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Windies at Old Trafford
by Sunil Gavaskar
Jun 17, 2007
The Old Trafford Test between England and the West Indies showed one thing. If a team has a pace bowler, then he can lift his side’s morale considerably. Fidel Edwards played a Test for West Indies after missing quite a few and when he returned to the side and began to make the English batsmen hop, one could see that the West Indians were enjoying the sight and getting buoyed by it.

Unfortunately for Edwards, he did not quite have the support from the other end and so England were able to get enough runs on the board to put pressure on the West Indies batting, which looks even more fragile after the retirement of Brian Lara. Lara has been in recent times been heard hinting about making a comeback to the game, but in which format is not known as yet. But perhaps the fact that he is less than 50 runs short of the 12,000 run-mark may also be a reason for wanting to make some sort of a comeback. There’s no doubt that if he had been part of the team presently touring England, he would have been given a tremendous send-off by English fans at every ground he played on. There would have also been a fair few functions to felicitate the great man, and that could have been a distraction for the team, though it could well have been the other way around too with the teams being together at these events and being inspired by the congratulations heaped on Lara. All that is conjecture of course as Lara retired immediately after the World Cup.

Coming back to the Old Trafford Test, if Edwards did the scorching bit for the West Indies, then Steve Harmison too made the West Indian batsmen jump around with his pace and the bounce that he gets so naturally from his height. Both Edwards and Harmison are never going to be deadly accurate all the time, but when they get the target right, they are more than a handful for the batsmen.

Harmison had better support than Edwards, and not just from the other end but also from the fielders. How much West Indies cricket has slid downhill can be seen by the schoolboyish fielding and catching of their team. That they took the match into the last day and eventually lost by a small margin will no doubt boost them up as they take on England in the fourth and final Test of the series. If they can turn one back on England and win, it may well spark a revival of self-belief among the West Indies players, who seem bereft of that at the moment.

It has not helped the team to find that Marlon Samuels, who came in as a replacement for the injured skipper Ramnaresh Sarawan, has written a letter to the team management with a copy marked to the West Indies Board that he has not been getting quality bowling in the nets for his batting practice. What Samuels is saying is that the regular bowlers bowl to the top five or six batsmen and then take a rest, which means that he who has come into the side as a replacement finds that he is batting against batsmen who hardly ever bowl in Tests, but who are just rolling their arm over in the nets. This is something that happens regularly to the bowlers who come in to practice batting in the nets. Then, when they are unable to hang in there in the middle, the blame is put on them rather than the established batsmen who may have failed and let the team down. That’s why it is important that a team travelling overseas enlists the help of local bowlers to take the load off their regular bowlers, and also provide quality practice to the entire team.

Whenever a team tours India, you will find dozens of local bowlers bowling at the visiting side’s players, even if they are lower-order batsmen or tail-enders. The local associations do that as a free service to the visiting team, and also so that their young players get to rub shoulders with the international players and get some valuable tips and experience. Often, these net bowlers do not even get a cup of tea or a cold-drink for their efforts, and have no place to take a wash and change from their sweaty clothes into street clothes, but they don’t complain, as their reward is being able to be in close proximity to the Test and international players, and maybe if they are lucky, even get a photo taken with them. If one of them is impressive, then he may end up getting a training shirt or a bat, pair of gloves, or even shoes from the individual player he has impressed.

In countries like England and Australia, the local net bowlers have to be paid for their services even though they may not be up to scratch, and unlike local bowlers in India, who bowl virtually right throughout the net session, these bowlers will bowl to only a few batsmen, and then just have a yarn and a laugh at the back of the nets.

It would indeed be a good idea for the BCCI to inform its counterparts who will be hosting the Indian team, to look for local net bowlers and get them to take the load off the regular bowlers. Since there are enough Indians living abroad who have sons who can bowl and have ambitions, they can be used to come on and relieve the regular bowlers from the team.

Michael Vaughan’s interview to a newspaper did create some ripples, but as soon as the Test started, all that was put on the backburner, as the cricket took over from the off-field scene. Fortunately, cricket is not as big as soccer in the UK, and so the matter did not drag, but imagine if such a thing had happened in the England Soccer team and the England football captain had spoken something about a star player. The reverberations would go on and on, with planted and slanted stories from ‘sources.’ Just like it happens in Indian cricket.

 
More Views by Sunil Gavaskar
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