I personally admire Lillee for his never-say-die attitude though my knowledge and visual memory of his famous conquests owe their birth and existence to YouTube and classics telecasted on Star Cricket. I also admire him for his sense of style. His moustache and those long locks he used to sport (before they had to give way to the vagaries of ageing viz. balding) Lillee quite fittingly played during the golden era of fast bowling. His stint at the international arena, characterized by grace, speed and power played alongside the very famous and the furiously fast West Indian brigade of Malcolm Marshall, Michael Holding, Joel Garner and Andy Roberts. Not to forget the indomitable Imran Khan, though he wasn’t the fastest in business.
The West Indian legends and Lillee gave way to the next generation of street smart quickies who were not all about pace and power. They had their core competencies in tact and also knew the art of standing up to a new generation of batsmen who were armed with helmets, high quality protection gear and brilliant bats. Shorter boundaries, fielding restrictions, restrictions on a supposedly “negative” line, restrictions on the number of bouncers that could be bowled in an over etc. placed serious limitations on the options available at the bowlers’ disposal. With the fielding restrictions in place, a delicate touch down to third man was all that was necessary to increment the score by four runs. These batsmen, on the other hand, weren’t afraid to shuffle across the line and play the leg glance or flick the ball through square leg or mid-wicket in spite of running a high risk of getting out LBW. Barriers were broken; 250 wasn’t considered a safe target anymore.
The changes in the game, mostly due to the Kerry Packer revolution definitely gave the batsmen an upper hand. It presented the bowlers with a heap of challenges. The new crop of quickies did live up to the challenges. Three fast bowlers from that era stood out. White lightning, Allan Donald, Wasim Akram, the Sultan of swing and the gentle giant, Curtly Ambrose. These three were distinct in their own way but then they carried forward the rich legacy of troubling batsmen with serious pace. They were the legal heirs of the tradition of bouncing batsmen out. Then, there were Glenn Mcgrath and Shaun Pollock, authorities of accuracy. They started the tradition of effective medium pace combined with deadly accuracy. Flashes of brilliance were on offer from the likes of Waqar Younis, famous for his toe-crushers and Courtney Walsh. This, according to me, was the last generation of pure and genuine breed of fast bowlers.
After that, we’ve had Brett Lee, Shoaib Akthar, Shane Bond, Lasith Malinga, Dale Steyn etc. but the fatal and the ferocious bouncers that were delivered with the sole aim of crashing into the human skull, toe crushers that yearned for blood and were intended to break the heels are now missing. The fire, the passion and the power that one usually associates with fast bowling is long gone. Yes Malinga knocks a slightly distracted batsman off his feet in a jiffy, but how enchanting a sight is it? The way he does it, his action, well, I’m unimpressed. You have to be a fan of the 90s brand of cricket, those low scoring encounters, the epic chases in Sharjah to see what I mean. Yes, Dale Steyn and Brett Lee bowl those leapers that brush the batsman’s chest on the way to the keeper but then it’s no where close to the ones that Allan Donald used to bowl. Where are the bodyline-type fast bowlers, the bloodthirsty ones who licked their lips on the way back to their mark, the vampires who considered the sight of blood dripping down a batsman’s forehead to be unmatched and the greatest in the world?
Look at what we have come down to, in terms of swing bowling! We have been relegated to such a level wherein we are forced to refer to Jimmy Anderson and Simon Jones as the modern day exponents of conventional and reverse swing respectively. What a disgrace, what a fall from the good old days of Wasim Akram and Imran Khan!?! The fact that Munaf Patel features in a playing eleven as a fast bowler is itself an ignominious retreat for the art of fast bowling! The cricketing world needs to reconsider bringing back a few rules: lifting the restriction on the number of bouncers that could be bowled in an over in tests will definitely be a step in the positive direction. The BCCI may object, considering the inability of their batsmen to counter short pitched stuff, but then cricket needs to move forward and an endangered art needs to be rescued and restored to its past glory. The wide rule could be revised. Coaches need to turn back a few pages and revisit the history books of cricket to re-discover and implement the fitness mantras of the legends. The scheduling of matches needs to be looked into; over-kill of cricket is a problem that’s been discussed quite widely in the cricketing circles without productive results.
No one wants to see Tilakaratne Dilshan open the bowling for Sri Lanka in a world cup quarter final ever again. Take us back to the good old times. POWER, PACE AND PASSION, PLEASE!