For generations, Indian batsmen, battered and bruised by heavy shelling from the opposing pace barrage, have stood in the slips and fantasised about some day having a tearaway fast bowler on their side to give it back. One who could fight fire with fire on their behalf. One like Varun Aaron.
As painful a sight as it was, they might well have had a wicked glint in their eye when Aaron’s menacing bouncer struck Stuart Broad on his nose and broke it at Old Trafford. Or when he had England captain Alastair Cook caught at fine-leg while attempting a hook with just his seventh delivery on tour. But the short-pitched delivery from the English tour that gets the 24-year-old most excited is the one with which he pushed Moeen Ali on to the back foot and left him in no position to deal with the fiery yorker that followed it.
For, Aaron is not your quintessential tearaway. He doesn’t talk about the bouncer like it’s his doomsday device. Instead he refers to it merely as a ‘setup’ delivery, while insisting that his bowling approach is based on a more sedate McGrath-esque mantra: hitting top of off.
“You don’t always get batsmen out with a bouncer. If you dig out, in five matches you might get three or four batsmen out with a bouncer. It plays around with a batsman’s footwork and that’s what I use it for mainly. It shouldn’t be over-used,” Aaron, who was picked for the three ODIs against Sri Lanka, tells The Indian Express.
“To succeed in Test cricket, you have to be able to hit the top of off-stump regardless of where you’re bowling and who you’re bowling against,” he adds.
When Aaron landed in England back in June, he hadn’t played a Test for over two years, and was on his umpteenth return from an injury-break. He had to wait a further few weeks before playing only the second match of his largely truncated career at Manchester. And even if he didn’t set the stage on fire there and at The Oval, he did enough to embellish his reputation as being one of India’s rare entries in the ‘Right Arm Fast’ category.
But setting pulses racing with pace is simply an ancillary virtue to possess according to Aaron. It’s planning and executing a batsman’s downfall that gets him going rather than simply blowing them away with brute force. No wonder you can sense his pulse rising as he reminisces about the dismissals of Gary Ballance and Ali from Old Trafford. If anything, he’s that rare species, the ‘thinking tearaway’.
“Ballance wasn’t really playing anything on fourth stump or fifth stump. So I thought the best way to get him to play was to go around the wicket and bowl into him. That’s what I did and it worked. In terms of the Moeen Ali dismissal, he hadn’t looked very comfortable against the bouncer in the previous matches and the slip fielders had really worked well on the ball, and it was in a good shape. That ball really swung a lot and it helped me get his wicket,” he recalls.
Come December 4, Aaron will in all likelihood be India’s impact bowler in the first Test at the Gabba. The one that MS Dhoni would unleash on the Australians in incisive spells. But Aaron believes that even in short bursts, the secret for success is always consistency and sticking to your strengths, a lesson that he’s picked up from various conversations with Glenn McGrath.
“You can’t just say I’m on full throttle and bowl full-tosses and half-trackers. You bowl fast and be consistent or swing the ball and be consistent. Consistency is the common factor. My strength is not bowling a half-volley length or trying to swing the ball from upfront. I can’t bowl a half-volley and swing the ball. That’s the way Bhuvi bowls. My full is hitting the top of off, and that’s what I am always striving to do,” he explains.
“That’s what Glenn tells me everytime. ‘Keep things simple and don’t overcomplicate’,” adds Aaron, whose English summer got extended when he signed up with Durham for a couple of county matches.
On the field, Aaron can come across as being a cat on a hot tin roof. Fidgety, restless and at times overtly self-critical. And in his own confession, the express pacer does admit to get carried away at times. Like the time he almost gave away four over-throws after picking up a ball in his follow-through and flinging it towards the stumps in Manchester. But being impulsive, he believes, comes as naturally to him as does pushing the pedal to metal with the speedo-meter.
“As a bowler, when you sense a wicket coming your way, you tend to try a little bit extra or try something a little more. I feel at certain times, you do get carried away. There were times when I should have just stuck to the basics and I could have fetched a wicket rather than try to force one out,” he admits. But he’s quick to liken himself to Marat Safin, the temperamental former tennis star, when it comes to being self-critical publicly.
“If you remember Safin, the number of racquets he smashed. It’s not just because he wanted to show people how to break racquets. It was just how he was. I am not saying I’m him. At times, you just don’t know what you’re doing,” he says.
Indian cricket can only hope that while he embarks on his quest to one day possessing McGrath’s consistency, Aaron remains the bully on their side, the one breathing fire and brimestone and intimidating opposition line-ups. Even if it means having to deal with an odd Safinesque outburst.