There are two teams in world cricket whose bowling unit amuses me nowadays. Not because how they perform, that is a different story and I take different sides. The two sides I am talking about are Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Both Pakistan and Sri Lanka produce bowlers with interesting actions. And they are unique in that. Or, less imitable. There are many of them. Sri Lanka has Ajantha Mendis, Lasith Malinga, Dilhara Fernando, for sample. Pakistan had Shoaib Akhtar, has Wahab Riaz, Saeed Ajmal, Sohail Tanvir among many others.
Sri Lanka brought out Ajantha Mendis and nobody knew what he was doing. What seemed to be a simple action seemed to reap complex results. Kumar Sangakkara confessed that he could figure out what was coming only when he was standing behind the stumps, and not in front of it. Mendis would waltz through the sides playing against Sri Lanka for a brief period.
Mendis gave birth to the term “carrom ball”. Nobody knew what it was. Nobody knew how to bowl/mimic it for a while. I’ve seen people try to do that and direct the ball at the clueless forward short leg. Not many batsmen had a clue about how to play that ball either. I think it was Mahendra Singh Dhoni who started prodding his front foot miles outside to negate the turn, after reading the ball off the pitch seemed tougher than his team-mates had thought. That bought some time, and they were able to analyse the mystery.
Ajantha Mendis served in the army. He was spotted long before he was introduced in the international stage. He was told to continue what he was doing. He was bestowed with the confidence of the cricket community to perfect his art. He returned their confidence with wonderful rewards.
Dilhara Fernando jogs to the bowling crease like he is on a morning jog. But in the final stride he exerts so much energy that he bowls fast, hitting the 90 mph mark multiple times. He gets injured a lot. He comes back more. The best part about him is his slower ball. Almost un-readable. The “split-finger” slow ball must be tough. I couldn’t split that quickly. And I don’t see other bowlers trying that method, so it must be something that takes a lot of effort and control. It is a pity his health punctured his career a lot.
Unrelated, but interesting: Dilhara Fernando bowled a lot of no-balls. So many, that a bus stop near his home was re-named “The No Ball Stop”.
The most interesting bowling action today in the Sri Lankan outfit must be Lasith Malinga. I will call him the most accurate bowler just for what he does. Not only is he the most prolific member of the I Can Bowl Yorkers Association, the members of whom are fast depleting, but he can york a batsman very frequently. At a quick pace. With that action. When I try to mimic that (and you know that, since you have tried too), I either fall down, or bowl to square leg. If I am having a good day, to fine leg.
And a mandatory mention- his yorkers. He trains himself to become more accurate at bowling yorkers by placing a pair of shoes at the crease in the practice sessions (nets). He then runs in and bowls at the shoes. It is similar to the handkerchief bowling practice conceptually, but has a different purpose. And I am not sure anybody else tries it- because nobody else seems to be interested in bowling a yorker.
Sohail Tanvir’s bowling looked like a man speed-walking to the crease and bowling somewhere between two steps. It was as weird as watching an Olympic walking race. He didn’t (doesn’t?) have a notable jump/stride while nearing the crease. He does not bowl off his wrong foot, though. Some commentators have seen his footwork replayed multiple times and still can’t get over the fact that he doesn’t bowl off his wrong foot.
Saeed Ajmal came in, the charming, smiling bowling assassin. Just when we thought wrist spin in offies was dying (with Muttiah Muralitharan), Saeed Ajmal presented himself. Him and Muralitharan are probably the only two bowlers who I felt had justified bowling to right handers from around the wicket. They were the ones who spun the ball big enough to have the batsmen at their mercy from that angle. Most other bowlers do that because they tried everything else in vain, or are plain bored and want to improve their economy.
I find Wahab Riaz interesting because when he is bowling, he looks like a gardener chasing a rabbit- pouncing, leaping, and not exactly in a fluid motion. And despite that, he was able to give the Pakistani fans some wonderful memories. Especially “Wahabyou been?” days from that wretched tour of England.
I read that Pakistani board held trials for bowlers to try out at a large ground, and promising bowlers would be shortlisted. That is an open dance floor. It was a chance for anyone and everyone to show up. And from what I heard, the ground was flooded, more than what was expected. Believe me, “expectations” are already high, number wise, in a country like Pakistan where a talented fast bowler is born every day in every city. I was excited when I heard that. Young bowlers who had developed themselves, their own technique, their own style can now come and bowl in front of people who can change their lives for the better.
That was an amazing story. And that is against the normal flow of things in that world. A kid who wants to get into a cricket team in most part of the world has to get up at 5 am in the morning and go to practice sessions, follow coach’s advice from placing the landing foot to holding the seam in position. And then the kid returns home to get ready to attend his secondary school.
If the kid is in India, then you can just assume that the kid loses at least 4 hours a day to cricket. “Loses” may be replaced with the word “dedicated” in some cases. I am not sure the kid knows what is happening. He wants to be a bowler that he dreamt of becoming? Or, is he just becoming a bowler because the coach said so? And thereby, doing what the coach said, and hence becoming the bowler the coach dreamt of becoming? The kids go into an assembly processor and come out as batch products, each resembling the last.
I forgot the source and the coach, but I read this on the internet when a coach of under-age cricket team said that when the kids are young, you mustn’t try to coach them. The kids should enjoy the game first, develop a liking to a skill, to a part of the game and try to do something on their own. Once the kid takes up a vocational path, and is ready to take the next step, he/she will come to you. That is when you teach them where to pitch, how to swing, how to keep your body from falling, etc.
I love West Indian cricket, and they have a wonderful bowling unit. But I am bored of watching Jerome Taylor, Dwayne Bravo, Kemar Roach and Andre Russell bowl with fairly similar actions. Praveen Kumar and Bhuvaneshwar Kumar have similar actions. One Indian bowler who has been unique (just because of his release) whenever he does get to bowl is S. Sreesanth. And that is just lovely to watch.
I don’t know much about the new set of Australian bowlers, but the last time I saw they just seemed the same assembly products with faster pace. That’s all. Don’t get me wrong. Many of them are great bowlers, making batsmen say their prayers before every delivery, and that must have been absorbed some wonderful coaching and tutoring into doing that. Just that I don’t see much variety nowadays.
And I don’t understand why there are 23962374 slow left arm spinners in International cricket all of a sudden. Special annual ICC Sweepstakes for them?
New Zealand’s Chris Martin and (now England’s?) Iain O’Brien had some uniqueness to their action. Mark Gillespie had a leap. Doug Bracewell looks a blast from the past. Maybe there is some charm left there in the Kiwi Isles? I would like to hope so.
My uncle told me once, “All the bowlers look like machines today, every coach wants to correct their action. When Kapil Dev bowled, his action made him look like he had paralysis. No coach would recommend that action to any of the present age bowlers. But, look at what Kapil was able to achieve with his freedom!”
Do let me know whose bowling action you enjoy the most. And, since I have been out of touch a bit, tell me which new kid has a unique action?