BHARATH RAMARAJ INTERVIEW
When I started my journey of interviewing Cricket fans, all I wanted was to improve my understanding of perspectives from other cricket fans who have grown up watching this game. I never imagined that it would lead me to get an interview with Sanjay Manjrekar. I never thought it would lead me to interview Prabhu Damodharan, who is a massive Chennai Super Kings superfan. I never imagined that I would be interviewing the sub-editor/writer of Cricbuzz, an app that has helped me follow all the updates on Cricket for more than 4 years.
I got the opportunity to interact with Bharath Ramaraj, who shares his thoughts in a very informative way in this interview article.
Thank You so much for your participation, it’s a privilege to be interviewing you. Is there a difference in England and New Zealand pitches as compared to South Africa and Australia?
A professional batsman perhaps should answer the question. Anyway, just as a connoisseur of the game, if I have to take the question, I would observe that tracks in England tend to be on the slower side in comparison to South Africa and Australia. As the season progresses, a few tired tracks could also come into play. In the just-concluded home season (internationals), a few pitches were on the drier side at the fag end of the season. Of course, one can counter that by observing the international matches were played in Southampton and Manchester. So, as the season progressed, a few tired pitches came into the equation. Better drainage systems also might have played a part in that.
It is true that in recent times the tracks in England have tended to help the pacemen to move it around. The Dukes also play a part. The proud seam helps bowlers to generate/extract some movement even with a relatively old ball. Meanwhile, for limited-overs, over the last few years, we have mostly seen flat decks in England. As noted by quite a few bowlers, the white Kookaburra ball doesn’t do much.
As far as tracks in South Africa are concerned, pacemen tend to extract some movement off the pitch and bounce. A few of the tracks also offer variable bounce. The Wanderers is usually the quickest track in South Africa. Having said that, in limited-overs cricket, we have seen some substantial scores at the high-altitude Wanderers. There is a view that the Kookaburra ball used in South Africa is made of slightly different leather.
Tracks in New Zealand : Pitches in New Zealand are capsulized by drop-in pitches. In the bygone era, the tracks tended to be slow in New Zealand, helping medium pacers who take pace off the ball. Since the advent of drop-in pitches, the pacemen have perhaps extracted more bounce. It also has to be noted that New Zealand tends to prepare different tracks for different teams. Last year, while playing Tests against England, they prepared flat tracks. For India and other subcontinent teams, curators had left more grass. On occasions, as the match progresses, tracks in New Zealand tend to become flatter.
Australian pitches : The tracks in Australia seem to have become tougher for the visiting pacemen to succeed in Test cricket. With the old ball, pacemen tend to hit more of a back of a length. Spinners like Nathan Lyon have done a great job in Australia, as they tend to impart overspin.
The Gabba offers good bounce. David Sandurski also prepared a quick track for the Test against Sri Lanka. Obviously, Australia has a tremendous record at the Gabba, having not lost a single Test since 1988-89 at that ground. Even with an attack comprising Ian Bishop, Courtney Walsh, Curtly Ambrose and Patrick Patterson (got injured in that Test), West Indies just about eked out a draw at the Gabba in 1992-93. These days, SCG seems to be mostly flat. The new stadium in Perth seems to offer some bounce. The Perth track for India versus Australia Test also offered variable bounce. Meanwhile, Adelaide seems to have got quicker. Generally, we have seen flat and slow decks at the MCG. However, there was a little more in it for the bowlers during Australia versus New Zealand Test at that stadium. Hobart is perhaps one of the best tracks to bowl for a visiting paceman in Australia. Generally, we see a decent covering of grass in Hobart. Of course, playing Test cricket under lights has added another dimension in Australia.
Do clouds help the cricket ball swing? Do they play a massive role for bowlers to get movement off the air?
Enough institutes and scientists have researched on the subject. As of now, if you go strictly as per science, there is hardly any evidence to substantiate that age-old theory.
I wouldn’t want to act like a scientist. Instead, I’m quoting Rabindra Mehta, the NASA scientist. “A popular theory that has circulated for years is that in damp conditions, the primary seam swells by absorbing moisture, thus making it a more efficient boundary layer trip. We investigated this possibility in detail in 1980 by first measuring profiles of the primary seam using a precision stylus device on a new ball before and after a few minutes soaking in water,” he told teacherplus.org.
“A similar test was also performed on a used ball, where the varnish on the seam had worn-off. In both cases, no swelling of the seam was observed. These two balls were then tested in a wind tunnel to measure the side force. These tests showed conclusively that there was no increase in side force for the wet balls. Other investigators have also failed to find any positive effects of humid conditions on cricket ball swing in laboratory tests,” he added.
So why does it seem to swing more in England? It could be a variety of indirect factors. The obvious one is the Dukes ball. Ishant Sharma was generating (according to Cricviz’s data) around 3.4 degrees of average swing on Day 1 of the Southampton Test in 2018 with sunshine around. Now that is considerable swing.
There are indirect factors too. To encapsulate the point, ‘soft and grassy’ conditions in England would help the ball to retain its shine for longer periods. I’m basically thinking of pristine conditions for swing – lush outfield, decent covering of grass and maybe moisture. Just imagine a scenario where the varnish of the new ball reacts with moisture and that would lead to more of a ‘tacky surface’.
“The tacky surface would ensure a better grip and thus result in more spin as the ball rolls-off the fingers, and as observed in our wind tunnel tests, an increase in backspin rate (at least up to about 11 revolutions/second) increases the side force,” Mehta said.
On the other hand, abrasive conditions in the subcontinent would mean the ball would stop swinging (conventionally) relatively earlier. The roughening up of the ball would encourage reverse or contrast swing. Example: James Anderson found just enough swing with the new ball to castle Virender Sehwag in Nagpur in 2012-13. However, when he returned for his second spell, he picked up his wickets with reverse swing. Abrasive conditions came into play.
The wind factor could also come into the equation. Just think of a strong wind blowing from the fine leg fielding position. What happens next? The seam needn’t be angled for it to swing. Even if a quick bowler is bowling with a straight seam, it would swing in the direction of the slip cordon due to the direction of the wind.
There are enough research papers in relation to ‘cricket ball aerodynamics’.
Who is your favourite swing bowler of all-time? And why?
Phew! Wasim Akram with the old ball. James Anderson with the new ball. I have seen Akram bowl some magical deliveries with the old ball. Round or over the wicket, he could make things happen. Just took the pitch out of the equation in places like Pakistan, Sharjah and other countries too. Of course, he could also extract seam movement, get it to cut, bowl whippy bumpers from a short run-up and generate swing with the new ball too. However, with the old ball, he touched an elevated level and made it an art. Of course, Pakistan have produced enough great practitioners with the old ball.
Among the bowlers I have watched, when there is any swing on offer with the new ball, Anderson seems to find it. Once in a Test in Sri Lanka in 2012, he bowled four away-swingers and two inswingers in a single over and with control. For me, that is peak level swing bowling. Praveen Kumar is another swing-merchant that I have always liked to watch with the new ball. He could swing it this way and that way with astounding control. Unfortunately, he lacked that extra pace. The likes of Dale Steyn and S Sreesanth had a razor-sharp outswinger. Trent Boult and Bhuvneshwar Kumar are very good swing bowlers too. And many more fine practitioners of swing bowling, especially in women’s cricket. Of course, there have been some amazing swing bowlers from the past too. I have seen Malcolm Marshall swinging it both ways at good pace via videos. However, I watched him only at the fag end of his career.
There are countries like England and New Zealand that offer more swing, then there are countries like South Africa, Australia or Windies that offer more seam or bounce, then there are subcontinental pitches that offer spin, which type of conditions do you enjoy watching the most, in terms of the longest format of the game?
I don’t have a particular preference as such. Just want to see a good contest between the bat and ball. Of course, when I initially started to watch (and listen) cricket, West Indies were dominating. There seemed to be a different kind of thrill of listening to the commentary, with Curtly Ambrose, Ian Bishop and Courtney Walsh bowling on a quick WACA deck against Australia in 1992-93.
Do you see any change in terms of batting style or bowling style from the 70s, 80s or 90s era as compared to modern times?
The batsmen are more fearless now and play with a sense of bravado. In limited-overs cricket, it is more of a power game. A lot more batsmen clear their front leg and hoick it across the line. Improvisation also has come into play. Scoops, laps, ramps… you name a shot and they play it. The batsmen move around the crease and stay deep too. In some other time, the low full toss was a good weapon in the slog overs. Nowadays, there is every chance that it could be clubbed for a six. The bowlers certainly have developed more variations to counter it.
On the downside, the batsmen perhaps are struggling to show the required patience and temperament to paddle through tough sessions in Test cricket. Generally, the batsmen seem to go hard at the ball. Obviously, with the protective gear and all those accoutrements coming into the equation that fear factor seems to have reduced. It is difficult to imagine a batsman from some other time trying a scoop against Jeff Thomson, Frank Tyson, Harold Larwood or all those fast bowlers from the Caribbean.
The 2017 series between India and Australia saw a close contest as India managed to comeback after the first test defeat 2-1, do you see this Australian side beat India in India, if they toured again?
Australia has a good Test side, but it is perhaps a flawed side in some respects. The batting tended to revolve around Steven Smith in that series in 2017. The opening Test was also played in Pune, and it turned out to be a raging turner. Usually, such conditions bring the home team and the visiting side closer in terms of competitiveness. Of course, Australia played with a lot of heart and it turned out to be a hard-fought series. I guess they have enough ammunition to win one Test, but not sure of them emulating the Australian side of 2004 or say the 1969-70 set-up by winning the series. On a side note, the Richie Benaud-led Australian side also won in 1959-60.
Few words on Jasprit Bumrah?
Continuous improvement seems to be his mantra.
In the Vijay Hazare trophy, in 2015-16, he took his wickets at under 20. I was doing text commentary for the final between Gujarat and Delhi, and Jasprit Bumrah bowled rockets in that game. The lower-order batsmen just didn’t seem like were getting into line. In the past, he seemed to jump a lot, and it was affecting his rhythm to some extent. So, he went back to a method that worked for him. He also talked about this aspect of his game in a recent podcast for the ICC.
Since then, he has made remarkable progress in almost every aspect of the game. It seemed like his bowling was tailor-made to pound it on a shorter length. However, he swung the Dukes in England in 2018. Who can forget that delivery to Keaton Jennings which swung at 3.77 degrees? He also swung it prodigiously in the West Indies last year. He also gets it to straighten/nip away from the right-hander. So it isn’t just about the inward angle. He has enough variations in his armour, including the yorker and a sharp bumper. In the IPL 2020, he has started to bowl leg-cutters too. He is unique and different. Just before the ball is released, for a moment, both his hands are up at almost the same height. Experts have also observed this aspect of his game.
Of course, a few experts have questioned whether he would last long. A few experts have opined about the trunk lateral flexion (exceeding 45 degrees) and the prospect of lumbar injuries. The crux of the point is he has bowled in a certain way for long. Hopefully, his body can withstand the workload.
Mention your two all-time XI teams that will be taking on each other, one team consisting of Indian players only and the other consisting of any overseas players.
Overseas Test XI – Jack Hobbs, Barry Richards, Don Bradman, Jacques Kallis, Brian Lara, Garry Sobers, Adam Gilchrist, Richard Hadlee, Malcolm Marshall, Wasim Akram (variety), Shane Warne.
I understand a few eyebrows would be raised. With Sunil Gavaskar in India’s All-Time XI, I thought of going for Barry Richards. His splendid stand with G Pollock in perhaps the Durban Test against Australia which made Ali Bacher say, “I don’t think this country (South Africa) has ever again seen batting like we saw that day.”
His incredible 325 against the Western Australian attack led by Dennis Lillee and Graham McKenzie in 1970. He once smacked a double ton against Nottinghamshire and a county cricket cognoscenti (Edgar, secretary of Hampshire) compared his drives to Wally Hammond. Sheffield Shield to Currie Cup to County cricket – he scored tons of runs. In fact, there are a couple of videos on YouTube where he seemed to be treating Lillee like a medium pacer.
I understand he played only a few Tests due to reasons beyond his control. He was a genius, and with Gavaskar not in the fray, I thought of picking him. Glenn McGrath, Imran Khan, Len Hutton, Barnes, Muralitharan and many other great cricketers. Unfortunately, I couldn’t fit them. Muralitharan versus Warne was a very tough one. Maybe my personal bias came into play!
India All-Time XI – Sunil Gavaskar, Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli, M.S. Dhoni, Kapil Dev, Ravichandran Ashwin, Anil Kumble, Mohammad Shami and Jasprit Bumrah.
I have picked Bumrah and Shami mainly to give it back to the opposition. I have some fire in my team. Javagal Srinath and Zaheer Khan made a strong case. But I’m basing it on potential. It is also true that India have produced many great spinners.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my views. I have shared my opinion as a fan of the game.