Do I not like that . . . Game that went west: David Frith, editor of Wisden Cricket Monthly, delivers a bouncer on the West Indians' brutal tactics

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The Independent Online
THE racially sensitive tend to eye with deep suspicion any criticism of West Indians bowling bouncers. Observers who have expressed disapproval of the four-pronged, day-long, shortpitched fast bowling over the past decade or two have had to duck a few sharp rejoinders, some laced with post-imperial venom, one or two even on solicitors' letterheads.

You can't take it, man. Admit it: you'd do the same if you had the means. What about Larwood and Voce? What about Lindwall and Miller, or Lillee and Thomson?

But what about the game of cricket?

The man whose brainchild it was, Clive Lloyd, changed the shape and the flavour of West Indian cricket by his strategy of mass bombardment. Winning was now everything. The attractive smile of the Caribbean cricketer turned to a severe grimace. A few dozen opposing batsmen finished in hospital. Her Majesty's government anointed Mr Lloyd with a CBE.

From Port of Spain, 1976, when India were brutalised into capitulation, through many a torrid session in the years between, to the recent harrying of Mike Atherton in the Jamaica Test match, soon followed by the sickening assault, delivered mostly from around the wicket, on the shortsighted and inept No 11 Devon Malcolm, the bursts of intimidation have been allowed by a succession of umpires who have steadfastly refrained from intervening. Their collective inaction has been explained away in a complexity of supposition: absence of either support or reassurance by the cricket authorities; or perhaps fear of physical reprisal by outraged fans; or maybe even the odd predilection for medium-range sado-masochism . . .

One of the few things that might be said for the tedious diet of short-pitched stuff is that true heroes may emerge from the more ferocious episodes: batsmen who survive for long periods by dint of patience, resolve and nerves of polyurethane. (Atherton's performance on the first day of the present Test is a case in point.)

The one-bouncer-per-over-per-batsman restriction was intended to curb the excesses, but while deliveries above shoulder-level were much reduced, the thumping tattoo on the rib-cage was, if anything, intensified. And now this regulation may be about to be shelved after a three-year experimental term (during which fast bowlers the world over squealed in protest).

It seems that a further revision to Law 42.8 may see the contentious reference to 'intimidation' removed. Whether this leads to cricket's equivalent of the lowering or the raising of the age of consent will be revealed in time. Suffice to say that no West Indian will ever be convinced that Law 42.8 is under review for any reason other than turning Ambrose, Walsh et al into eunuchs.

What d'you want us to do, man, bowl half-volleys all day? Well, not quite. But a return to the traditional skills of the fast bowler, backed by other kinds of delivery, would restore the variation which is fundamental to cricket's charm.

West Indies have kicked England's door down 25 times in 39 Tests since 1976. For much of that time, the on-drive and the cover-drive have been almost totally absent, and everybody has had to stay late because of the sluggish over rate.

West Indians remain peeved that their victories are not lauded by the opposition. And all because of the recurring barrages of vicious and somehow tiresome bouncers. There must be other ways to win, surely?

'Have West Indies abandoned the bouncer as their stock ball?' asked an intrepid and somewhat over-optimistic questioner (me, actually) of Vivian Richards after the Trent Bridge Test match of 1988, when his fast men had used the bouncer judiciously, almost sparingly, on a seaming pitch. The Great One's eyes blazed. 'Stock ball] Stock ball?' he roared. 'We got brains too, y'know]'

I'm sure he was right, though only by the grace of the Almighty have no opposing batsmen's brains - so far - been spilled on the pitch.

(Photograph omitted)