Transcript: Couch Talk 56 with Ian Bishop

Couch Talk Episode 56 (play)

Guest: Ian Bishop, Former West Indies Cricketer

Host: Subash Jayaraman

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Subash Jayaraman– Hello and Welcome to Couch Talk. Today’s guest is former West Indies fast bowler Ian Bishop. We will be talking about his decision to become a fast bowler, his inspirations, the injuries that cut short his promising career, what it takes to be a great fast bowler, current west Indies fast bowlers, toughest and hardest batsmen he had bowled to amongst other things.

Welcome to the show Bish.

Ian Bishop – Thank you!

SJ– Let’s start with when you were a young kid. What is that made you want to become a fast bowler?

IB– To be honest, I had no intention of wanting to become a fast bowler. I started playing cricket in my first and second year of my secondary school, and I basically was an opening batsman. I was the captain of the school’s U-14 team as well. We had a very important game against Fatima College for which Brian Lara was playing. One of my opening bowlers couldn’t make it to the game, we knew from the week before that he couldn’t play. So, I decided that I would fill in for him. I practiced bowling off-spin, it didn’t turn. I tried another ball, it didn’t turn. I gradually started pushing my run up back and back and further back until I started bowling medium pace. This is how I totally by accident became a fast bowler. It was as a batsman that I really started off at school.

SJ– I read in an interview that you had done a little while ago, that you and your brother would watch the West Indies of the 70s, of Holding, Garner and Marshall and then you would run to the Queen’s Park  Savannah and try to imitate them. What was it about their bowling that you wanted to imitate?

IB– In trying to imitate their bowling, you have to understand that those guys were legends, while we were growing up. That was what West Indies cricket was all about. People in the West Indies look up to the West Indies cricket team. My elder school captain, the captain of U-19 and U-16 team, we became very good friends. We, and two other guys, whenever we had a chance to practice, we would go to the Queen’s Park Savannah and we try to imitate what we spent hours watching on tape. We didn’t have much live cricket in the Caribbean, just probably the World Cups. We tried to bowl like Marshall, deliver like Holding and follow through like Colin Croft or something like that. We just tried to imitate all the guys we had seen on video.

SJ– I also read that when you were first selected for West Indies, as a young fast bowling tear-away, you weren’t too much into intimidating the batsmen. But then, soon enough, we saw the kind of treatment that was dealt to Robin Smith in Antigua in 1990 [video link]. So, how was the transformation in you as a fast bowler, how did the mentality come about?

IB– Bowlers of our generation, we allowed the ball to do the talking. It is a different time now, guys say a lot now. Coming through, I suppose, being a tender-hearted person, I thought fast bowling was just about getting wickets. I wasn’t trying to hit anyone, and that was not the case. But then, I got into higher levels of cricket and you realize that shorter balls could be used as a weapon, even if you want to call it intimidation. It was just a gradual process of getting into first class cricket, which was very difficult, and I had to find other avenues and methods of trying to create or mess up a batsman’s footwork and short ball is one of those thing that will cause indecisiveness. It wasn’t the case that any of us went out there to maim or hit someone. It is a part of the game for the batsmen.

SJ– Question from listener Damith: What are the most important mental attributes that a fast bowler need to have compared to other types of bowlers- An out-and-out fast bowler as opposed to a swing bowler or a spinner?

IB-That is a good question. There are principles that run across the board. You have to be mentally tough, because fast bowling is very demanding work, particularly in modern Caribbean times when the pitches aren’t as fast as they used to be, and you have to tour the sub-continent, and New Zealand. When you get to England and Australia, you enjoy your work a little bit more. But, by and large, you have to be mentally tough. You have to like hard work. You have to have a lot of self-belief as well. I don’t know of any successful fast bowler who doesn’t believe in himself completely, bordering on arrogance.  It is about intimidation as well. You have to make the batsman know that as a fast bowler, not a medium pacer not a swing bowler, there is a physical hurt coming your way if you are not up to the mark technically. All of these things – the mental toughness, the confidence, and the fact that you will be leading the attack as an intimidator are part and parcel of a fast bowler.

SJ– Are these mental attributes something that you learnt as you became a more constant presence in the West Indies side from Walsh and Ambrose, or from watching the legends of West Indies fast bowling of the 70’s?

IB– It is something that I learnt growing up. I was a fairly timid person who lacked a lot of confidence growing up – I’ll be honest and say that. But, as I got into, particularly, after my first year of FC cricket in 1986, I thought it was so difficult getting top class batsmen out that I thought of quitting cricket because it was very, very hard. I got three wickets in two games. The people around me and I got into contact with good cricketers, both domestic and internationally – Courtney Walsh, Michael Holding etc., and also my friends who I had while growing up. The encouragement that I received from them basically taught me that if I quit cricket now, then you are basically soft. I had to come away after that first season and realize how difficult it was going to be and try to be more aggressive in the following seasons and stamp my own authority in the following year. Again, that goes back to working hard. It is one thing to work hard, and have the confidence if you bowl to people like Greenidge, Haynes and Geoff Dujon, that you are capable of getting on top of them as much as they are trying to get on top of you.

SJ– You made the debut as a 22 year old, and you retired pretty early as a 31 year old. There were a lot of expectations of you, but injuries to your back would not let you accomplish what you set off to do. This is a question from Josh. How did you deal with your career ending so early? We often hear from people struggling with retirement which is a natural order of things. But you were in the middle of career and you had to say goodbye to it. So, how did you deal with that decision?

IB– I have to admit that saying goodbye to the game was little bit difficult because it was all that I’d known. Ever since I was 18 I was a professional cricketer in north of England. The back injuries and back problems that I had caused so many technical deficiencies. Every day of the last 3 years of cricket was a struggle. To try to correct my action, to try to find the right rhythm to bowl every single day seemed different. It wasn’t so much physical pain as much as it was just knowing what I wanted to do, knowing where to put the ball, knowing how to get the batsmen out, but being incapable of executing it, because I couldn’t put the ball where I wanted to.  After struggling for two or three years at the back end of my career made [the decision] easier for me. I was just relieved, and just wanted to stop playing. I was just trying to perfect a bowling action, trying to put deliveries at a particular point, and it was not happening. I stopped enjoying the game. I fell out of love, to be honest. When I retired, in 1998/99, I was very relieved.

It was intimidating, because I didn’t know where I would end up. Some guys know where they want to go, but I didn’t know where I wanted to go, but I just needed to stop playing cricket, and that I did.

SJ–  A question from listener, Siva. He wants to know whether there is one thing, which you could go back in time and correct, that you would probably do to prolong your test career. And, are there any regrets at not finishing with 400 wickets as everyone pretty much expected you to?

IB– If I could go back in time, with the benefit of hindsight, I probably would have stayed out of cricket a little bit longer in 1991/92 and probably sought better advice in terms of how to alter my bowling action, and better medical advice. But we didn’t have a great deal of knowledge about stress fracture back then, as much as we know about them now.

Any regrets, it is the fact that I wasn’t aware enough at that time. It is nothing but my fault that I was not aware enough to go about that. I am still very thankful because I believe that that God guides my life and everything that I do. I never woke up and thought, “God, I wish i could’ve gotten 400 wickets!” I accept my life as taking the past. I’m glad that I got the 161. Could it have been more? Yes. Sure it would’ve been more, but it doesn’t really keep me up late at night.

SJ– You were bowling alongside two of the greatest of all times in Ambrose and Walsh, and you had some good support bowlers as well. This is a question from Hassan Cheema. Is there any thought in your head or from the players that If you had stuck around and not had the health issues, the decline or drop of the West Indies cricket may not have been as fast as it ended up being?

IB– Those are some good questions. I don’t know about the answer. Let’s say if God could turn the clock around and I had been healthy all the way through, and I had always said that I was happy to leave a little bit early, and not gone beyond 32 or 33. But, if I had gone on, sure we might’ve held out a little bit longer. But, the lack of follow up of guys coming through, it is not because of lack of talent. I’ve been around many for a long time, and they have tried to pass to Dillon, King, Rose, Collin and the guys that came after. But, it is a systemic problem in the Caribbean. It is not lack of talent, it is just that the system did not nurture their talent in the way it should have.

Had I stayed longer, it would’ve only delayed the inevitable because the system just weren’t in place at the time. But, Walsh and Ambrose were very good. It was a pleasure bowling alongside them. Sometimes, I was jealous and envious of their ability to bowl 6 deliveries in and around the same area and I would just stand in fine leg area and watch them and stood admiring their work. Their consistency and control – you really had to be up close to see how good these guys really were.

SJ– What do you think made them so great? I had interviewed Wasim Akram earlier, and he talked about bowling in the nets. Just bowling, bowling and bowling. What, in your opinion, was what was that made Walsh and Ambrose so good at what they did?

IB– They had really outstanding characteristics. Obviously they were tall. They had pace.  They weren’t the quickest bowlers, but they had enough pace that was helpful. Their ability to repeat their action time and time again separates them from people like myself who struggle to land consecutive deliveries in the same area. Another ability – to do it under pressure. Guys like Steve Waugh and Sanath Jayasuriya, all of those guys were going hard, but Walsh and Ambrose would never look fazed. They would come in, if it is a Test or ODI, and they would 8 or 9 times out of 10 change the course of the innings as compared to some of the lesser mortals like me. That ability to put the ball under pressure, against a batsman in form and on the go, is what separates them from others. Waqar Younis and Akram had the pace and swung the ball. These guys weren’t fast enough, but had the swing and the control was immaculate.

SJ– What is your thoughts on the modern coaching philosophy, where everything is controlled? The amount of bowling in the nets and pre-game preparation. How was it in your times, and how does it compare to the modern coaching philosophies?

IB– Times change, and I am not a big critic of the scientific ways of doing things. I do believe that a balance needs to be struck. When we were coming through, I just spoke to a colleague who played with me who played in the 60s and 70s as a wicket keeper. When he was batting in the nets as a wicket keeper, he never really got a lot of knocks on the tour. By the times the opening batsmen, numbers 3, 4, 5 and 6 were out, everyone was too tired to bowl to him, and he didn’t get much batting practice. When we were coming through, we had to work very hard before the match, and that was tiring. Because we did have many practice bowlers mostly, and we had to do most of these things ourselves. I thought that was counter-productive.

I like it now, where they would go hard 2 or 3 days before the match. The day before the match, they will ease off. What I don’t agree with what is happening now, is that you have to bowl a fair amount of deliveries in the nets to groove your action, to understand your body and rhythm without overdoing it. It is about finding that balance between bowling enough and not overdoing it. I sympathize with the modern coaching with so much cricket being played, that in order to preserve the pace of your fast bowler throughout the career you have to limit.  You can’t limit it in matches as much as you want to, so you have to get back to the practice sessions. It is a little bit of a conflict, but I do like my quicks to bowl enough deliveries at practice, because that is where you will get your body going in shape for the match.

SJ– I want to touch upon West Indies’, especially Trinidad’s, fast bowlers. First, a couple of listeners wanted to know – there are Kemar Roach, Rampaul, Shannon Gabriel, Tino Best coming through. But, we haven’t seen someone that is cut above the rest. Perhaps Kemar Roach will end up as one of those. We don’t know. If you can put a finger on it- there is talent, but there is no outstanding talent coming through from West Indies.

IB– Roach is a shining light at the moment. You can never stamp greatness on any 22 or a 23 year old, and you can judge from my career that it will be the right thing to not do so. You identify talent- Roach and a couple of other guys have that. It really is, Subash, about how they will develop over the course of the next 4 or 5 years. That will determine whether they will go on to become great bowlers.

Roach has abundance of talent. Rampaul, I don’t think has the prerequisites to be a great bowler. He has the head and talent to be a very good bowler but you were talking great. It comes down to who has the package, which of these guys coming through moves the ball off the seam and in the air because none of them are very tall, and which of them can do it at pace. And none of these guys now apart from Roach, who comes from Barbados, we can pin point and say “they can do this, at pace”.

These guys don’t roll off the conveyor belt, we have to keep searching. We don’t have enough guys bowling quick. That’s the problem in the Caribbean. The pitches are so slow that I think they are discouraging guys from bowling quickly for any sustained period of time. Until we get the pitches back to the way they should be, until we start encouraging potential fast bowlers – I think the West Indies board are trying to do that in the u-19 level by trying to stipulate that each team must play a couple, then we will continue the struggle. But, there are a couple of guys. Roach, and maybe Gabriel will have to learn some things now. He is tall, has pace, we will have to see how he develops, and also a good brain.

SJ– Question from Mahek: Why is it that we have seen many fast bowlers come from Jamaica and Barbados, and not Trinidad?

IB– Historically, pitches in Trinidad have not been quick pitches. In Barbados, its soil content is very clayey at club level and other levels, they are harder and truer, and encourage the quicker bowlers. In Trinidad, by and large, the pitches are matting or very slow turf pitches. Historically, we have produced spinners because of that. That has sort of carried over. Jamaica has a history of quick bowlers, and their soil content is a little bit different as well, that probably promotes fast bowlers as well. This is my hypothesis; I have no ray of scientific evidence that I can bring forth to that! It’s tradition as well; Trinidad has a sort of tradition of spinners, that way.

The big change for me came when Tony Gray, the former West Indian fast bowler who also played for Surrey, went to the [inaudible] Cricket School, where he refined his action and when he came back I saw the stride that he was making. When I saw that, I was encouraged as well, just by chatting with him. We also had the West Indies four-prong thing going on at that stage. Then, I went on to England on a scholarship as well. All those things encouraged me. Tony Gray was not the first fast bowler to come out of Trinidad, but certainly close to my generation and he was a stand out. And I have to say that it encouraged me in my earlier days.

SJ– One of the listener, Sriram, points out that you had said Sir Viv was one of the hardest batsman to bowl to, and form the current lot of the batsman, Tendulkar was the hardest to bowl to. What in your opinion, was it that made those two batsmen so difficult to bowl to?

IB– Sir Vivian? I only played against Vivian maybe two or three times in my career- twice in county cricket when I was playing for Derbyshire, and once in the West Indies. I didn’t play against him a lot but just one or two occasions when I was playing him in the back end of his career in county cricket he struck the ball off me so fearlessly and powerfully that it confirmed to me everything that I saw him doing from close quarters while I played with him for the WI. It is OK to watch him leave our dressing room and takes a liking to Graham Dilley or Paul Jarvis or Merv Hughes or someone like that. But having run into him at the back end of his career and feeling the weight of his bat for a very short period confirmed all of that to me.

I did not play against Lara at all. People always ask me how I can say Tendulkar is great – it means that he is better that Lara. The point is that I have never bowled to Lara. I am talking about guys I’ve played against.

SJ– We understand that you didn’t get to bowl at Lara. The question was about the players you had bowled to…

IB– I was asked that question before, and I got the feedback from people who asked  “How can you say that Tendulkar is the hardest batsman you have bowled against? Are you saying that he is better than Lara?” And they didn’t understand that the question posed to me was who is the best I have bowled against. I have never played against Brian Lara outside of school cricket.

Sachin, to me, was the best I have bowled against simply because he did not allow me as a bowler to settle down over a sequence of deliveries against him.  From the moment I was marginally off line, he would look to capitalize and pounce on it and a lot of the time, he will put it away for 4. In fact, he was so good that sometimes, I felt that I had bowled some good deliveries to him, and he would still be able to pick them over the infield or maybe for a few runs. He was, in his prime, the most difficult batsman to bowl to in my view – others may not agree, but for my style [of bowling] that he never allowed me to settle.

SJJames Marsh from the Czech Republic asks “What are your emotions on breaking someone’s jaw? Was Robin Smith the toughest bloke you have bowled to?”

IB– Robin Smith was tough.  Very, very tough. I thought Allan Lamb played fast bowling particularly well, and he came through great fast bowlers before my generation. And he never took a backward step. And there are a lot of players who don’t come to my mind at the moment. But Robin Smith was good against fast bowling. I didn’t enjoy, as I said before, hitting other people. I did break Kris Srikkanth’s arm in 1989 in Guyana. I hit Robin on the jaw once. I don’t remember too many guys that I hit.

Whenever I hit someone, I couldn’t really go up to him and see what happened. I remember running up to Robin Smith. From the moment I saw the swelling, I turned away. I can’t stand the sight of blood or injuries or anything like that. If I saw anyone was bleeding, I would turn away from there and that wasn’t being overly macho or hateful. It was that if I see blood, I might faint. There was no joy in hurting anyone, because at the end of the day, what people don’t realize is, off the field, most of the cricketers get along very well. To put a guy in the hospital even in the course of trying to win a game is not what we try to do. Certainly, that is my point of view.

SJ– One of the standout memory of watching cricket as a teenager in India was watching India lose to you guys at Barbados in 1997 where they were chasing 120 and got bowled out by you, Ambrose and Franklin Rose, for 81. What are your memories from that match?

IB– The back end of that game stands out for me. We did not play as well as we should have, and we were up against it, setting India a target of 120 to win. It was not very good. At the back end of the match, the pitch was very up and down. But what went well was that Brian Lara was captaining the team at the time, and he was very specific and meticulous in who he wanted to bowl at specific times. He wanted me to bowl at Sachin, to get the ball swinging away from him, get him to drive because Sachin has had problems in his career trying to drive at deliveries moving away from him, and edging them behind. He wanted Rose and Ambrose to bowl at specific times. And to actually execute that from collective bowling point of view was absolutely fantastic. That was the most memorable victory that I had the benefit of being a part of simply because we were up against it. India had a very good chance of winning the game. India had a very good batting line up- Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman, Ganguly. To come away at that point, we were starting to go downhill, as far as West Indies cricket is concerned. We just delayed the inevitable then by pulling off that victory.

SJ–  Fabulous. One last question. You may think this is a frivolous question, but Steffi from Germany asks – the toast of the World are two Jamaicans – Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake. And lot of the people are getting excited that they may give cricket a shot. Your opinion on them actually playing and having any kind of success?

IB– I hope it is not Steffi Graf asking that question! I don’t think there is any chance of that. Look, if Blake and Bolt doing it, it would only be for the hype or maybe for the enjoyment and publicity. Their career s are so very important for the foreseeable future that they can take very little risk in ways of being hit by a ball or straining something trying to bowl fast. There is no doubt about their athleticism, and their ability to run quickly, but I don’t think fast bowling is only that. It will take some years to train their muscles to be able to be competent bowlers.

Us cricketers and former cricketers enjoying seeing them run. Let them run. Let the cricketers play the cricket.

SJ– Fantastic! Thank you so much for being on the show! It was an absolute pleasure talking to you, Bish!

IB– Thank you very much for having me!

SJ– Thanks. Bye!

[Download the episode here]

Episode transcribed by: Bharathram Pattabiraman