer MRF, felt Indian bowling must be driven with some firepower as well and set up the Foundation in Chennai. He also succeeded in persuading legendary Australian quick Dennis Lillee to take charge.

“Lillee changed the way fast-bowling was taught in India,” says Razdan, the first academy product to turn international. “Earlier our coaches would ask us — relying on theory — to bowl an outswinger; Lillee showed us how.”

The Australian found an ideal deputy in T.A. Sekar, and the academy gave India 18 seamers, including Srinath, Venkatesh Prasad, Zaheer Khan, Irfan Pathan, Munaf Patel and S. Sreesanth. In 2012, another Australian great, Glenn McGrath, took over from Lillee as the Foundation’s director.

“Working with Lillee was an eye-opener,” says former India Under-19 captain M. Senthilnathan, the chief coach now. “He modernised our coaching methods. I recall doing video analysis with him on a VCR.”

Some of the things Lillee did was so revolutionary for India that people were amused. They could not understand why fast-bowlers trained with weights and wondered if the academy was trying to produce body-builders rather than cricketers.

“Today, the first thing a cricketer asks when he checks into a hotel is whether there is a gym,” says Senthilnathan. “Now you see our bowlers are capable of longer spells, retaining their pace.”

Basil Thampi, one of several young pacers India has been unearthing at a rate that even Pakistan would be envious of, can vouch for that. “I have learnt how to bowl fast [at the Foundation] without putting too much stress on my body,” says the Kerala lad, who was named the Emerging Player of the 2017 IPL.

Kerala, Senthilnathan says, is a big source of potential quicks because of the “natural abilities and athleticism in them”. He adds that Karnataka, Rajasthan, Baroda and Madhya Pradesh are other hotbeds of talent.

The IPL has given these youngsters a platform. “The IPL has no doubt played a big part in the rise of the fast-bowler’s profile in India,” says Razdan. “But, if not used properly, it could be counterproductive as well.”

Somebody like Nathu Singh, hailed not so long ago as one of India’s most exciting talents, may not disagree. At 22, time is still on his side, but he will find the competition getting stiffer by the day.

Apart from the Under-19 group of Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Shivam Mavi and Ishan Porel, there are others like Ankit Rajpoot, Mohammed Siraj, Avesh Khan, Navdeep Saini, Khaleel Ahmed, Siddarth Kaul and Shardul Thakur.

“After facing and standing up to spinners in domestic cricket all my life, this is something I would not have anticipated,” says former India wicketkeeper and respected coach Chandrakant Pandit. “I still remember how Srinath made the Australian batsmen hurry as I kept to him on that tour [in 1991-92].”

He believes the young bowlers need to be taken proper care of. “Of course they have the India-A matches,” says Pandit. “But they should be given opportunities when India plays weaker opposition like Afghanistan.”

Rajpoot won’t mind a few more helpful tracks. “I was disappointed to find the greenish tinge disappear from the wicket on the morning of the match [at Dindigul during the ongoing Duleep Trophy],” he says.

That, however, didn’t prevent him from bending his back and taking four wickets


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