The Stages Of A Fast Bowler’s Life

I remember little from middle school, but I do recall a lesson on the Hindu conception of the stages of life. (Hint: you eventually reject life and wander the hills as an ascetic.) It seems fast bowlers go through an evolution as well, until they reach the final stage — a place currently occupied by the likes of Lasith Malinga and Zaheer Khan. It is here that bowlers learn (cue sonorous zen master voice) that to beat a batsman, you must first learn how to think like one.  And not only do you understand batsmen, you have the skill and control to execute the arcs of your plans.

Listen to the way commentators talk when Khan or Malinga run to the crease. They talk about each ball as if it’s part of a specific plan; it’s all evidence of a master plan — and watching it unfold over the course of a few overs is watching a master at his craft. He controls everything in his domain and the batsmen have little hope to do more than survive. I had this impression last night; Malinga bowled slower full balls; slower short balls; fast yorkers; slow yorkers; fast short balls — apart from a bad wide, I didn’t think the batsmen were going to make it. (They didn’t.)

I think these types of bowlers are much more respected than those like Dale Steyn. Don’t get me wrong; Steyn is a great bowler with a similar level of control. But he relies on sheer pace, and he hasn’t been through the trial and tribulation Malinga or Khan have. Steyn is all about innate talent; Malinga and Khan are about bowling within very strict limitations. Wasim Akram may have been the first true fast bowler guru who understood mortality and ascended to nirvana; he shortened his run-up, figured out how to hold a ball, and then knew exactly where it would land and what it would do. All those who follow are reincarnations.

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6 thoughts on “The Stages Of A Fast Bowler’s Life

  1. Krishna Kumar says:

    I suspect you may be confusing cause and effect.

    If you need to have a longer career as a fast bowler, you have to continue to improve your skills. Obviously, you cannot keep improving the speed of your bowling beyond a certain limit and more importantly, beyond a certain age. Then what is left? Improved accuracy and unpredictability. The latter requires a wide variety of balls you can throw – yorkers, slow balls, swinging both ways, better skills with the old ball, etc.

    The ones who cannot get beyond their original skills soon fade out. And then we are left with the McGraths, the Akrams, the Malingas, …

    The same applies to spinners too. Look at what happened with Ajantha Mendis, once batsmen figured out his original tricks. And on the other end, at Anil Kumble once he learnt more tricks (i.e., “being able to turn the ball”) in the second part of his career.

    • duckingbeamers says:

      Yup, I completely agree, Krishna. Maybe I phrased it badly in the post, which already reads too vague to me. But the idea is that you burst on the scene as a fast bowler with pace, you eventually learn that your body can’t handle it (or that you don’t have enough control), you go through a period of experimentation and practice and emerge with a tighter focus on seam/swing/control.

      Shaun Pollock was another good example of someone who reached the final stage.

      • Gareth says:

        Richard Hadlee would be one of the classic examples…. spent much of his younger days being seen (here, anyway) as a tearaway fast bowler…weathered a certain amount of national angst when he shortened his run up …. ended up being pretty well known for control of line & length, and the ‘craft’ of bowling…. and retired from international cricket when he was 39.

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