A BATTING WITH BIMAL EXCLUSIVE: Ian Pont reveals the secrets of becoming a pace legend and the art of reverse swing

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“You have to have a passion for pace, to want to bowl fast in the first place”

Ian Pont is known throughout the cricketing world as one of the most prominent and accomplished fast bowling coaches and he recently spoke to me about the secrets behind becoming a pace legend, the art of reverse swing and his new coaching clinic, the Ultimate Pace Foundation.

Despite growing up as an aggressive top-order batsman, Pont became more and more enchanted with the art of pace bowling.

After spending most of his professional career with Essex, Pont started looking into the mechanics of pace bowling and published his findings in a book entitled Ultimate Pace Secrets.

Pont revealed that in order for anyone to become a successful pace bowler, they have to have a “passion” for bowling fast and an eagerness to fight back, even if they are subjected to lots of criticism or go through a very rough patch during a number of matches.

“You have to have a passion for pace, to want to bowl fast in the first place,” Pont told me. “So many young quicks lose heart due to poor coaching, unresponsive pitches or selection issues.

“With regard to qualities, I don’t believe it is all about genetics, height, diet or where you come from. Clearly, those who are athletic, strong, fit and flexible will have physical attributes that are highly desirable. But it’s a combination of a strong mind, understanding of technique, mastery over control, passion and a strong work ethic. The top quicks have those in abundance.”

I have often heard pace bowlers ask their coaches about ways to increase their bowling speed, but rather than just give the obvious answer of practice, practice, practice, Pont outlined a more detailed plan of how any bowler can become as fast as South Africa’s Dale Steyn or Sri Lanka’s Lasith Malinga.

“I have spent 20 years working with pace bowlers and helping increase their speed,” Pont said. “It has given a unique insight to a coaching methodology that works for each style of fast bowler.

“The Four Tent Pegs, which are a series of drills anyone can use, help focus on the kinetic chain that increases both speed and accuracy in the action. The methods are part of the ABSAT coaching techniques that show huge developments in fast bowlers’ skill levels and understanding of speed and control.

“If you are a fast bowler, you should bowl fast. If you are a spinner you should be able to spin the ball. It’s not rocket science. A good strength and conditioning programme can also make a difference when you are tweaking technique, too. ABSAT coaching is the only set of methods for all bowlers proven to increase pace and accuracy.”

However, Pont noted that every pace bowler has their flaws.

Having worked closely with Steyn, Pont revealed that the South African pace spearhead was a mediocre bowler when he was playing for Essex at the age of 19.

But, it was through his hard work and determination that Steyn rose up the ranks and became one of the most feared pace bowlers that the cricketing world has ever seen.

“No bowler has a perfect technique so it means we can all improve,” Pont said. “Dale Steyn was not a great performer at 19 when he was at Essex. He was not a world beater back then yet today he is world number one.

“It’s not ONLY about hard work, it’s also about understanding. I hear coaches talk only about working hard but I also think you have to employ the right methods and work with a coach who understands what is right for the individual. Sometime small things can make a big difference. It doesn’t always have to be big.”

Pont also spoke to me about the art of reverse swing and how it has become one of the most lethal weapons in a pace bowler’s arsenal.

But, before embarking on the journey of why reverse swing has become such an important tool for any pace bowler, Pont first revealed the secrets behind getting the ball to reverse swing.

“Rough up some cricket balls and experiment,” he said. “It isn’t hard to work out what to do by trial and error. A bowler will work out which side the rough side has to go and how much they have to angle the seam. Release angle can affect the ball, but it is ball condition that’s paramount and how you handle it. Any bowler can bowl reverse swing in my view. It’s simply practicing it. And everyone will bowl differently.”

Pakistan’s legendary pace duo of Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram are generally known as the kings of reverse swing, but over the years, many bowlers like England’s Simon Jones and James Anderson, Australia’s Glenn McGrath and even India’s Mohammed Shami have become experts in the art of reverse swing.

But, just how important has reverse swing become since the time Younis and Akram were leaving batsmen bamboozled and scratching their heads at what the ball had just done?

“It has become more important for Test cricket in particular I feel, as pitches get flatter,” Pont said. “It’s great to be able to swing a brand new ball, but not everyone uses it well. Some bowlers are more “hit the deck” bowlers and don’t swing it. But to have a ball that reverses is a terrific asset for any team.

“Key bowlers might be identified in a team to bowl reverse. It means having the ability to take wickets later in the innings. In some exceptionally dry/rough conditions, a ball can reverse as early as the 11th over making it vital for limited overs matches too.”

Pont also described the perfect conditions in which a pace bowler can use reverse swing to their advantage.

“Rough outfields, hard dry pitches with little grass on and an old ball are all key factors in reverse swing,” he said. “Fielders often bounce the ball in to aid with roughing a ball up too, as we see in many matches. The ball must be kept dry. That means keeping sweat off the ball as well.”

Pont is set to launch the Ultimate Pace Foundation with the Director of the Karnataka Institute of Cricket, Irfan Sait, in Bangalore in 2014, but why exactly is this programme being established?

“We both share a desire for excellence as can be seen through our respective cricket businesses KIOC and MCI [Maverick Cricket Institute],” Pont said. “Pace bowling is the one area of cricket that is extremely exciting yet generally lacks academies and camps for all levels of quick bowler who can come and improve. So it was a perfect match for KIOC to host and for MCI to bring the coaching methodology.”

The foundation is being set up to help bowlers in India understand the mechanics of pace bowling and how it is much more than steaming in at full speed and letting out a loud grunt when delivering the ball.

“We wanted to offer a world class, “pay & play” set of camps for everyone, not just professionals,” Pont said. “The foundation is set up to coach speed into bowlers, not out of them.

“We want to educate fast bowlers in the methods of speed and control, increase their skill levels, improve their tool kit of deliveries and above all, uplift their understanding of what it takes to be the best version they can be. The Ultimate Pace Foundation is for all players, from all countries playing at all levels.”

Pont noted that the Ultimate Pace Foundation can be attended by people of “all ages, all abilities [and] all countries” and added that everyone will be treated as a “professional”.

“Everyone!¬†All ages, all abilities [and] all countries,” Pont said when asked about who could attend the Ultimate Pace Foundation. “It’s not an exclusive facility that excludes people. We work [to develop] bowler’s ability and skill levels [and] everyone gets treated as a professional.”

With the inaugural Ultimate Pace Foundation camp set to be opened in Bangalore in 2014, Pont is eager to branch out and establish academies all around the world in order to give fast bowlers a detailed insight into the art of pace bowling.

“For now, Bangalore is the perfect place due to the weather, facilities and ease to get to,” he said. “That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t look at other places, of course. But first I want to make sure the principle is established. We need to make success of this and show bowlers they have a place to come that is theirs. Once we can do that it is duplicatable elsewhere.”

Pont finished off by exposing his top five tips for pace bowlers, which are:

1. Never give up – only you can stop you from being successful if you want it badly enough
2. Experiment – try things to see if they work for you. Don’t just do what coaches tell you
3. Don’t stop learning – understanding and then applying it, is key to success
4. Have an attitude – believe and back yourself in all situations. How ever bad things get, you are a winner
5. Do your training and drills – you improve by training and learn by playing. So if you want to improve train hard

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