A bowler’s wicket haul is an instantaneous thing of joy. It is an evolution process of making the batsmen cramp up for room, cracking up his rib cage, make the ball whiz past his nose, bang hard on the helmet, sometimes the taunting and sometimes even the dropped chances. Such spells make us spellbound only for us to realize what test cricket is all about. But when you are going to scrutinize down only to the wickets the bowler picked, what justice are you doing to the traditional art of fast bowling?
A good spell is characterized by the momentum of the bowler that gears up. It is a subtle art of getting the batsman into all sorts of trouble and eventually knocking him off. That moment is priceless. But the effort behind a priced wicket gets some beating. The bowler has to be consistently working in his process of build-up in order to cash in on his good spell.
There is always a mental battle oscillating between a batsman and a bowler. The bowler is trying everything to force the batsman to do something and the batsman is always cautious not to give his wicket away. The epitome of the battle is reached when both the bowler and the batsmen pay due respect to each other. Even during the afternoon of a lazy day’s play, the battle is wavering here and there. The batsman only wins if he could see the bowler off for the rest of the test and the bowler could only win if he gets the better of the batsmen irrespective of the number of runs he scored. Such contests brighten up a boredom day of test cricket. The audience who missed the day’s play should never miss such riveting action in highlights package.
Most of the times the spectators and to an extent even analysts tend to have deeper observations of a batsman than of a bowler. The reason is simple because after the day’s play when you push yourself against the armchair and gaze at the television, all you see is the boundaries, 2’s, 3’s and everything else a batsman could be judged off, but for a bowler it is just the wickets that he picked gets showed up which is really sad. That dozes in a lazy habit for the viewers to easily write off a bowler if he ends up wicketless and gives away few boundaries. You don’t question yourself even if those boundaries were off the edges. He might be downgraded along with a part timer who could have ticked his wickets column with tail-enders or when batsmen would have given away their wickets cheaply.
Ishant Sharma came to the spotlight not only for dismissing Ponting, but for his spell that shook the Aussie cricketing world that an Indian can bowl over 140 and be damn accurate. More recently Siddle’s monumental effort at the WACA against South Africa showcased not only his physical toughness, but his mental strength to keep us on the edge of our seats as if it was going to be a wicket every ball of his spell. When we saw Steyn ripping through the Pakistan batting line-up in the recently concluded 1st test match, the wickets are deja-vu, but his spell is what that stands unique.
A batsman’s 100 and a bowler’s five wicket haul does not happen like a flashing light of thunder. It is overcome by grit, hard work and could take a toil on your grinding. But still a bowler can be easily put off guard than a batsman. A batsman can be in all sorts of trouble for his first 20 or 30 balls, but still can recover. He has a break every hour in a day’s play of test cricket whereas the bowler is on the back foot with just a couple of boundaries hit even if they were of the edges of the bat. It fickles his mind to try something different even when what he was doing was perfect. Or even in the worst case scenario, his captain could have other ideas and take him off the spell. But to put all those behind and show the same enthusiasm and energy to go for the kill every time the captain throws the ball to the bowler bestows upon him the hallmark of a great bowler.
Behind every thing of beauty in cricket, there is a beautiful story to it as well. We cherish those moments by recollecting the story behind it. Just like how you pinpoint the keen observations of a batsman’s defense; his technique; his display of batsmanship, judge a bowler by his spell and not only by his wickets column. More than the wickets, the spell that showcases the build-up to the inevitable wicket should never be forgotten. It is just like what Richie Benaud would say “These are the reasons we love our cricket; the sounds and images of summer”.