Interview With Rob Cassell: Dynamics Of Fast Bowling

If you are ever in Dublin City and you come across a bearded man talking beer, Hawthorn FC and fast bowling, you have probably run into Rob Cassell, the assistant head coach and fast bowling lead of the Irish cricket team.

Coaching wasn’t his first interest when he took up the game two decades ago. With 28 wickets across nine First Class matches and four List A appearances, the Victorian right arm quick’s playing career was cut short by a genetic back problem but a seven-year coaching stint with South Australian team West End Redbacks gave his cricketing career a new lease of life. He won the Australian domestic One-day Cup with them in the 2011-12 season.

In 2017, he left South Australia to join the Irish team management in the aforementioned role. Barely five minutes into his new role, the news of Ireland being elevated to Full Member status poured in. He had an even more demanding job at his hands now. He would be coaching a Test nation.

Here he talks everything about his role, fast bowling and who excites him in the current Irish domestic scene.

Q: What is exactly your role in the Irish set up as an Assistant Head coach and fast bowling lead? How is it different to your role with West End Redbacks, a team you coached for seven years?

A: My current role with Cricket Ireland is primarily with the Senior Men’s team but also extends through the development pathway. We have an established Academy and underage system so I’ll be spending time with the next generation of quicks and anyone who bowls fast basically. With a busy schedule of touring it doesn’t make it easy to cover all bases.

Q: What are the challenges faced by fast bowlers in modern day cricket?

A: I think the physical demands of fast bowling are huge and with each summer that comes, there seems to be more cricket scheduled. I think with the 3 different formats played ,the skill level, fitness and attention to detail has increased with most players. Some players are better suited to white ball or red ball and are better off only playing that format but usually your best bowlers can adapt to all scenarios and situations no matter which format.

Q: A lot of pacers these days stress on the importance of managing workload. How important is it and what ways can ensure they are fit and firing for International games?

A: It is paramount that players are fit and strong enough and have bowled enough to be able to cope with the demands of international and even domestic cricket. Management of players has come a long way in the last decade but I still don’t think we have struck the right balance between skill and performance and resting/ managing players.

Q: How different is it to bowl in a T20 ,ODI and a Test? How does it affect the body, keeping in mind that fast bowlers run a lot?

A: I think the physical demands of t20 and ODI cricket are similar but Test Cricket is still the ultimate physical endurance test. The ability to back up day after day is also a huge mental effort. The intensity and the impact on the body is enormous so it’s crucial that players are prepared for this.
In the short format things happen a lot quicker obviously and tactics can change over to over and more so, ball by ball now. A bowler has 24 balls so it’s important not to waste one. In Test Cricket you can’t waste a ball either but there seems to be a longer build up to dismissals and you really have to earn your wickets and stick to plans for longer.

Q: Congrats on Ireland playing their first Test recently and they did a great job! How do you assess their performance against a good Pakistani side?

A: Thanks I came in at a very good time! It showed we can compete on the big stage and I thought for a large portion of the match we were on top. We did however lose 4-7 wickets in the first innings which cost us but we did so well to claw it back from there. The bowling was steady and we did trouble the Pakistan batting order throughout producing some nicks and a lot of plays and misses. It was a huge occasion for the playing group and all involved at Cricket Ireland past and present and we are craving our next opportunity.
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Q: Tim Murtagh ,pretty much the Irish version of James Anderson and Boyd Rankin being the senior members of the squad, how is their work ethic and what advice did you give them before the First Test?

A: They are class bowlers and are real leaders of our bowling group, of which is made up of predominately bowlers who haven’t played a lot of First Class Cricket. They are a calming influence and know when to speak up in team meetings or on field to help steady the ship. Most of our discussions would be around strategy for an upcoming match and I have not tried to alter them at all technically. These two don’t need a lot of advice but I mainly tell them to bring their weapon and produce what they would normally do. Murts is a top of off specialist and Boyd has the ability to get upstairs and unsettle batsman’s feet with his height so they complement each other well.

Q :Ireland has 13 Tests, 64 ODIs and 65 T20Is planned ahead in the next FTP cycle. Will we see more of young fast bowlers? Who , in the current domestic set up, excites you?

A: It’s great we have these opportunities coming up and our own domestic season is getting stronger in and around this. We have some good fast bowling stocks around of all ages. We’ve mentioned the leaders Murtagh and Boyd but we also have Peter Chase, Barry McCarthy, Craig Young, Josh Little and David Delany who have tasted some white ball cricket over the last 12 months. During the Test lead up we had guys like Nathan Smith and Tyrone Kane who are possibly better suited to the longer format at present but could also be considered for white ball cricket soon enough as they are working hard on this area.
I’ve had a big focus on white ball at practice as most of our matches are in this format so most of the players are developing slower balls and yorkers as well as nailing a good length.

Q: You are working on a little side project of yours called WicketsApp. What is it about?

A: WicketsApp is a tool used on iPad to be able to measure your bowler’s execution and to find out how good they are in executing their skills. I developed the idea when coaching with South Australia as I can’t stand just bowling with no purpose and going through the motions with bowlers not really working on anything, particularly young bowlers who need development.
Using the App, coaches and players can find out strength and weaknesses and some may even use it at selection if you discover your best yorker bowler isn’t playing and your team has been struggling at the death. If anything it adds pressure to training and makes the bowler accountable.

Q :What is the key to becoming a successful limited overs bowler especially now when batsmen hit unpredictable shots?

A: I think bowlers margin for error has decreased and there is pressure on the bowler to execute more than ever. It can be tricky but I often talk about having a 1-2 punch or being exceptionally good at two things , for example Lasith Malinga had the world’s best yorker but his slower ball was also important to keep the batsman guessing. He obviously put in the hours at practice to become this good it didn’t just happen but his action was so well suited to it.
I’m still in the process of identifying what each bowler can master in our setup but my job is to ensure they are getting the volume in at practice to help us develop to master levels as quick as possible.

Q :You recently toured Bangladesh with the Ireland Wolves. What did you tell the young bowlers on adapting to different conditions?

A: It was my first tour to Bangladesh and it is very similar to most subcontinental pitches you play on. It actually rained for a good period of time so the pitches weren’t as dry as expected. There was some great learning in it for our players and from a bowling point of view we had to adjust our lengths and go into the wicket more with the lack of bounce. Our spinners had to adjust and find out the ideal pace to bowl at against high quality players of spin and our batsman learnt which options they have and need to have in these conditions against spin.
It is crucial that our young players get these opportunities now and grow so that they can play Test cricket and be confident in the knowledge that they have been there and done it before.

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