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By Partab Ramchand
I do feel a tinge of sadness when a great cricketer retires. The feeling that I shall not see him on the field of play like I did for perhaps a decade or more leads to a touch of melancholy but I can honestly say I have never felt sadder than when I came across the news that Shane Bond was to quit the cricketing scene. As it is because of injuries and his fling with the ICL his career was limited to just 18 Tests, 82 ODIs and 20 Twenty20 internationals. But the memories he has left us with are not the kind that can be erased easily. These will remain vivid in our minds as for pure fast bowling skills the New Zealand pace spearhead had few equals.
It was only in December last that Bond had announced his retirement from Test cricket. That made for distressing news for whatever his skills in the limited overs game he was first and foremost a great Test fast bowler. Still one was happy that he would at least still be around to regale us with the kind of fast bowling that was a rarity in the new millennium. He turns 35 next month and while some fast bowlers have gone on past that age Bond’s body which has taken more than their share of injuries could only take this much and no more. Ever the perfectionist Bond was apparently unwilling to compromise his own lofty standards for the sake of prolonging the career.
For me the two finest sights in contemporary cricket constituted the bowling of Bond and Dale Steyn. How I wished they could bowl in tandem! The batsman certainly was a bundle of nerves the moment Bond marked out his run up. He fidgeted with his gloves, his bat, adjusted his helmet, looked around for no reason and one could already see beads of sweat on his forehead. He knew that he was up against a foe who could instill fear, was supremely confident of his capabilities and knew a thing or two about fast bowling. Bond’s impeccable line and length coupled with his speed made it difficult for the best of batsmen. His inswinging yorker commanded respect and he really had a mean bouncer that whistled close to the batsman’s head.
Even in the days of Glenn McGrath, Shoaib Akhtar, Brett Lee and Dale Steyn, Bond made waves of his own. And why not? He was genuinely quick and more to the point very accurate. Once a bowler has pace, hostility and accuracy he is a difficult proposition to come up against and that’s what Bond proved to be.
Bond was a breath of fresh air since his introduction to Test cricket on the Australian tour of 2001-2002. He was an immediate success in both forms of the game and in fact became the quickest New Zealander to reach 50 ODI wickets. This was in part made possible by an inspired spell of six for 23 against Australia in the Super Six encounter during the 2003 World Cup. It was the kind of bowling that even the redoubtable world champions had not come across. He dismissed Gilchrist, Hayden and Ponting and at that stage his figures read 4-2-3-3 – an analysis that underscored his hostility and accuracy. In a second spell he in a trice removed Martyn, Hogg and Harvey to have Australia reeling at 84 for seven. Hereabouts Bond’s allocation of overs was all but spent and Bevan and Bichel led a recovery that ultimately saw Australia win by 96 runs. However Bond’s figures of 10-2-23-6 did not go unnoticed and he was given plaudits aplenty for the kind of pace bowling that has been rarely seen especially in ODIs.
Bond’s bowling in the two-Test series against India in 2002-03 was the ultimate fast bowling treat. He played the chief role in the rout with the Kiwis winning both matches comfortably. To get the wickets of Sehwag, Tendulkar, Dravid and Ganguly in the same innings for next to nothing was an incredible feat and that is what Bond accomplished in the first Test at Wellington. He bowled Dravid and Tendulkar, had Sehwag leg before and had Ganguly caught. He had dismissed the other superstar of India’s batting VVS Laxman for a duck in the first innings so it was really straight out of the fiction books stuff that Bond was involved in. In the series Bond got Sehwag three straight times for scores of 12, 1 and 25 and his 12 wickets were taken at just over 16 apiece.
For sheer unadulterated bowling skills Bond had few peers and it’s just plain unfortunate that such a gifted fast bowler was plagued by injuries. It is impossible not to speculate what heights Bond could have reached had he not been so injury-prone and had a fair run particularly in Test cricket. As it is his final bowling figures of 87 wickets in 18 matches at an average of just over 22 is a pointer to what he could well have achieved had his career had an extended unbroken run. His economy rate of 3.4 and strike rate of 38.7 are an embellishment. His figures are as impressive in ODIs where he finished with a tally of 147 wickets from 82 matches at an average of a shade below 21. His economy rate of 4.28 and his strike rate of 29 are right up there with the best in the game. He even excelled in the game’s shortest format as figures of 25 wickets from 20 Twenty20 internationals will testify. As only to be expected his average, strike rate and economy rate were admirable.
Bond started as a tearaway fast bowler but over the years developed skills that put him second to none among bowlers of his ilk. He improved his rhythm and upped his confidence to a level in which he knew he was the best in the business. He was able to swing the ball a lot more and that was additional ammunition that the beleaguered batsmen had to guard against. He added variety to his repertoire and that made him a more complete fast bowler. So while batsmen all over the world heaved a sigh of relief at Bond trying to cut down on his pace it was not good news for them that he added a whole new dimension to his bowling. And as for cutting down on his pace even a fast medium Bond was more than a handful for the best players given the other dimension to his bowling. He was one guy who bowled with his heart on his sleeve.
In a bid to battle injuries Bond worked hard on his fitness. Only in November last year he was rewarded with a match-winning haul of eight wickets against Pakistan at Dunedin. But he again had to withdraw from the two remaining Tests after tearing an abdominal muscle. It was this injury setback following a series of back and feet problems that left him disappointed and frustrated prompting him to reassess his future as a Test player. It must have been a really tough decision to take for this ambitious and highly competitive cricketer. Now he leaves the scene widely regarded as New Zealand's best fast bowler since Sir Richard Hadlee.