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Once a great bowler always a great bowler.
by Sunil Gavaskar
Apr 24, 2009
The decision by Cricket Australia not to play Brett Lee in the One Day Series against Pakistan is a wise one indeed. Lee has been out of action since undergoing ankle surgery and missing most of the last Australian season. It was thought that he would try to get back to cricket in the Indian Premier League where a bowler has to bowl only four overs in a game and so test out his ankle in that format. When he came down to South Africa to practice with the team it was thought that he had recovered quicker than hoped for but with the Ashes Series looming, the selectors quite clearly did not want to take a chance and have Lee injured again. They would have remembered what happened to Andrew Flintoff who too has had ankle problems and has been in and out of cricket for the last couple of years. Ankle injuries are a serious hazard for a fast bowler and because of the sheer enormity of the effort of delivering a ball at speed, the pressure on that part of the leg is tremendous and unfortunately if there is even a bit of a shifting of the turf under the foot when it lands the injuries can be anywhere from the ankle to the back.

Lee's absence didn’t seem to make much of a difference when Australia beat South Africa in the Test series but there is no doubting that his experience will come in handy for the Ashes Series, especially since the quicks who did duty in his absence in South Africa have not played a Test in England as yet. That apart from the aesthetic point of view, his absence will mean that the cricket fans will not get to see one of the great actions in the game. Lee's run-up and the way he builds up steam as he approaches the crease to deliver his thunderbolt is a sight to behold.

It's all the more relevant in an era where bowling actions seem positively ungainly. The recent India-New Zealand series saw some good cricket played but when it came to the bowling actions of the Kiwi bowlers the fans were left wondering where are the successors to one of the greatest actions, that of Sir Richard Hadlee? Hadlee may have started his career with the style of taking a step backwards before beginning his run up to the crease but soon he had worked on that, eliminated it and shortened his run-up without losing out on pace and his final delivery style could well be the cover picture on any book on bowling.

In other teams too there aren't too many with the classical side on actions that were pretty much the norm in the not too distant past. Today perhaps with the prompting of the bio mechanists, the bowlers are being encouraged to bowl with their chests in front than the sideways action preferred by the greats of the past.

The late great England off-spinner, Jim Laker when asked what his idea of heaven was, replied that it would be watching Ray Lindwall bowl from one end and Bishan Bedi from the other. Having seen Lindwall's action on film, one can well understand why the first bowler ever to take ten Test wickets in an innings gushed so much about him and having played several Tests with Bishan Singh Bedi it is easy to rave about him. That Indian team of the 70s had bowlers with beautiful actions. There was Bedi himself and Erapalli Prasanna and Venkataraghavan who had a simple run up and lovely delivery action. The other spinners who didn't quite make it to the Tests, Rajinder Goel and Padmakar Shivalkar also had dream actions and it was that ease of action that enabled these bowlers to bowl over after over in the heat.

Who can forget Richie Benaud's run up and action and Graeme Mackenzie the big fast bowler from Australia. His successor, Dennis Lillee also had a wonderful action and Glen McGrath's economy of action is a model for all upcoming fast bowlers. That McGrath has had no back problems is a clear indicator of the stress free action that he had.

I must end with a story about Subhash Gupte the great Indian leg spinner who none other than the one and only Gary Sobers, rates as the best he has seen. Gupte who was living in Trinidad was the Indian team's Liaison Officer in 1971. I had heard so much about his action but had not even seen it in club cricket, so I was pestering him to bowl just one ball in the nets even in his civilian clothes so that i could see it. He kept on refusing not just because he had played no cricket for ten years but also probably because he didn't want to, in-front of some of his Mumbai, Rajasthan and Shivaji Park teammates who still were in the Indian team. Finally on the eve of the final Test, after all these guys had gone to the dressing room, he agreed to bowl just one ball. He was in civvies and with black leather shoes. The run-up, though a bit sluggish with age, was rhythmic and the action jaw dropping easy. The first ball landed on the spot. He turned and saw the appreciation not just from me but the reserve players in the team. There was a batsman in the nets who wasn't picked in the eleven for the Test next day and at his request, he bowled another one that turned slowly from leg to off. He then winked at me as he turned to bowl the next one. This one was the famous googly that the then world's best batsmen couldn't pick. It landed exactly on the same spot as the previous one and as the batsman shaped to cut, it turned into him and rapped him on the pads. Gupte whirled back with the typical Shivaji Park laugh and walked away.

Once a great bowler always a great bowler.

 
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