“Cricket is a batsman’s game, and a fast bowler has to work twice as hard,” asserts Courtney Walsh. The 51-year-old, one of the discipline’s greatest ambassadors, would know. He stands as the only fast bowler to have bowled over 5000 overs. The three bowlers to acheive it are all spinners — Shane Warne, Muttiah Muralitharan and Anil Kumble.
Having graced the sport for 17 years, retiring in 2001, the Jamaican declares that pitches across the world have been getting flatter, consequently supporting batsmen and rendering pacers increasingly ineffective. That aspect, coupled with an intense schedule in the form of T20, ODI and Test cricket, makes it more difficult for pacers, he says.
Yet, Walsh claims that the best way to counter the condition for bowlers is to work on fitness. “The key is preparation. I kept it in my mind that I had to bowl at least 20 overs everyday of a Test match. Mentally I was set. Physically, I focused a lot on running and swimming and I barely went to the gym initially. You need strong legs to let you charge in consistently, with the same aggression for long spells. If you have strong legs the rest of the body will support you,” he says, on the sidelines of a talent hunt in the city.
Speaking on how he scouts for a pacer, Walsh says, “When I’m looking at the younger bowlers, I’m looking for a bowler who can bowl fast, but can also control his pace. Just bowling fast and aggressively doesn’t work. You need to have control,”
Walsh also says that the second and third spells of a pacer are the ones that he should be judged on. “The first spell is always when the bowler is fresh. But if you do well in your second and third, which is when the captain needs an ace bowler, then I would applaud that person,” he says.
Walsh’s pairing with Curtly Ambrose, often rated as one of the deadliest bowling combinations in cricket, has been the last of West Indies’ great pacers. Walsh says the decline is not as much due to the lack of talent as the lack of fitness.
“We’ve had good bowlers like Rampaul, Russell and Best, and a lot more have started off really well. But then they got injured and their speed and ability drops. Our problem is that they get injured,” he laments.
According to Walsh, the Indian team suffers from the same problem. “India has always been reliant on spinners, so pacers don’t get the right treatment. They focus on speed, and not on fitness. That’s how they lose out,” he mentions.