Monday, 13 July 2003
Bowling Action
W.G. Karunasena

Clear your head. Picture the most beautiful person of your thoughts. Real, imagined, mythic. Greek God or Audrey Hepburn. Your choice. Let’s call that person Beauty.

Now imagine joggers you have seen. At Galle Face or Parliament grounds or wherever your experience of life and joggers has taken you. Think of the most stupid looking runner. Arms akimbo, legs flailing, back hunched, posterior tight. Men who run like girls. Girls who run like apes. Let’s call that running style Beast.

Now combine Beauty with Beast. Get Audrey to run like Comrade Bandara after his bypass. If Mathew’s bowling was poetry, his action was porn.

For all the beauty of what Pradeep’s fingers could make the ball do, his run-up and delivery stride were a study in ugliness. It was not grotesqueness to the point of endearment, like Paul Adams’ frog-in-a-blender action. Nor did it have the slapstick fury of the last great English pacey, Bob Willis.

It was an unremarkable ugliness. A succession of half-baked rhythms and movements. All sign, little fury.

The run-up is curved and spider-like. Mathew skirts in sideways across the pitch. The arms wag as the ball is passed from left to right. The leg extends, the foot clamps down, the back arches. Arms weave inward like tentacles. Left wrestles right for the ball, and rolls over.

The follow-through is two giant strides. Like two thirds of a triple jump. He shakes his head, avoids eye contact with the batsman and walks backwards to his mark. When he takes a wicket, he smiles. There is no clenched fist, leap of triumph, or aeroplane arms.

It is the action of a bowler who is yet to master his art. A spectator would not notice it, a batsman would not fear it, a purist would not swoon over it. Except Ari, that is. It is Ari who makes the comparison with Sanath Jayasuriya and christens it with jargon.

“It is the switch. From analytical to instinctive. Look at Sanath batting. Before every ball, he fidgets. Two touches of the cap, shuffle of pads, first right, then left, hits the ground seven times. Guru pulls at his collars. Mahanama kisses his bat.”

Ari’s remote is connected to his VCR by a wire. He replays Mathew bowling against India. “Many extraordinary athletes work on instinct. Sanath couldn’t tell you how he hammers the ball, neither can Pete Sampras. Look at Mathew. Left to right to left. Touches each pocket twice, three arm raises, elbow on forehead. This is not fidgeting. He is turning off his analytical brain and switching on his instinctive self. Just like Sanath.”

I nod even though I have not the foggiest idea what he is talking about.