Whenever the World Cup comes to the subcontinent, there is a great deal of concern for pace bowlers and teams rush to fill their lineups with slow bowling options. I for one have enjoyed bowling on subcontinent wickets and loved the challenge of having to outthink the batsmen in conditions that are loaded in their favour. Besides, each World Cup comes with its own challenges, and I believe if batsmen are pushing the boundaries and rewriting the rules with innovative shots, the bowlers can do the same.
Work at variation
In 1992, white balls were used for the first time at a World Cup and there was great interest as to whether it would change the way the one-day game was played. Significantly, two balls were being used, which was very good news for fast bowlers like myself. Most of our games were in New Zealand and the swinging conditions helped immensely.
What helped even more was that I had been playing county cricket for many seasons by 1992, and was thinking about my game. I had worked on the slower ball, the inswinging yorker and on varying my length on the bouncer. I remember it was in the county season of 1989 that the slower ball burst into the scene. The Barbados bowler Franklyn Stephenson, who played for Nottinghamshire, was bowling these slow bouncers that were bowling ducking batsmen over their heads. Word gets around fast on the county circuit and soon every fast bowler was experimenting in the nets. It took time for me to perfect the art, and many beamers and moon balls later I got it right. It seems very effortless when these things work in a match situation, but a lot of thought and practice goes into getting a ball right enough to include it in one's repertoire.
Hit them early
Having played the Sunday League for Lancashire, I came to Australia and New Zealand in 1992 with a lot of bowling experience. The other rather simple but significant lesson I learnt was that a batsman is at his most vulnerable when he faces his first ball. The bowler has just had success while the batsman is still not sure about his footwork, his approach or his game plan. This is why I used to delight in bowling to a new batsman.
An inswinging yorker or a short of length bouncer on a slow, low wicket always puts a new batsman in two minds, and possibly it was this that ensured I often got hat-tricks and wickets off successive balls. The two successive wickets I took in the 1992 finals were based on this strategy, and that remains my most cherished memory in the World Cup.
Jadeja got it right
That win made the disappointment of the loss in 1996 even more marked. Ajay Jadeja turned that game in a couple of overs possibly because he was thinking of his game plan more than we were. I don't blame Waqar Younis because he was really successful with his fast, inswinging yorkers at the time.
However, Jadeja was ready for it, and when a batsman is able to read the mind of a bowler, the bowler's in trouble. Perhaps a bit of variety and variation would have helped us, but it was not to be.
Use those brains
Plenty has changed as the World Cup returns to the subcontinent once again. Twenty20 cricket has taken a toll on bowlers, especially the fast men. It has emboldened batsmen, resulted in the introduction of another powerplay in the 50-overs game and simply loaded the dice against the bowler. Now, more than ever before, the fast bowler has to blend intelligence with pace and aggression. Variety is the name of the game and at the same time one must guard against over-experimenting.
Yorkers around the off-stump with an off-side field still work best in the slog overs and using the new ball's movement still works best in the start of the innings. These are hard times for the bowlers, but it's in hard times that the thinking bowlers make their mark.
India have fitness worries
It's early to talk about favourites in the World Cup, but India look good. The only reason I would stop short of calling them favourites is the fitness of Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Zaheer Khan. If they are in good physical shape, this indeed would be a very formidable Indian side.
Pakistan are a good side, but the loss of Mohammed Aamer and Mohammed Asif will hit them. However, Umar Gul is getting better and better and Wahab Riaz is looking nippy. Sohail Tanvir is still some way from being at his best, and if he is not swinging it in New Zealand, he is not going to swing in here.
However, Pakistan are unpredictable and have consistently defied analysis. They have a good bowling attack that is varied and experienced. Going into the tournament, I would not say it's the worst attack ever for Pakistan.
The format ensures that the eight top teams will make the quarters, so after that it takes just two good games to make the finals. In such a situation, it would take a brave man to pick a favourite.
Watch out for Malinga
It's always important to know how to bowl in these conditions, and among the current lot of pacers, I would be watching Lasith Malinga with a lot of interest. His action and, more importantly, his accuracy make him a lethal bowler.
I am also keeping an eye on Umar Gul, who has been taking on the challenge of filling the gap left by Mohammad Asif and Aamer admirably. He is an underrated bowler but when fit, he has intelligence and skill. Importantly, he comes to the World Cup with a good series in NZ behind him.