Slow bowlers steal the show

Slow bowlers steal the show
Ravi Rampaul during the second One Day International match between West Indies and England at the Sir Vivian Richard Stadium in St John's, March 2, 2014.

I was sitting next to Ian Bishop, who the players on the 1989 Indian team rated the fastest and the scariest opposition bowler, when the ball was thrown to the regular West Indies new ball bowler Samuel Badree. This is of course T20 cricket, with a different approach and qualifications needed, but the contrast was stark. At the end of the over, Krishmar Santokie took the still new ball at the other end and promptly bowled one less than a 100 kmph. By the end of the game against Bangladesh the two had taken 7 for 32 in their 8 overs!

Sitting in the dugout was Ravi Rampaul, easily the quickest bowler in the team but with the realisation that he was fighting for just one available place in the West Indies team. It's true! With Badree and Sunil Narine, and with Darren Sammy, Dwayne Bravo and Andre Russell all needed to contribute with the bat, there was just one place available and it went to Santokie who doesn't play first-class cricket! If you wanted a stark look at how one form of the game is different from the other, you needed to look no further.

Then, inevitably, the ICC bowlers rankings came along. The first traditional new ball bowler in that list was Nuwan Kulasekara at number nine. The top 10 was dominated by spinners who, if you remember, had doom predicted for them when T20 cricket first came around. Narine, Badree, Saeed Ajmal, Ajantha Mendis, Nathan McCullum, Mohammad Hafeez, Shakib Al Hasan, Prosper Utseya and Shahid Afridi completed the top 10. Look even more closely at this list and you will realise that apart from Ajmal, no one makes their Test side as a bowler consistently. Maybe Shakib could make the cut even if he didn't bat, but that is startling. Lasith Malinga slips in at number 11 and he doesn't play Test cricket either. (It is quite another story that any rankings that have Malinga at No. 11 need to be examined closely!)

It was a bit different in Chittagong but even there Mills and McCleneghan, neither Test players at this stage, opened the bowling for New Zealand and Moeen Ali did so for England for whom Jade Dernbach and Ravi Bopara, both of whom regard the slow ball as their primary weapon, figure as regular bowlers.

I think, like creative directors in advertising, selectors too are looking for bowlers who can do something different. This is almost guerrilla warfare where you shoot an over and scoot sometimes. The ball must do unusual things after pitching so that batsmen attacking it are always courting danger. Far too often though, this ability to do the extraordinary is accompanied by unusual actions; indeed some might say you must have an unusual action to be able to bowl some of what we now see.

But it is not just about actions. You need more clever bowlers who can look at the batsman's feet and make late adjustments like Imran Tahir who did so well against Brendon McCullum. You can only do that if you are a slow bowler (and I can hear spinners chuckle about which species is more clever!). But more interestingly, the ICC rankings is full of bowlers who are good when the batsman attacks them which is when the batsman is a little more vulnerable. Come armed with patience and Narine, Badree, Mendis and McCullum aren't as effective.

Around the same time, I was chatting with the newest member of our commentary team, Shoaib Akhtar, when he said fast bowlers shouldn't play T20 cricket. "Their biggest weapon is fear and there is no fear here," he said. Watching Dale Steyn bowl the final over against New Zealand and having seen Mitchell Johnson at the IPL for the Mumbai Indians, I might be tempted to offer a counter argument but look through and you realise it is weak. The genuinely quick have their days but they grow infrequent. Steyn only pops in at number 16 on the ICC rankings and Stuart Broad is down at number 20. I'd have Malinga and Steyn in my top 10 but it would still be a list dominated by T20 specialists.

It is a completely different game and you only have to see the West Indies take the field to realise that, if you haven't already!


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