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Home > Cricket > World Cup 2003 > Columns > Peter Roebuck

Fast and short

March 21, 2003

Bowling fast is an adrenaline rush akin to playing an electric guitar. It is full of crash and thunder and explosion, and sometimes it is hard to control. Most fast bowlers spend their early years trying to shatter stumps and crack skulls, not necessarily in that order of priority. Like electric guitarists, many cannot see the point of harmony and structure in this formative period, regarding them as the stuff of milksop strummers. These fellows are inclined to be expensive and expansive because they are interested only in the middle of the pitch or else the base of the stumps. Line and length mean nothing to them, at least until they reach 24 or so, whereupon wives, mortality, mortgages and the other constraints of our world start entering their heads alongside the need to take wickets with a certain measure of regularity and economy.

Facing fast bowling is likewise exhilarating, the sort of rush experienced by hoodlums venturing into another gang's terrain. At once a man can sense danger and challenge, and nerves are taut with anticipation. The next ball could be a bumper or a yorker or even, heaven forbid, a slower ball. Graham Greene once wrote a short story about a man dying ingloriously after being struck by the carcass of a pig thrown from a window. Batsman feel like that after being dismissed by a slower ball sent down by a fast bowler.

As the celebrated Yorkshireman Maurice Leyland once remarked, "no one likes facing fast bowlers, but some don't show it". In those days batsmen wore cloth caps, spiky gloves and thin thigh guards. Apart from Patsy Hendren, who donned a pith helmet and was 50 years ahead of his time, they did not protect their heads or bodies. Nowadays, batsmen are not in quite as much peril and it is unusual to see men forced to retire hurt. In some respects fast bowling has changed as a result, with fewer men searching for explosive pace and more relying upon a combination of speed and movement. Even tailenders are not as fearful, and fast bowlers have to work harder for their wickets. Reverse swing has been developed so that wickets can more easily be taken with the old ball. Hereabouts Wasim Akram's point has merit: "It was called ball tampering when only Pakistanis could do it, now it is widespread and it is called reverse swing."

The sight of Brett Lee running into bowl counts amongst the finest in the game. Not since the heyday of Allan Donald has there been such a combination of athletic fluency and outright speed. Lee is not so much powerful as irresistible as he hurls the ball down. It is a beautiful sight enhanced by his flowing mane, ready laugh and long follow-through. Yet there is ugliness not far away, for it is always closer to beauty than it seems. Lee's intentions are violent and sometimes he sends down beamers or else goes wide of the crease to open his shoulders and then eyebrows rise amongst observers. These interludes apart, Lee is a vibrant athlete who plays without rancour and relies upon pace for his effect. He does not so much stop batsmen as challenge them in the manner of a swordsman.

Nothing is finer in cricket than a meeting between a fierce fast bowler and a strong-minded batsmen. Truly it is a prospect to savour. Cricket has long been anticipating a clash between Lee and Sachin Tendulkar taking place on the greatest stage the game can provide. Cricket is too full of imponderables and these teams contain too many fine players for their contest to be called decisive but it is eagerly awaited, for here is the fastest of bowlers hurling himself without compromise at the most brilliant batsman to appear since the Depression. Lee has improved enormously in the last few months. Until recently he bowled fast but without any particular plan. Batsmen facing him felt they could score quickly for the ball was up or down and seldom in-between. His trajectory is low and his bounce not sufficiently steep to stop batsmen driving on the rise. He could also be cut and hooked and his bowling was a gamble, a flurry of wickets and runs. If wickets did not fall he was in trouble. Strong batsmen liked facing him because they might be dismissed but could not become bogged down.

These days Lee is a different proposition because he bowls within parameters that make it harder for opponents to escape him. He does not stray to leg nearly as often and his bumper is a surprise and not a routine. Of course he still has his bad days, especially on pitches that are too slow for his purposes. Gradually, though, he is learning to adjust his game without compromising his aggression. Expensive against England in his team's first match at St George's Park, he bounced back to demolish the Kiwi lower-order and the top Sri Lankans in subsequent matches at the same unhelpful venue, and he did so with bursts of reverse swing and outright pace that revealed his growing versatility. Lee has been helped by a captain committed to attack and blessed with nerves of steel, and a colleague in Glenn McGrath capable of counterpointing his raw-boned aggression.

Despite these skills and improvements Tendulkar will be looking forward to facing Lee. Tendulkar knows his wicket is crucial to the morale of both sides. Remove him early and the Australians will be rampant. If he gets on top the crowd will roar and his dearest wish may be fulfilled. He realises he must score quickly and senses that Lee will give him his chance. Tendulkar enjoys playing against Australia because they do not try to stifle him, to stop him playing. Rather, the Australians attack him without compromise, bombarding him with bumpers, testing his resolve and back-foot game. Tendulkar will respond with aggression of his own. He is a clever batsman and might well shorten his backlift to counter Lee's extra pace and to assist his own hooking and cutting. He will consider using a lighter bat for this same purpose, might even take his stance further across his stumps in anticipation of the Australian line. Of course, he will not reveal his intentions, but he will think and put his plans into operation. Tendulkar spends as much time watching videos of himself and opponents as he does in the nets.

It could be an epic confrontation between fast bowler and forcing bat, might last a ball or a few overs. Of course, there are other bowlers and batsmen to consider yet those first few overs of the Indian innings will be riveting as this eighth World Cup searches for a worthy winner.

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Number of User Comments: 30

Sub: World Cup Final -2003

The Final is between India And Australia. Not only Sachin but all other Indian Batsmen are in terrific form. Also Srinath & Co. can destroy ...

Posted by Gireesh.M.M.

Sub: Chucks

I'm damn sure that Lee and Sohaib both chucks..What sores me more that nothing is being done against them..They genereate so much of pace because ...

Posted by Siddhartha

Sub: Lee v/s Tendulkar

Have you ever heard our Sachin ever challenging or giving undue importance to any bowler... he only lets his bat speak. In the past Mc ...

Posted by Gayathri

Sub: Great chucker no doubt

I wish they stop calling him a bowler and call him a pitcher. Why doesn't our Indian media rake up this issue of his alleged ...

Posted by Ram

Sub: World Cup Final

The 20 overs that will determine the result: People are talking about Scahin Vs Brett Lee, Nehra/Khan Vs Aissies etc. But, I think, in the ...

Posted by babu maddala


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