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Cricket: Pace bowling enjoys rebirth

Indian batting legend Rahul Dravid was bowled three times in two tests. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Indian batting legend Rahul Dravid was bowled three times in two tests. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Slip cordons are focused, pitches are bristling and stumps are vulnerable.

Fast bowling is on the rise in the post Shane Warne-Muttiah Muralitharan era.

Whether it has been Dale Steyn or Vernon Philander, Pat Cummins or James Pattinson, Doug Bracewell or Umesh Yadav, pace has dominated in four of the five most recent test series, Pakistan vs Bangladesh excluded.

Yes, four of those five series have been in South Africa and Australia compared to one on the subcontinent but observations indicate pace bowling's resurgence could be a trend; at least in places where grass grows willingly.

Evidence of pace bowling dominance has come with the wickets taken in the last five series. In the first test of the Australia-India series, quick bowlers took 88 per cent of the wickets; in the South Africa-Sri Lanka series up until the end of 2011, it was 76 per cent.

The Australia-New Zealand series saw 80 per cent of the wickets fall to pace, whereas it was 83 per cent between South Africa and Australia. Contrast that with the Bangladesh-Pakistan series on the subcontinent where pace accounted for just 36 per cent of dismissals.

Batting techniques look brittle in the age of Twenty20. Forward defences are offering bowlers too much incentive to aim for a gap between bat and pad; there is sometimes minimal foot movement, particularly to the offside as batsmen swing from the hip, Virender Sehwag-style; the tendency to slog through the legside is rife; and there has been hesitancy leaving balls in the channel outside off-stump.

Perhaps the most telling example of the demise has been Rahul Dravid's recent lean trot. The batsman known as "The Wall" has looked more post-1989 Berlin than China against Australia, getting bowled three times in two tests, including between bat and pad twice. He is three days short of his 39th birthday but needs to reconsider his role captaining the Rajasthan Royals in the Indian Premier League to avoid it tainting his incredible legacy.

Dravid is not alone among the world's batsmen. Blades of willow looked redundant at times in 2011 when you consider teams passed 400 runs in a test 24 times out of 141 innings (17 per cent). Added to that is the fact seven of those 24 innings came from the world's No1 team, England. Compare that to 2010 when teams scored 400-plus totals 45 times in 164 innings (27 per cent).

Groundsmen at the Wanderers, Newlands, the Gabba, MCG and SCG are to be congratulated or scorned, depending on whether you prefer hitting balls or stumps. Most surfaces in South Africa and Australia have had the sort of pace, bounce and five o'clock shadow of grass to leave fans wondering whether Allan Donald or Dennis Lillee had assumed the curator duties.

Such incentives have even affected New Zealand cricket thinking, at least short term. While Daniel Vettori remains capable of spinning a ball and batting profitably at No 6, the move to play four pace bowlers in Hobart may not be a one-off. When New Zealand line up against Zimbabwe and South Africa, expect C. Martin, T. Southee, D. Bracewell and T. Boult to return if fit. A pace renaissance may have begun.

- Herald on Sunday

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