WHY are today’s fast bowlers unable to attack a batsman’s body? Why are they unable to bowl a decent yorker? Why do they just keep bowling up-and-down stuff when the wicket is one of the bounciest in the world?
These are some of the questions that came to mind as I watched part of the first day’s play in the third and final Test between Australia and the West Indies at the WACA ground in Perth. The pitch there is one of the fastest in the world and the West Indies have found it a happy hunting ground in the past.
But this time, they do not have the bowlers to take advantage of the bounce that the pitch offers. Only one, the youngster Kemar Roach, was able to use the pitch to some extent. He gave the Australian captain, Ricky Ponting, a good working over and forced him to retire hurt after getting one ball to rise and hit Ponting on his left elbow.
Like all great batsmen, Ponting – and despite the fact that he is in the twilight of his career, the Australian captain is still a class act – has his moments of vulnerability at the start of an innings. Last January, he was given a good working over by the Indian teenager Ishant Sharma and lost the duel. This time, it remains to be seen what he will do when he resumes his innings sometime later in the game.
The rest of the West Indies pacemen were innocuous. They tried to maintain a good line but never threatened. Ravi Rampaul may be a decent tailend batsman but he is no class as a bowler.
The third paceman, Antiguan Gavin Tonge, from the same island that produced the feared Anderson Montomery Everton Roberts, looked to be bowling well within himself and needs to free up his action a bit to generate enough pace. He looks cramped when he bowls though he has the height and physique to be a good fast bowler.
But height and muscle are only half the story. The late Malcolm Marshall was a small-made man but find me a batsman who felt unafraid when the Barbadian with the whippy action was marking out his run-up. The willowy and graceful Michael Holding could hardly be called muscular but batsman called him “Whispering Death.”
Fast bowlers no longer seem to be able to bowl the famous “throat ball” that Colin Croft made his specialty. They seem to be unaware of the “Sandshow crusher” which was a favourite of the great Pakistani fast bowler Waqar Younus who would often knock over all three wickets with one.
When a fast bowler can home in on a batsman’s body and get the ball to bounce awkwardly, it is only a matter of time before the ball is fended off to a close-catcher. And the West Indies were masters of the art of doing exactly this.
On the Australian side, Mitchell Johnson occasionally does get the ball to do unpleasant things but he is erratic and can bowl 20 overs all over the place before he gets one over on target. As a result, batsmen do not have difficulty negotiating his bowling.
Doug Bollinger is good with the old ball though one has to see whether he can use the Perth strip to good effect. The third Australian paceman, Clint McKay, is an unknown quantity.
It is interesting to note that during the West Indies heyday, the 80s, their bowlers were the match-winners more often than the batsmen. The bowlers conceded only around 24 runs per opposition wicket, a figure that went up to something around 26 in the 90s. By 1995, Australia had dethroned them.
In the 2000s, the West Indies bowlers have been getting wickets at the cost of about 50 runs apiece. Their batting figures have stayed relatively stable over these three decades.
Which goes to show that during the good times, the bowlers were the ones who pulled the irons out of the fire. They do not have bowlers of that class anymore – occasionally, someone shines as Jerome Tayor did when they beat England by an innings in Jamaica earlier this year.
But for the most part, the West Indies bowlers cannot take the 20 wickets required to win a Test. And that, one fears, will be the case for some time to come.