Is genuine fast bowling a fading art?

By Muhammad Asif Khan

Ever since I started following the game of Cricket the aspect fascinates me the most is the sight of a genuinely quick paceman running down from his bowling mark to rattle a batsman. I still remember the day when I entered a Cricket stadium for the very first time – early 2000 – only to witness the run-up of the legendry Waqar Younis. Although I observed the craftsmanship of Wasim Akram as well but, the swift yet smooth approach of the other ‘W’ mesmerised me the most.
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I used to hook to the Television screen to see Waqar Younis running rather sprinting down to the bowling crease with a purpose to scare the hell out of a batsman, not only me but Waqar was in fact the source of inspiration for the World’s fasted-man, Usain Bolt also as the Jamaican athlete had himself revealed that he was enthralled by the lighting sprint to the wicket by the former speed-star of Pakistan.

Of course Waqar Younis was not the only one who struck the fear of God into many batsmen but the time before and after him is also studded with terrifying fast bowlers, but recently this high quality supply seems to have decelerated.

After Shoaib Akhtar, Australia’s Brett Lee has also hung his boots which left South Africa’s Dale Steyn as the sole fear factor on the Cricket field to terrify even an all-guarded opponent standing on the other side of the pitch. I am sure that the majority of the Cricket lovers weren’t happy with this state as they are also familiar with the impact of these ‘terrorists’ who treat cricket ball as a missile. Obviously the question would arise that what was the reason of this drought like situation and why not many people are getting inspired by the heroes of yesteryears?

Young bowlers with a speed of around 145 kph are coming to the fore pretty regularly but a rare breed is being missed. Even a 145 kph bowler fades away in a year or two. To understand the cause one has to be aware of the ingredients which transform a good bowler into a fearsome one. Apart from the athleticism, the physical hard work is a must to throw bomb shells at the batsman every time and here comes the need of top-class fitness and the regime to maintain the body to bear the exceptional amount of workload.

Indeed the newer lot of players is shying away from this beautiful yet demanding aspect but the authorities managing the game have also been contributing to this disheartening phenomenon. The rapid spread of the shortest version – Twenty20 – has made the pacemen most vulnerable because in this format a captain prefers an all-rounder than a specialist, also a faster, or any bowler for that matter, focus more on saving runs. Remember what Imran Khan used to tell Wasim Akram during the 1992 World Cup? “Bowl as fast as you can, don’t worry about the runs, I want a wicket from you” and now after 20 years, when we are breathing in a T20 era, I am sure no captain could exhibit the courage to push his fast-bowler like this.

The fright of going for runs is one of the main reasons why a fast bowler hardly experiments with his length during his spell. This is the very fact why bouncers and yorkers – the main weaponry of faster bowlers – are becoming a rare sight now.

Some people also blame the rules and the dead surfaces around the world as one of the major causes of killing a potential Express bowler, but I would say that rules for the bowlers were more or less same. Also like yesteryears the wickets – especially in the subcontinent – are in favour of the batsman or a spinner, yet Pakistan has been able to produced quality faster-men one after the other.

The amount of Cricket happening around is taking it’s toll on the players as well, this scenario forced a batsman even to be on his toes however this work-load has put a fear of injuries in Cricketers’ minds hence they are not opting for an extra yard during bowling especially. Avoiding runs and injuries is preferred on the pace to intimidate the opponents.

The T20 version also attracts a league of spectators who are more interested in witnessing towering hits and a flurry of strokes or in other words guys like Gayle and Afridi are more in demand but what about the thrill and the row created amongst the spectators by a fearsome fast bowler? This feature is neglected rather discouraged.

Coming towards the end, I feel, seeking short cuts is the main cause of concern. Currently playing Test cricket is not as enticing a factor than representing a T20 league I am afraid. Due to these lucrative leagues players, in the past, have not even bothered to skip Test Cricket over the shorter versions. Sad, isn’t? To preserve the art of Cricket in general the mushroom growth of T20 leagues should be checked otherwise we would not be able to witness the likes of Thomson, Marshall, Imran, Lillee, Donald, Akhtar and Lee again.

The writer is a sports journalist in Pakistan, heads the sports department at News One TV & tweets @mak_asif

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