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Making all the right moves

Sohail Tanvir, the man who puts the wrong foot forward, is the bowler to watch out for, writes Rohit Mahajan.

cricket Updated: Nov 25, 2007 01:15 IST
Rohit Mahajan

Sohail Tanvir has mastered the deeply flawed art of bowling with a wrong action. The wrong-footed action goes against the tenets of cricket and, more pertinently, anatomy and ergonomics. If you've played even just a bit of cricket, you would know it's nearly impossible to actually start bowling with your wrong foot forward.

Visually, most of Tanvir's effort in propelling the ball to the batsman seems to be concentrated in the moment before the release. His left arm, moving like a whiplash, suddenly releases the ball with baffling swiftness. His wrong foot — the left one — is ahead at the point of release, and that seems to give the illusion that he sends off the ball earlier than he ought to, that he should take another step before delivering the ball.

Perhaps that’s the reason Tanvir never really thought of altering his action — and now it’s too late.

Anil Kumble bowled out four batsmen in Pakistan’s first innings and had Younis Khan LBW in the second — a sure confirmation, if it were needed, that the Indian captain is almost metronomic in his skill of targeting the stumps.

Tanvir’s three wickets in the Indian innings would suggest similar precision — though, being a paceman, and that too a left-armer whose stock delivery is angled across the right-hander, he would naturally attack the wicket with lesser frequency.

Tanvir, in fact, was guilty of bowling on the pads of the Indians too often, bowling too full or wide, and being taken for easy runs. But when he got the line right, he was deadly, castling Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid in consecutive overs.

Thus, despite Shoaib Akhtar’s pace and guile, despite the fear that Danish Kaneria could be dangerous on a pitch worn down, Tanvir could be the man to watch out for when India start their chase in their fourth innings, which will most likely happen in the second session on Sunday.

Tanvir, actually, has been the man to watch out for right from his early days in first-class cricket, three years ago — as much for his undeniable potential at the top level as for his startling bowling action.

Tanvir himself, though, says that he first realised the peculiarity of his action only when he saw himself on TV. “It was during domestic T20 matches, but now it’s too late to change it,” Tanvir said a few days ago.

There was one change, though, that he was forced to make, by the force of circumstances. Pakistan owes much to tape-ball cricket — men like Akram and Younis, Aaqib and Akhtar, all credit this form of the game with strengthening their arms.

Starting off as a spinner, he he moved to pace when the humiliation of being hit for sixers in tape-ball events became too much. “I started going for sixes in tape-ball cricket… We used to play a lot of tape-ball cricket and my journey as a fast bowler began there,” said Tanvir.

There is something uncanny about this Pakistani invention — when the game is played with a tennis ball covered with the tape normally used as insulation against electric current.

Using a leather ball, armed with the skill acquired with the help of the taped ball, pacemen from Pakistan have been sending shockwaves through batting line-ups for years.

It may not have any scientific explanation, perhaps it is just belief that’s working for them, but cricketers from Pakistan are convinced that there really is something special about tape-ball cricket.

Aamir Sohail, the former Pakistan opener, says so — he does not talk about skill, he talks only about strength. “A taped ball requires much more effort to bowl fast with, and you must have a very strong arm to bowl fast with it,” he says.

That sounds rather simplistic, but often, the deepest secrets have the simplest foundations — with or without flaws.