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Shivam Mavi was India’s joint second highest wicket-taker in the U-19 World Cup. Photo: AFP
Shivam Mavi was India’s joint second highest wicket-taker in the U-19 World Cup. Photo: AFP

How India learnt to bowl fast

In the U-19 World Cup, the Indian pacers were clocking an unusual average of 145kmph

Even before India’s Under-19 team won the World Cup, pacers Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Shivam Mavi and Ishan Porel had started making waves with their speed and skill in New Zealand.

More than the wickets they took, it was the speed (an average of 145 kmph) with which they were bowling that was creating a lot of buzz. Nagarkoti and Mavi, among India’s most successful bowlers in the World Cup, now have Indian Premier League (IPL) contracts in the Rs3 crore range.

“IPL has played a big part in the evolution of Indian pace bowling as most of the youngsters watch a lot of top-class bowling in this tournament," says team bowling coach Paras Mhambrey. “Some of them are lucky to bowl at the nets with top-class bowlers and see what goes into the making of a great fast bowler. The diet and training programmes of these bowlers, and interacting with the best coaches, has only helped Indian cricket."

With the emergence of Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra and Ajit Agarkar, among others, India showed they too could produce fast bowlers like neighbour Pakistan. The gradual development of pace bowlers has helped improve the Indian attack, which is reflected in the overall improvement in overseas matches that tend to be conducive to fast bowling. The evolution has been so smooth that now even Under-19 players are bowling at 140-plus speeds, once a rarity in India.

“I won’t be too focused on speed guns because sometimes this mechanism can get faulty," says Mhambrey, who has also worked with the IPL team Mumbai Indians as bowling coach. “But they did hurry the batsmen (in the World Cup). The bounce they generated, the way the ball went to the wicket-keeper, speaks volumes about the culture (of fast bowling). They have the desire to bowl quick and now you need to complement it with the right technique and fitness programmes."

“Fast bowling is mostly about your body and fitness provided you have the basic talent. If someone can spend 4-5 hours daily at the nets for five days in a week, you can become a good bowler," says Nehra.

Apart from spinners, India used to have a tradition of producing medium pacers. Over the last few years, however, quality pace has become essential. “We watch a lot of actions on TV and the internet and are aware that without pace we won’t get attention," says Nagarkoti, who was in Delhi this weekend to meet his mentor, Nehra’s coach Tarak Sinha.

Many experts say that because of the evolution of Twenty20 cricket, swing bowling (and medium pace) has lost its charm since hardly anybody swings the ball after the initial few overs. If you have pace, you can be used in four different spells.

But many still advise against being carried away by sheer pace. Consider the fate of two of India’s fastest bowlers—Varun Aaron is not on the radar of selectors while Umesh Yadav didn’t get to play in South Africa.

“What is the use of 145-plus (speed) if you keep spraying the ball all over? No one fears (only sheer) pace these days," says Venkatesh Prasad, chief selector of the junior team.

The contribution of the Chennai-based MRF Pace Academy in helping young pacers has been well documented over the years. What is less spoken of is the number of fast-bowling coaches working from the state to Under-19 levels.

Former pacers like Lakshmipathy Balaji, Tinu Yohannan, Subroto Banerjee, Deveshish Mohanty, Harvinder Singh and Prasad have been involved with Ranji Trophy, IPL and Under-19 teams. Many young bowlers are able to interact with Zaheer Khan (part of the Delhi Daredevils team for the last few seasons) and Nehra (who has joined Royal Challengers Bangalore as bowling mentor), who are generous in sharing their knowledge.

A lot of hard work goes on behind the scenes. The role of Yogesh Parmar (physiotherapist) at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) is significant. And Anand Tate, the trainer at the NCA, has charted out many special programmes.

Many of the current Indian pacers, including Jasprit Bumrah, speak highly of Bharat Arun (national bowling coach), who has worked with Under-19 teams and at the NCA.

Over the past decade and a half, almost 50% of the players who have played for India across formats have been fast bowlers. While the constant openings in this department are an encouraging sign for upcoming players, this also underlines the fact that retaining a place in the Indian team is not easy.

“They are now fielding inside the circle (a sign of athleticism) because of enhanced fitness standards. It is hurting the egos of batsmen when they see fast bowlers are fielding inside and earning plaudits with other skills (besides bowling)," says Abhay Sharma, the Under-19 fielding coach.

“You need to give credit to the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) for the financial set-up now. A young pacer knows that even if he gets injured, he would be looked after by the board," says Mhambrey, who played two Tests and three One Day Internationals (ODIs) for India in the 1990s.

From Munaf Patel to Irfan Pathan, Indian cricket has seen how promising players have compromised on pace despite a great start. Earlier, many used to think more about longevity than bowling full tilt.

“In Rajasthan, we have seen how promising pacers—like Nathu Singh—lose their way as they struggle to handle sudden attention and money. I am trying my best as a mentor that Kamlesh doesn’t repeat those mistakes," says Surendra Singh, Nagakoti’s coach.

In an earlier conversation, Nehra had lamented that fast bowlers in India are never as valued as in countries like Australia and England, pointing to the pricing of Indian bowlers and batsmen in the IPL auctions. Now, with Jaydev Unadkat being the most expensive player (Rs 11.5 crore) in the latest auction (beating the likes of K.L. Rahul and Manish Pandey), it does appear that Indian pacers are finally getting their due.

Vimal Kumar is the author of Sachin: Cricketer Of The Century and The Cricket Fanatic’s Essential Guide. He tweets at @vimalwa.

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