The art of fast bowling is a complicated one in the modern era of cricket. With broad bats, flat pitches, small boundaries and the pressure to perform well for the country in all three formats (Tests, ODIs and T20Is), fast bowlers have plenty on their plate when it comes to managing their fitness. In the 90s, bowlers could toil away for long spells and they could maintain the intensity of their pace. This is not the case in the 21st century. Steffan Jones, who played 148 First Class games in a 15-year England County cricket career and who was recently appointed fast bowling coach of the Rajasthan Royals, believes the societal changes from the early decade has resulted in a change in fast bowling dynamics.
Speaking exclusively to News Nation, Jones said, “In the 90s, people would be inclined for sprinting and running in a natural way. Nowadays, most of them do not pursue it. The modern day fast bowler has a different approach to his skill because of the varying demands of three different formats. The way bowlers prepare has changed since there is lot of strength training.”
Jones, who finished with 691 wickets across all formats, believes some basics of bowling do not change. “For fast bowlers, the Yorker was the best delivery at the start and 30 years on, it remains a potent weapon in his hands,” Jones adds with a gleeful smile.
Pace bowlers a dying breed
With the rigorous demand of playing all three formats, many fast bowlers have opted the path of picking and choosing formats. This situation, Jones rued, has led to pace bowlers becoming an endangered species in the sport. However, the 44-year-old stressed that the way one trains in the modern era is the major area of concern.
“Bowling volume is not an issue. Bowling intensity is. Unfortunately, bowlers are expected to run a marathon when it is actually a sprint race. Educating the bowler on the dynamics of pace bowling is key. For instance, some bowlers have different dynamics. One might have to spend time in the gym in order to build power in the body while others might just have to work on technique,” Jones said.
The technique vs power factor is a key point raised by Jones and it was this perspective which won Jones plenty of plaudits, including one from England pacer Stuart Broad during his short stint with the Hobart Hurricanes in the 2017 Big Bash League. Broad, who was going through a lean patch, was given a timely advice by Jones and it helped him rediscover his pace and swing. Dan Christian, who had almost given up on bowling, was also coached by Jones and a modification to his technique resulted in a revival in his bowling.
When queried further about the intensity factor, Jones gave a glimpse of his training. “For example, if I train people, I would ask the bowlers to bowl just Yorkers at pace on Monday. Next day, it can be just focusing on line and length with decreased pace. I take the example of sprinters. If they practice for a 100m race, they run 10 meters and they rest for a minute. Managing the intensity can make or break fast bowlers,” Jones said.
Excited to work with Rajasthan Royals
When Jones was appointed for the post of fast bowling coach in Rajasthan Royals, Head of Cricket in the franchise Zubin Bharucha said the 44-year-old offered a fresh perspective to the art of fast bowling. The 2008 IPL champions consist of some very good bowlers in Jofra Archer and Dhawal Kulkarni and Jones said the training drill is very important.
“Rajasthan Royals have some exciting individuals in the side. Archer is one of the quickest in the world while Kulkarni is impressive. However, my aim in the franchise is to ensure the training drill is important. I want to replicate the game situation and expose players to the pressure real-time. Nailing Yorkers on a consistent basis will be the focus,” Jones said.
Recently, Jones published a paper titled, ‘The process of talent development of a fast bowler’ in which he concludes by saying, “Think differently, specifically and keep questioning the status quo.” For a breed that is endangered, this is a fresh perspective to fast bowling.