The bowling ethos of pro-bowling coach Ian Pont is based around one simple fact – anyone can get quicker. Whether it’s your Sunday medium jobber or elite-level demon, Pont is an advocate for self-improvement. “I think we’re behind in terms of coaching speed,” he tells AOC.
We’ve asked Pont for the fast bowlers that he admires; those throughout the ages who best exemplify his theories.
“When I first started coaching, people suggested I was just trying to clone bowlers. That’s impossible, because everyone is different and has their own quirks, but I wish I could because I’d be creating 20 of each of these guys!”
1. BRETT LEE
Lee is the closest I’ve ever seen to perfection. Obviously, he’s not perfect, because we’re never going to be 100 per cent as humans (we’re not robots). But, from my perspective, he has all of the static and moving positions that I believe you need to excel.
If you have Brett Lee’s action, you’re going to be a pretty damn-fine bowler, because you’re getting the ball in the right direction and you will be able to control it at fast speeds.
There are five of these moving positions that make you bowl fast – put simply, the acronym RSSSA – which, when put together, is your bowling action.
How far you move the cricket ball. When you bowl a ball, at some point the ball isn’t moving, just before you pull the ball forward, having pulled it back, just before you deliver it. From that point, in a fraction of a second, you move the ball forward and bowl, in the space of less than two metres, and so the ball goes from ‘rest’ to whatever you bowl – which in Brett’s case was 90mph. The longer you can hold the ball, the greater distance you’re pulling the ball and the more speed you are creating. Brett does this brilliantly.
The run-up, speed of movement, is fast. For example, if you’re a front-on bowler, you generate all your speed from your run-up, as Brett did.
All his body parts work from the floor upwards – feet first, knees, hips, chest, shoulders, elbow, wrist and then ball. It’s like a rocket having bits that fall away that help to propel it up; it’s a gradual process where everything works together for the end goal.
You don’t move the parts of your body all at once. You have to separate the movements and create a ripple effect that ends with you bowling the ball.
If you run up straight, go to the crease straight, follow-through straight – the ball will, invariably, go straight.
2. MICHAEL HOLDING
Watching the 1976 series between England and the West Indies, Holding bowled some absolute rockets at the Oval. He ran in with that Rolls Royce run-up – Holding was a sprinter as a youngster – and he did one of the most important things as a fast bowler. He locked his front-leg, straight. From my “Four Tent Peg” mechanism, this is the third – the release of the cricket ball – and Holding did it perfectly.
That deceleration of the base, from locking his front leg, then accelerating the top half of his body. Much like when you’re on a bike and you hit into a kerb – your head and the rest of your body takes you over the handle bars. It’s the same sort of principle.
Watching him bowl at a time when we hadn’t seen much ferocious fast bowling was incredible. It was just wonderful to watch. I grew up on him and it was fair to say he started an 18-year domination by fast bowlers. He was the spearhead of that.
3. SHOAIB AKHTAR
I met Shoaib when I was working with the Worcestershire academy. He is possibly the most knowledgeable fast bowler I’ve ever spoken to.
He knew his own bowling action; what he did, how it works. He clearly wanted to go down the express bowler route and he was always trying to push himself to bowl quick. Even at the end of his career, he was still bowling well above 90mph. And he had an incredibly good slower ball. He wasn’t the tallest either.
He’s all about aggression – he just wanted to pin the batsman to the sightscreen! His change of pace was also deadly and he showed that you didn’t have to be seven-foot tall to bowl quick!
4. DALE STEYN
He’s probably going to turn out to be the greatest fast bowler that ever played.
He swings the ball both ways and you can’t really pick it up from his wrist because he moves his thumb position around a bit. A lot of people leave him when they shouldn’t or push at the ball when they shouldn’t.
What separates him from Tim Southee and James Anderson, who are both fantastic, is that Dale does it at speed. He’s doing it around 8mph faster so it appears to swing later. It swings as a batsman goes to hit it. It’s not going around corners, but it does enough.
5. IMRAN KHAN
He was the first person I ever heard of who went away and added pace, while playing. People remember Imran from the club circuit in England as a good club bowler when he was younger, and nothing special. Then he worked on his fitness and came back as a devastating swing bowler, about 10mph faster.
He developed his bowling in an era when there were no bowling coaches; putting on pace and moving the ball in the air, late. He had everything and he did it all by himself.