Fast bowlers from India are still falling away

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Irfan Pathan hasn't played for India since 2009 - he's 26

It seems a long time ago that we wrote about India’s young fast bowlers, nodding sagely and approvingly at what was on offer. That’s because it actually was a long time ago and the 26-and-under promise we saw four years ago should be something rather more than that by now.

In fact, it’s gone the other way. All those quicks have faded to some degree – some alarmingly so. Injuries take their toll, but there’s something astonishingly inevitable about premature Indian seam bowling decline. As often as not, it goes hand-in-hand with a loss of pace.

Why does this happen?

Indian conditions

We remember watching Dale Steyn storming in for four overs when we were in Bangalore. In those conditions, it seemed an extraordinary amount of effort to put in for what seemed likely to be no reward. This was at night.

But it can’t be that which slows India’s bowlers, surely? Firstly, how would they have come to bowl quickly in the first place? Secondly, it’s their bloody job.

Success for Indian cricketers

Being a successful Indian cricketer isn’t like being a successful cricketer in other countries. You actually notice a difference. Where Jacques Kallis advertises shovels, even relatively middling players like Sreesanth and Virat Kohli appear in Nike adverts in India. By one definition, they’ve succeeded. Financially, they’re set for life.

Fast bowling is the most physically demanding role in cricket. You need to be fitter than everyone else in the side. Batsmen and spin bowlers can carry a bit more weight and lose a bit of muscle mass without too great an effect. A fast bowler who goes to seed even slightly will see the effect on their speed gun readings – particularly in their third spell.

We’re not saying that this is the problem with India’s bowlers, but nor would we be surprised if it were. Small changes in attitude can make a surprisingly large amount of difference. A comfort zone doesn’t need to involve comfort eating for a professional sportsman’s body to deteriorate a touch and that change can be significant when you’re dealing in the small margins involved in elite sport.


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  1. There is a new kid, Varun Aaron who clocks over 90 MPH regularly and says he won’t sacrifice pace for line & length. I give it 2 years before Indian coaches get a 75 MPH line & length bowler out of him

  2. RP Singh is certainly displaying early signs of middle-age spread at the ripe old age of 25. He looked the real deal 4 years ago.

  3. Absence of significant muscle mass is definitely a factor. In most cases, these players grow up in middle class/lower middle class families, and protein ingestion in the formative years might have been a problem. It is no accident that India’s best fast bowler, Zaheer, also looks pretty healthy. Injuries always happen, its only the healthy people that can get over it fast.

    An exception to this was Srinath, who always looked like he needed a defibrillator, and yet managed a successful career.

    1. That would explain a lack of fast bowlers, but it doesn’t explain why they all seem to lose pace in their mid-20s.

    2. It’s good that Zaheer gets over injuries quickly, otherwise he wouldn’t be ready when the next one came along.

  4. The only person who has lost pace significantly is Irfan. Ishant can still bowl at the same pace he started with, and Nehra and Sreesanth were never quick to begin with. With Irfan, Greg Chappell is to blame. As I commented here or somewhere else a while ago, Pathan started out as a wonderful swing bowler who had the ability to pick up wickets and was also a useful bits and pieces batsman. Then he was promoted up the order, asked to concentrate more on his batting. He lost the ability to swing, lost some pace, lost the ability to pick wickets, and still remained a bits and pieces batsman.

    1. I could be wrong here (because many people have pointed this out about Munaf), but the only match where his pace actually troubled people was in a warm-up match against England where he took a five-for. If he did start out as the quickest bowler in the country, he lost it all too quickly to warrant a serious discussion, IMO.

  5. I remember players like Martin McCague, Alan Mullally, David Millns and Alan Igglesden being described as fast, until someone actually watched them play. Maybe that’s what happens here.

    Mind, I also remember Tony Middleton being someone I thought should open for England, and looking back it turns out he was slightly better than mediocre for about half of one season, so perhaps I’m not very reliable.

    1. Tony Middleton!

      As something of a connoisseur of mediocre Nineties cricketers, we enjoyed that comment.

    2. Actually, turns out that one good year he had was really good. 6 centuries and almost 1800 runs at almost 50. Shame that the year I picked him for my Telegraph fantasy cricket side was the year after. I remember also picking one time future of ‘English’ fast bowling, Andre van Troost, and Jason Gallian. Quack quack oops.

    3. Wait, those inverted commas kind of make it sound like he wasn’t quick. They were actually highlighting the stupidity of the phrase ‘genuinely quick’.

      Andre van Troost was quick. Genuinely.

  6. In this context, I’d just like to mention Fanie de Villiers.

    Not really relevant, but Fanie de Villiers is mentioned far too rarely around here for my liking…

    …and he did know how to get a bit of extra pace out of a quickie.

  7. What the hell is going on at the Oval.

    Has the world gone mad. England – even at their absolute bloody worst – were never pulverized like this.

    This is extraordinary.

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