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Javagal Srinath

Fast bowlers need to work in tandem

April 13, 2004

In every series, be it a home or overseas one, some cricketers get injured. And, invariably, fast bowlers are mostly the first to join the list of casualties. India's Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra or Ajit Agarkar are no exceptions.

The same is the case with Pakistan's Umar Gul and Mohammad Sami, who looked a doubtful starter for the Rawalpindi Test till Sunday morning. Scan through the record books and you will find that top pacemen, like Shane Bond, Chris Cairns, Brett Lee, Simon Jones, Andrew Caddick, Mervyn Dillon or Glenn McGrath, have all suffered similar fate.

In fast bowling, the body is always put to test by pushing it to extreme physical exertion levels. No matter how strong the bowler is, the bowling action is definitely unnatural for the human body. A lot of theories have been floated on building up safety standards for fast bowlers. But the injuries to pacemen still remain rampant.

There is no short cut method to become a good fast bowler. Fast bowling has two sides:

1) The more you bowl the better you become.

2) The more you bowl the more injury-prone you are.

Fast bowlers will have to balance between these two sides. I used to learn a lot by talking to all great fast bowlers around the world about their training methods. To my surprise, I found that all of them had their own training methods and understanding about bowling. In the end, I realised that a bowler will have to do lot of case studies, basically through inferences, and, most importantly, he should understand his own physiological condition.

A bowler breaking down too often is not only a problem for the team but also detrimental to his own career. The fast bowlers are mainly responsible for getting those 20 wickets to win Test matches. For this, the fast bowlers in a side should work in tandem, complementing each other's skills.

For example, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis formed a great pair. So did McGrath and Jason Gillespie. Currently, Harmison and Hoggard are doing a fine job for England. The Indian team, too, started doing reasonably well last year before injuries plagued the bowlers. If there is no such equation between the bowlers, then the side struggles to get opponents out.

For instance, Zaheer and Ashish appeared to be the torchbearers for India a year ago. But now, marred by injuries, they are struggling to make the side. That leaves the youngsters, Irfan Pathan and Laxmipathy Balaji to shoulder the responsibility. Although the inexperienced bowlers look good and promising, it will not be an easy task for them to get those 20 wickets.

Bowlers also have their own responsibilities. While playing, a player should anticipate possible injury and be prepared to avoid it. The bowler should understand the limitations of his body, the nature of injuries and the rehabilitation processes. Coming out of an injury is as good as a good performance on the field.

A cricketer's mind takes a lot of beating because of anxieties and insecurities after he suffers from an injury. After my shoulder injury, at some point of time during the rehabilitation period, I even started thinking of taking up some other profession, almost forgetting cricket. Even if a player is physically ready to return to the game, care should be taken that he is mentally ready too for the same. In a competitive sport like cricket, the mental stress on a player can be as harmful and debilitating as the injury itself. The captain and the back-up team should work on the player's psychological side. While the injured player should be made to feel important, the player, at the same time, should be honest to the team's objective.

The injury problems of pacemen can be regulated with the introduction of a fast bowlers' rotation system. Most of the cricket-playing countries have good sport medicine centres. India, on the other hand, is too dependent on Andrew Leipus. The cash-rich Indian cricket Board can certainly own a sports medicine hospital, where top sports medicine doctors will be available. A physiotherapist can only help the boys recover quickly but you need good sports medicine doctors to really look deep into the issues of injuries and prevent it. It will not only benefit the international cricketers, but also cricketers at all levels.

The Pindi Test is going to decide the fate of the series. It all depends on what sort of wicket the home team provides. If Pakistan is really keen to have a result in the series, the wicket, I personally feel, should be lush green. A result will keep the Indo-Pak series alive. A draw will only portray the friendship, which was the motto before the start of the long-awaited tour.

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