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What happened to the potency of Bangladeshi pacers?

  • Published at 05:00 pm July 21st, 2019
cricketer
Photo: MD Manik

While watching the pacers from Bangladesh bowling with the new ball during the World Cup, one can hardly recall them as threatening or making life really difficult for the opening batters. In fact, the lack of swing was clearly evident whether it was Mashrafe Mortaza, Mohammad Saifuddin, Mustafizur Rahman or Rubel Hossain in action.

During the match against West Indies, Saifuddin swung the new ball just a little bit for a few overs and he managed to get Chris Gayle caught behind for naught. That wicket came in the fourth over. Against Pakistan, Saifuddin got the wicket of opener Fakhar Zaman in the eighth over when the batsman slashed at a wide delivery only to be caught at point. In all the eight matches Bangladesh played during the World Cup, these are only the two instances when a pacer took a wicket with the new ball during the first powerplay of the game. 

Tigers captain Mashrafe underscored the lack of penetrative bowling in the first 20 overs and poor fielding as the main reasons for their World Cup exit. Statistically, Bangladesh were the worst bowling side in that phase of the tournament. “Bowling has not been up to the mark, starting from me and the others, especially the first 10 or 20 overs," lamented Mashrafe when he spoke with ESPNcricinfo. “We needed to pick wickets.”

If you see when the first breakthrough was given by a Bangladeshi pacer during all the matches in the World Cup, it is quite disconcerting to say the least. In the first match against South Africa, Mustafizur dismissed David Miller in the 36th over. Against New Zealand, Saifuddin took the wicket of Colin de Grandhomme in the 43rd over. Mashrafe sent back Jonny Bairstow in the 20th over during the match against England at Cardiff. Incidentally, that was the only wicket Bangladesh captain took in all the matches he played in. 

Against Australia, Soumya Sarkar picked up the wicket of Aaron Finch in the 21st over. Mustafizur dismissed Afghanistan’s Rashid Khan in the 44th over. Against India, Soumya sent back Rohit Sharma in the 30th over after the batsman scored 104 from 92 balls. Here it should be mentioned that Soumya is not a regular bowler and he bowled only 14 overs in eight matches and managed to pick up four wickets for his efforts. Even though Fizz picked up seven wickets more than the second-highest wicket-taker for Bangladesh - Saifuddin (13) - all of Mustafizur's wickets came only after the 30th over in each game that he played. When the left-arm pacer spoke with Cricbuzz, he attributed the lack of wickets upfront to his inability to produce natural swing. 

"With the new ball swing is important. My ball doesn't swing that much. Sometimes it does but not that much. Many bowlers get natural swing, it doesn't happen with me. I have to work on that so that I can get the inswing," said Mustafizur. Although Fizz has been playing international cricket since April 2015, he has yet to master the craft of bringing the ball back into the right-handed batsman with the new or old ball. For a left-arm pacer to get the inswing into the right-handed batter, the aim should be to come close to the stumps, the more closer you get the front arm comes into play and therefore you can actually swing the ball into the right hander. 

As a pacer if you can swing the ball, you can get wickets even against the best sides in the world. According to Pakistani legend Wasim Akram, swing will get you more wickets than pace eventually. Talking about swing, there is this old adage that you grip the ball in the orthodox manner and you keep your wrist behind the ball. Wasim Akram has explained in many interviews that swing comes from the wrist. He used to lock his wrist when he delivered the ball. For inswing, Wasim would twist his wrist with the ball and for outswing, his wrist would be slightly open. The swing is in the air and that’s where the wrist comes in, if your wrist is wobbly at the point of delivery, you cannot get the ball to swing no matter how fast you bowl. Even though a bowler may not have the natural swing, Wasim believes that the art of swinging the ball can be taught, it requires a lot of practice and a positive attitude towards learning to bowl.

In one-day cricket on batting friendly tracks, the new ball stops seaming only after a couple of overs and you need to rely on swing to deceive the batter. If you cannot swing the ball, you are in deep trouble especially if you are not accurate. You will get punished if you are too full or short, as we have seen the Bangladeshi fast bowlers get smashed around the park time and time again during this World Cup. Although Fizz took 20 wickets in eight matches, he gave away 6.70 runs per over. Mashrafe’s economy rate was 6.44, Saifuddin’s 7.18, Soumya’s 6.50 and Rubel Hossain conceded 7.70 runs per over in the two matches he played, against India and Australia. 

Sarwar Imran was asked the question why Bangladeshi pacers cannot bowl accurately and lack variation even though the Tigers’ coaching staff included the likes of Courtney Walsh and Champaka Ramanayake. Sarwar was blunt in his response and he spoke from his experience with the national team. The world-class bowlers of Bangladesh bowl regularly and they practice at least four days a week. The trainer or physio used to tell Sarwar: this bowler will bowl 30 deliveries, that bowler will bowl 24 balls, so on and so forth. The bowlers do physical training, practice batting and fielding and when it comes to bowling, they are given the quota. 

According to Sarwar, a bowler can never be accurate if he bowls only 24 balls a day, can never learn to swing to ball if he bowls only 30 balls or learn to bowl with the old ball in this way. This culture of bowling in quotas has crept into the national team of Bangladesh and the quality of fast bowling has been deteriorating due to this reason. As the bowling actions of Bangladeshi pacers are not smooth and easy, it becomes even more difficult for them to swing the ball. They lack balance when the back foot lands while the position of the front foot is not always conducive for swing bowling, explained Sarwar.

Sarcastically speaking, Indian legend Kapil Dev compared fast bowling to laborers who toil in the field while batsmen were more like white-collar executives. Fast bowling is the most physically demanding aspect of cricket. As a fast bowler, you need to work hard and have the right work ethic and the aggressive attitude to succeed. When you ask any fast bowler how they reached the top of their game, one thing that is common in all their stories is how much work they put in day in, day out. For our fast bowlers, there is only the hard way, and no other way to succeed.