Bangalore: New Zealand will miss the services of Shane Bond and Chris Cairns in the upcoming Test series against India where fast bowlers can still achieve a lot on unresponsive pitches. As it has always been, the arrival of New Zealand is greeted with some routine speculation -- how would they cope against our spinners? Will it be ours vs theirs batsmen? Will the visitors finally prevail in India? Nobody stops to think if fast bowlers too merit a look.
It is as if the men with the new red cherry are doomed from the outset. You can't fault them though. After all, whoever has won a school sack race when everyone else is running with free legs? Fast bowling could be similarly unforgiving in India. If you are lucky, pitches might aid seam some days. Most of the time, it doesn't. At times, new ball looks such a terrible waste. The wickets are placid, there is little bounce and it's frustrating to see snicks don't carry to wicketkeepers or slips. But as most things in life, if you are determined you will find your way. That's been my experience. There is a lot a fast bowler could still achieve even on such unresponsive pitches. A new ball might not be your best ally.
But when it gets old, and if you possess a decent pace, the ball would scruff up on rough outfields and dusty pitches and start to reverse swing. It's a great weapon to have on our pitches. But this craft takes some learning. If you know the technique and have the pace, it can only be bowled if you are a 140k plus bowler -- it will give you power over the batsmen. Length is another key factor. On Indian pitches, the key lies in keeping the batsmen on backfoot at all times. For it to happen, you need to bowl a little short of length. Ours are not the kind of wickets where you pitch the ball up.
If you can keep the length short and force batsman back on his feet, you have a chance to earn leg before shouts or rattle stumps. It doesn't matter if the dying bounce is not carrying the snicks to slips. With its gradual wear and growing unpredictable bounce, an Indian pitch could turn out to be quite useful to a fast bowler. Especially, on the third and fourth day. One only needs to keep the batsmen pinned on the backfoot.
It is also no less important for you to be careful with your attire and shoes. I learnt in due course if I wanted to avoid a footwear which has roughed up with constant use, I needed to carry four-five pair of shoes in my kit. I like to be comfortable in a particular brand of shoes but am careful with its cushion and sole. It is also helpful if you get rid of your sweat-soaked shirt between long spells.A shower during a break could be extremely refreshing. Unfortunately, these things are not learnt overnight. Visiting teams in alien conditions take time to adjust and before they do so, the tour has drawn to a close. There is extra strain placed on fast bowlers with too little gaps between the games.
In One-dayers in particular, if you are travelling and the next One-dayer is scheduled in the next 48 hours, the tiredness could sap you of all energy. Most fast bowlers tend to get tired towards the fag end of a long tour. There is lesson in this for fast bowlers of both sides. But batsmen are so clever these days. They come well prepared to the middle, having done their homework and dissection on a bowler's technique on the video. I remember a few batsmen having answers to most of the questions I could serve up. Somebody like Inzamam-ul-Haq spends so much of time to play fast bowling. The same holds true for Saeed Anwar.
But perhaps the best of them all was Aravinda de Silva. The pocket-sized dynamo of Sri Lankan cricket was a superb player of reverse swing. He could watch it so early and was always in the right position to play his shots. New Zealand's batting will draw its inspiration from captain Stephen Fleming who has grown leaps and bounds in recent times. His handling against Muttiah Muralitharan in Sri Lanka recently shows the left-hander would be the mainstay against our world- class spinners.
Having had a fair amount of success particularly against Fleming, I can still say he has shown courage and determination even on bowler-friendly wickets. I can recall Fleming getting runs in the last One-dayer in Hamilton last season when he single handedly steered New Zealand out of a tough corner. New Zealand could have brightened its chances if they had the services of Shane Bond and Chris Cairns in its ranks for Test matches. Bond is a class act and would have come extremely handy. Cairns too is a kind of all-rounder who is a match-winner with both bat and ball.