Cricket fans in India envied the unending list of fast bowlers emerging from the assembly line across the Radcliffe Line on India’s west each time a Pakistan new ball bowler like Sarfaraz Nawaz, Imran Khan, Sikander Bakht, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Aqib Javed, Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammed Asif enjoyed success.
Cricket writers would come up with their own reasons for the absence of quality fast bowlers from the India line-up. There really was no single reference document that researchers could reach out to in their quest to find out the sociological and physiological factors. Besides the noticeable absence of fast bowling talent, there was a gap in cricket literature.
It is always a joy when such gaps in sports literature are plugged. And it is no different to read Speed Merchants: The Story of Indian Pace Bowling (Gulu Ezekiel and Vijay Lokapally, Bloomsbury India, 207 pages, Rs 499), the first book documenting the journey of the country’s pace bowlers.
Happily, it comes at a time when India has a full complement of uncanny new ball bowlers, backing its batsmen to the hilt and earning the respect of teams around the world when bowling them out. This book celebrates the whole clan of fast bowlers, including some who did not have the fortune of wearing an India cap.
From one of the earliest exponent of fast bowling, ME Pavri, to Jasprit Bumrah, with Kapil Dev as a massive turning point in Indian cricket history, the authors have explored the whole quiverful of such artists who have helmed the team, challenged the opposition batsmen and held fans in thrall.
They say fast bowlers hunt in pairs and complement one another. In keeping with the theme of the book, Gulu Ezekiel and Vijay Lokapally have complemented one another in a similar fashion. And in tune with the changing landscape, the reader experiences a different approach in either half of the book.
Gulu Ezekiel has fallen back on the vast research material at his disposal besides reaching out to families of several fast bowlers of the past to secure some invaluable photographs for use in the book. Vijay Lokapally, who has travelled the world covering cricket for a good part of 35 years, has relied on his interactions with the fast bowlers and their team-mates.
The end product is a very racy account of Indian fast bowling, one that you can start reading from any chapter, depending on how far back in time you wish to be transported to. You can choose the conventional cover-to-cover method but this is the kind of book that is so nicely set that you can pick any chapter and still feel the the intensity of the bowlers – and the authors.
Personally, I would have liked an index that would make it easy for readers to find references to their favourite fast bowlers. Surely, the publishers would make amends and include an index before ordering a reprint. Such a valuable addition to a library deserves a good index, especially because of the number of players who find mention in the book.
And yes, I would have loved to read about a generation of fast bowlers who were lost to India. Fazal Mahmood, for instance, was picked for the tour of Australia in 1947-48 but changed his mind after attending the conditioning camp. Then again, Fazal Mahmood’s story could be a book in itself, a tinge of sadness overlaying the romantic tale of a handsome fast bowler.
(G Rajaraman is a freelance sports journalist with 37 years’ experience and has held leadership positions in several media platforms. He is among those who sought reasons for India’s pace bowling cupboard being barren and is now pleased that he can resume his quest, thanks to Speed Merchants.)