Former West Indian pace ace holds forth on the disappearance of swing, on great bowling pairs, and on what West Indies can do to get back on track
The ICC Champions Trophy 2017 is the first one in which West Indies is not taking part, the 2004 champions having fallen to No. 9 in the ICC rankings and thus failing to qualify. The only West Indian presence is in the form of Ian Bishop’s commentary. A fast bowler who had all the tools to be counted as one of the greats but whose career was cruelly cut short by injury, Bishop’s forthright and analytical views on the game have always found a keen audience. Bishop took some time out to speak on why the ball was not swinging in England, the hurt at West Indies missing out, and which pacers excite him most. Excerpts:
Why has the ball not been swinging in England?
I don’t know. I’m being honest. It’s been a topic of conversation, it’s been very, very surprising. Just talking to one or two friends as well in county cricket, they were saying that it hasn’t swung much there either. I’d be loath to tell you that I know what the answer is.
Could it be something to do with the ball itself?
It’s a theory. But I can’t prove it, so it will only be speculation. But as far as the wrist position of some of the bowlers we have seen in this tournament, it has been very good. The seam presentation has been very good. And I’ve played here long enough to know that even if it is cold or warm or overcast or whatever, at some point you will get the ball to swing. But we haven’t seen much of it so… I don’t want to blame the manufacturers of a ball without proof. It is a mystery.
What does a bowler do when the ball is not swinging or moving much?
I think bowlers have shown that they are an adaptable species. What we’ve seen so far here is that even though 300 seems to be a total that is scored quite often, guys are using the crease, they are pulling the length back in the first Power Play and then pulling their length back even further with the restrictions on the field and in the middle overs. They’re using angles as well. They will change up their pace, change up their length quite often. It’s about all that they can do if the wickets are good. And most of the wickets have been good. But I would like to see, somehow, that swing come back with the new ball because it does ask greater questions of batsmen who are accustomed to flat pitches in the modern game. For me, it makes the game interesting. It brings a nice facet to the game.
Looking at ODI cricket’s evolution, do you think the England method is the way to go in the future? It’s almost like treating a 50-over game like a 20-over one?
(Laughs) It will be great entertainment for the crowd if does, won’t it! But England are fantastic. Just the space of time that they have managed to turn around their game to such an exciting brand of cricket is phenomenal. I couldn’t blueprint that myself. And if you have to compete with them, you have to be better than they are. You have to have a really good bowling line-up and yes, dynamic batsmen. I think they have set down a marker for the rest of the teams and the world to follow. If they go on to win this Champions Trophy, you’ll find a lot more teams – if they haven’t already – adopting that blueprint.
Which pacers in the modern game excite you the most?
I think Mitchell Starc has shown that once the ball is swinging, he’s a real handful in the modern game. For the West Indies, for example, you’ve got Shannon Gabriel, who I think is now 29, but has really found a greater range and understanding at this level. Hasan Ali of Pakistan is someone who I have a lot of admiration for. He made his Test debut in the Caribbean. If he stays fit, he is going to be a great entertainer down the road. Adam Milne and Kagiso Rabada as well. There are some good young fast bowlers around the town.
Alzarri Joseph and Kagiso Rabada have both been U-19 stars. Rabada has made the transition to senior cricket and become one of the top quicks in the game already. Do you see Joseph following that path?
Rabada is fantastic. And generally it is good to see the guys from the Under-19s coming through. Every tournament that the ICC have, you see one or two guys a few years later coming through. Alzarri is a fantastic talent. Along with Rabada, for them to make their entrance to international cricket so soon after age-group cricket speaks a lot about their intelligence and commitment to the game.
I think he will go far, Alzarri. Why I say that is because he is quick enough. He is not Rabada’s pace, but he’s quick enough. He has a great wrist position which allows him to swing the ball away. But more than that, he seems to have a good ‘feel’ for bowling. He can be a little bit naïve sometimes, as you’d expect from a 20-year-old, but I think he’s got the skills. The more exposure he gets, he’ll be fantastic.
When you speak of feel for bowling, what do you mean?
Understanding what delivery to bowl when, understanding what the batsman might be trying to do at different phases of the game and staying ahead of him. When you talk about the shortest formats, T20 and even 50-overs cricket, you have to start anticipating a lot about what a batsman might do at a crunch time. When do you bowl your cutters? When do you bowl your slower balls? When do you go to the yorker? Not only that, but recovering from maybe a game where you have gone for a few runs and getting back on course quite quickly. Those are characteristics that a modern bowler has to do. Because in many ways, it’s a more demanding game than a couple of generations before.
What do you think of the Indian pace attack?
It’s good, it’s good. Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah – they’re all good. They all bring different skill-sets. Bumrah’s changes of pace and yorkers, Bhuvneshwar swings the ball and he’s had to adapt his game to different pitches and conditions now. He’s put on a little bit of pace too. Shami and Yadav are very sharp and quick. So it’s competent. What that does is it helps you to be more successful overseas. It will help India not only to be good at home, where they have R Ashwin, but to be better overseas too.
Would you say this is among the best Indian pace attacks you have seen?
We spoke of exciting bowlers, are there any exciting bowling partnerships that you enjoy watching?
It’s hard to pinpoint. We haven’t seen much of Rabada and (Dale) Steyn bowling together after Rabada has matured. (James) Anderson and (Stuart) Broad, in Test match cricket, are still very much something to look at and learn from, and be excited about in the right conditions. But I couldn’t pick any of the top off my head. But as a connoisseur of fast bowling, I’m just very excited by all the names we have discussed, plus a few more around.
Your bowling partnership with Curtly Ambrose could have been a great one…
He was just… he was fantastic. So many times he created pressure if he wasn’t getting wickets. A lot of the times, he would get wickets. I had a lot of self-belief at that time bowling at the other end because he created opportunities for me. But more than just the bowling partnership, it was great to be on the field and watch him and someone like (Courtney) Walsh. They bowled very well in tandem with each other for so many years. Their control of length, their understanding of match situations and just their accuracy, I mean it was fantastic. Because they were taller, they got bounce and they were so consistent, they didn’t probably need some of the other skills that guys needed to have. Great team men as well.
Personally, would you rank bowling alongside Ambrose as the most enjoyable partnership for you?
I didn’t stick around long to have an enjoyable partnership with anyone! (Laughs) Look, a lot of memorable times. Yes it’s good to be on the field, and to contribute and to be with those guys at different points, but it’s more about what they did. Walsh and Ambrose had such lengthy careers, it was just great to be there and to learn from what they were able to pass on. For a time we were there with the late, great Malcolm Marshall, to sip off his knowledge. So I don’t really think about whatever little bit time I had.
West Indies are not in the Champions Trophy. Does that hurt?
Of course it does. It was unexpected. If I had thought about that four years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to convince myself (that West Indies wouldn’t qualify for the Champions Trophy). But however, it should be a wake-up call as well. We need to get things going. There is still a fair amount of talent, but you have to build long-term for that. It’s become very competitive.
The best teams are here. The rankings suggest that too. Bangladesh have been good for a couple of years now, Pakistan just hung in there long enough and are rebuilding. So West Indies just have to continue on the process that has been started, and we’ll see some good young players coming through. Just show faith in them.
Do you have any suggestions or ideas on how to get West Indies back on track?
It’s all about development. I think administratively, New Zealand are a good example. I have to admit, a few friends have said that to me. Administratively they are very competent. They have got their strategic goals and they have been carrying it out for a few years. The population sizes are the same. It’s not my idea or concept, but I just want to commend the guys who have enlightened me about it. And that’s the path that West Indies need to take. There’s been a development plan in place for about three years now. We are starting to see guys like Roston Chase, Shane Dowrich, Shai Hope – even though his stats aren’t great at the moment – and Alzarri Joseph come through there as well. Stick with them, continue the development process. Hopefully that leads to greater financing, which the Caribbean region really needs, and then we’ll see what happens. But there is talent.