During England’s 4-0 Ashes drubbing this winter, there was a constant request amongst English fans: bring some pace into the side. On typically dry, flat Australian wickets, England’s seam attack struggled to take wickets regularly. It has been a feature of their struggles away from home in recent years and is set to be a continuing issue.
It raised the question; does the English system do enough to bring through young fast bowlers capable of bowling 90+ miles per hour? Admittedly, the county system does have some fast bowlers around, but England’s reluctance to bring a quick bowler to Australia perhaps underlined quantity and the quality of pacemen in the English game.
And then we have the coaching. The ECB performance system in Loughborough has been criticised for its coaching methods when it comes to developing fast bowlers in England. The fact that the coaching set-up does not include a technical batting or bowling coach also emphasised the fact that English cricket’s priority may not lay within coaching players the right technical way to go about things.
Meanwhile, with England suffering in the Australian heat, successful fast-bowling coach Ian Pont has been busy building the Ultimate Pace Foundation, a website aiming to guide and develop young fast bowlers through advanced technical coaching. Pont, who played first-class cricket for Nottinghamshire and Essex, is currently a technical fast bowling coach who has worked with the likes of Dale Steyn and Shoaib Akhtar over the years.
After his playing career was over, Pont impressed many with his ability to pitch a baseball at nearly 100mph and to throw a javelin at 72 metres – the distance of an Olympic qualifying level. Cricket coaching, however, was always the main attraction and, along with winning consecutive Bangladesh Premier League titles with the Dhaka Gladiators and working in the Quetta Gladiators in the Pakistan Super League, Pont has proven to be highly successful in teaching young bowlers the right way to bowl fast. And his latest project, the Ultimate Pace Foundation (UPF), aims to do just that.
“The idea is to help as many fast bowlers as possible,” Pont explains. “Much of the technical coaching is extremely limited so this site helps people from all areas with access to the internet. We have added some never seen before information, clips, PDFs, hand-outs, blogs and podcasts.”
Pont’s partner at UPF is Middlesex bowler Catherine Dalton, a former International who represented Ireland at the 2016 T20 World Cup. She is now also International fast bowling coach and has worked with several players across many levels of the game, including Test level. Together, Pont and Dalton are aiming to develop and inspire the next generation of fast bowlers in the UK and around the world.
Pont is a firm believer that the uniqueness of UPF, based on his ‘Four Tent Peg’ system, is what makes his project so enticing and exciting. “There are no other fast bowling websites,” he continues. “Not ones that coach technique or speed into bowlers. It is a world first using the Four Tent Pegs and technical drills for developing cricketers. People who join the site become great coaches themselves and we encourage understanding of the subject.”
With the aim of developing the technique of young quicks, UPF offers numerous ways of achieving this. At a price of £7 a month, a player has access to several videos, podcasts and PDF handouts, offering technical expertise from both Pont and Dalton. In addition, UPF has a YouTube channel, which features video advice on how to deal with certain problems around fast bowling. Their content is also promoted hard on social media.
“Following four years of successful responses for UPF cricket coaching camps, it made sense to try to get out to more than just those who can physically be there,” says Pont. “So, the clips are progressive and reach the structure or technique of speed. The bottom line? We want to increase speed and accuracy. We have the tools to do it without gadgets and gimmicks, so all can share.”
Along with developing young quicks, UPF’s promising reputation has also gained the support of present and past cricketers, such as India all-rounder Irfan Pathan, Gloucestershire’s Benny Howell, former West Indies speedster Tino Best and one of England’s finest pace bowlers, Darren Gough. All have recognised the potential of UPF and there are set to be many more famous faces backing the website as it looks to expand in the near future.
Pont believes that his website is also underlining the problems in coaching speed at a higher level. “The cricket authorities are moving closer to discovering more about coaching speed but they are a world away from teaching it. No one was talking about whether speed was coachable even ten years ago. So, I feel my coaching has been pioneering without gaining acknowledgement, simply because it comes from ‘outside of the corporate coaching systems’.
“For me, it’s about how you work with fast bowlers to improve them. That’s why drills are vital and methodology is critical. Identifying what works has been a long haul but I’m proud my coaching is ground-breaking even though I believe it is simply very logical. I’m thrilled I am no longer the lone voice talking about coaching speed. I’m humbled that others are using my work to push their own understanding to new levels.