Looking good versus bowling good

In his column in the Hindustan Times, Anil Kumble writes of Ishant Sharma, thus:

What can be controlled is Ishant Sharma’s workload. He may be playing a lot but it is still important for him to get in a lot more overs. Most of the training time is taken up by gym work, which adds strength but you have to include a lot of sprinting as well to ensure that the rhythm is right. The challenge is to get the balance of cricketing skills, strength and cardiovascular training. The skills part is, naturally, most important and it is also necessary to realize that each person is made differently.

Which is why it is paramount that one understands the body quickly. Ishant is a young man but he would do well to understand what works best for him and apply that to his bowling and training. He’s also a thinking bowler and with the right guidance, he should soon be firing again.

Irfan after Pakistan

Irfan after Pakistan

Perhaps, he could have been tried with the new ball but in a short tournament such as this and after you have lost the first game, you don’t want to experiment. Also, the team combination is what decides who gets the new ball. When Praveen Kumar comes in for RP Singh, you have to give him the new ball as he relies on swing.

Ishant is not the only one — a more famous case is that of Irfan Pathan. In Australia and Pakistan, at his peak, he was whippet-lean, and his rhythm was spot on. During the hiatus after that tour, Irfan hit the gym with a vengeance, came back ‘pumped’ — and immediately thereafter, lost his bowling skills and has never regained them since.

The problem with heavy gym work — especially the kind that involves hard core pumping iron — is that it develops exactly the wrong kind of muscles. The shoulders and ‘wings’ develop — and tighten. And with that, the original bowling action is lost; the arm doesn’t come over as fluidly. Pace and control are the first casualties and once those are gone, confidence erodes and even the variations that worked so well for the bowler are, when delivered at half pace, less effective.

If it’s that simple, wouldn’t you reckon the bowler would know? Equally, that the support staff of coach and physio would spot the danger and move the bowler away from heavy iron work and into the kind of exercises that meet his requirements?

Yes — if the bowler will listen. And it is not just the bowlers — the malaise is fairly prevalent among the younger lot of cricketers. A former coach of India once told me that the ‘kids’ were only interested in building what he called “T-shirt muscles” — the kind you can flaunt in tight Ts, but are totally useless on a cricket field.

“They spend hours in the gym pumping iron,” he said, “and then when their game goes to pieces and you tell them they are not fit, they don’t get it — look at the time we spend in the gym, they argue, failing to understand that this is precisely the problem.”

Anil’s been there and seen all that; his advice to Ishant is good. Remains to be seen, though, if the bowler will take it.

Ishant, too, is top of the mind for Harsha in his last column.

But most dramatic, and disappointing for Indian cricket, was the decline of Ishant Sharma and RP Singh. Coming on the heels of similar problems with Irfan Pathan, Munaf Patel and Sreesanth, it is a question that requires a very serious assessement. Good bowlers bowl well for ten years with the occasional bad period in between, not for two years or a season here and a season there. Could it be too much cricket? Could it too much in the mind? Could it be too little in it?

Inevitably then, the question will be what next? India cannot afford to lose Ishant and RP Singh but for the moment, a period of contemplation might be right. I wonder if players are encouraged to come up with their own solutions because one of the pitfalls of having too many coaches is that players stop becoming very good at thinking for themselves. As an observer I would love to know what these two think about this decline.

Right, just got back after three days away — and there’s an overflowing in-tray to deal with. Back here much later, folks — random doodles, as always, here.

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6 thoughts on “Looking good versus bowling good

  1. Pingback: Antidote « Smoke Signals

  2. Do you think it is at the personal level that the talent in Indian bowling stars is lost?

    According to me, if it is the gym work that makes them what they should not be, we are not the only side which does it. And the workout plan should be a standard one at the coaching/physical training level.

  3. In light of all the talk about accountability, would it not be pertinent to ask what Venkatesh prasad has been doing with the bowlers – under his tutelage, 2 or maybe 3 of India’s great bowling hopes have gone “phisss” over the last 2 years. A good first step would be to fire that guy.

    Second, it is well known that Zaheer was very injury prone but since he has taken over Yoga with VVS, the benefits on his conditioning as well as his focus and concentration are visible. Indian bodies are not suited to the kind of heavy lifting gym work these guys are apparently putting in. Weights take a toll on your back specially which is the fast bowler’s greatest asset as well as weakness. The other thing that suffers with heavy lifting is tendons, specially in the elbow and shoulders. Zaheer and Nehra’s model is there for these younger guys, if they can open their eyes and see past the flashing cameras and falling currency notes. The problem is not many have the persistence and luck of Zaheer or Nehra to last through the dark phase and come out stonger on the other side.

  4. Hi Prem,
    The problem with Irfan is vey well known… Having seen and heard that, is Ishant such a daft to go through the same route. Probably the IPL dollars happened too soon.

    Also, in case of Irfan, would concentrating on the right muscles and cooling off on working out the T-shirt muscles relax them and allow them to regain their rhythm?

    • To an extent yes, but it is considerably easier to lose your skills than to regain them — you need to reverse the physical process first, then start from scratch on your bowling skills, and meanwhile time and opportunities pass you by.

      Ishant is not the only one in the team. Much of Yuvraj’s earlier mobility in the field has been lost thanks to his gym work.

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