I was sitting next to Ian Bishop, who the players on the 1989 Indian team rated the fastest and the scariest opposition bowler, when the ball was thrown to the regular West Indies new ball bowler Samuel Badree. This is of course T20 cricket, with a different approach and different qualifications needed, but the contrast was stark. At the end of the over Krishmar Santokie took the still new ball at the other end and promptly bowled one at less than a 100 kmph. By the end of the game against Bangladesh the two had taken 7 for 32 in their 8 overs.
Sitting in the dugout was Ravi Rampaul, easily the quickest bowler in the team but with the realisation that he was fighting for just one available place in the West Indies team. It’s true. With Badree and Sunil Narine in, and with Darren Sammy, Dwayne Bravo and Andre Russell all needed to contribute with the bat, there was just one place available and it went to Santokie who doesn’t play first class cricket. If you wanted a stark look at how one form of the game is different from the other, you needed to look no further.
Then, inevitably, the ICC bowlers rankings came along. The first traditional new-ball bowler in that list was Nuwan Kulasekara at number nine. The top ten was dominated by spinners who, if you were remember, had doom predicted for them when T20 cricket first came around. Narine, Badree, Ajmal, Mendis, McCullum, Hafeez, Shakib, Utseya and Afridi completed the top ten.
Look even more closely at this list and you will realise that apart from Ajmal, no one makes their Test side as a bowler consistently. Maybe Shakib could make the cut even if he didn’t bat, but that is startling. Lasith Malinga slips in at number 11 and he doesn’t play Test cricket either. (It is quite another story that any rankings that have Malinga at no 11 need to be examined closely.)
It was a bit different in Chittagong but even there Mills and McCleneghan, neither Test players at this stage, opened the bowling for New Zealand and Moeen Ali did so for England, for whom Jade Dernbach and Ravi Bopara, both of whom regard the slow ball as their primary weapon, figure as regular bowlers.
I think, like creative directors in advertising, selectors too are looking for bowlers who can do something different. This is almost guerrilla warfare where you shoot an over and scoot sometimes. The ball must do unusual things after pitching so that batsmen attacking it are always courting danger. Far too often though, this ability to do the extraordinary is accompanied by unusual actions; indeed some might say you must have an unusual action to be able to bowl continued…