Ramesh Powar has come a long way from the staff quarters of the Matunga hospital in Mumbai where his father worked. And it’s been a long, interesting journey to establishing himself in the Indian squad at the relatively not-so-young age of 29.
Powar has always been known for his flight, but what's caught the eye in this series is his variation in speed. While the likes of the Panesars, the Muralis and the Vettoris do not bowl slower than 55-56mph, Powar has varied his pace between 41 and 55mph here in England.
"In the last series I played against them (in India last year), these guys really hesitated in stepping out and hitting over the top," Powar said on Thursday. “I think they were a little worried about losing wickets so that's where I’m taking my chances. I’m saying, ‘If you don't take the risk, I will’, and that is paying off."
Slow, slower, slowest
So can he bowl even slower than this? “Yes, but it depends a lot on the situation. For left-handers I might go a lot slower because they play against the spin. For right-handers, I think it's fine. I don't need to go slower. The slower you bowl, the more difficult it is to hit for a batsman. He has to clear the ropes. If I am bowling good-length slower balls, he has to time it perfectly.”
Powar has earned most of his six dismissals here by fooling the batsmen with his variation. "I have played five games and know they are not going to step out and hit me," he said.
"And if they hit me, that is good, for I get a chance at a wicket. If they don't hit out, I'll be economical. In the third game, it struck me that if I bowled a bit slower, they might sweep, they would not step out and try and clear the fence. Their batting order is such that Pietersen and Bell have to stay. They can't afford to take many chances. So, I've been bowling to Bell, Collingwood and Pietersen with an attacking mindset. If they clear the field, it's a good shot, otherwise I'll get them out.”
Powar credited Rahul Dravid with "keeping faith” in him, and giving him an opportunity to bowl during the Power Plays. "After bowling two overs, if you haven't given away too many, you get confidence. I had never done it much before and it made me believe that if I bowled well in the Power Plays, I should do better otherwise too.”
Being contrary works
In an era when spinners hesitate to toss the ball up and are primarily bent on containing batsmen, Powar has an inverse theory that works. "You need courage to bowl in the Power Plays and slog. My theory is to try and pick up wickets rather than just save runs. If you try and save runs you end up giving runs away. If you go for wickets, you might succeed. And if a batsman doesn't attack, you’ll be economical.”
Saying he has evolved as a bowler, he added he hadn’t done anything apart from sticking to the basics. "Variation is very important," he said. "For instance, if you've noticed, Collingwood always plays the chip shot against me, so I had decided in Leeds that I would not let him play it. I would not bowl the off-spinner to him. In 10 balls, I would bowl seven straight, it was as simple as that. Guessing a batsman’s footwork is the most important thing for a spinner. If you guess that, you will be successful."
Powar was more a passenger for the early part of the UK tour. Just before the Tests though, he had a brief but enlightening chat with Saqlain Mushtaq. “It was during the Hove game. I was bowling well, but still not getting anyone like Laxman, Rahul, Sachin, Sourav or Sourav out," said Powar. “So I went to Saqlain. He said ‘if you succeed in making these guys defend, you are bowling very well’. He explained that subcontinental batsmen, especially Indians, are really good against spin and that if you were not smashed around, you were fine. That gave me a lot of confidence, and I needed it. If you are not confident about how you're bowling, it becomes very difficult.”
So has the drifter, or the straighter one, as he calls it, have anything to do with that chat with Saqlain, a master of the doosra?
"There wasn't much talk about it," he clarifies. "I learnt that delivery watching Warne. I would try it earlier too but it used to spin, probably because there’s more spin on the Wankhede track than anywhere else in India. When I first tried it here though, it went straight really well. I don't know whether the release has changed slightly, but that's what I am saying. I try a lot of things, try different grips, some come off, some don't. I try and implement whatever works in a match."