Pace. It’s one of cricket’s valuable and most entertaining skills. Those who possess it are highly valued by their sides, and if a bowler can match such pace with consistent accuracy, it makes for a deadly combination. Pace can make the difference between winning and losing.
Yet English cricket is currently struggling to produce a vast quantity of genuine fast bowlers, and those who do make it through the system are suffering significant injuries, with stress fractures becoming increasingly common. It is having an adverse effect on England’s fortunes away from home, where pace and variety in bowling attacks are essential to being successful. Consequently, Joe Root’s men have won just one Test series away from home since the start of 2013.
Such problems have resulted in criticism towards the ECB’s Pace Performance Programme at Loughborough, which aims to bring young fast bowlers through the system. Despite plenty of coaches being appointed and millions of pounds being invested, the lack of pace bowlers impressing at county level or even staying fully fit remains a worry.
Pont is aiming to improve the techniques of young fast bowlers through the National Fast Bowling AcademyIan Pont is a man who has been proving that speed ‘can be taught’. Pont, who played first-class cricket for Nottinghamshire and Essex, is currently a technical fast bowling coach outside the ECB coaching ‘bubble’ who has worked with the likes of Dale Steyn and Shoaib Akhtar over the years. He has seen the inside first-hand though. As former ECB National Skills Set Coach in 2006, he worked with a development group that included a young Steve Finn alongside Ottis Gibson. But Pont went onto another path – developing speed for fast bowlers.
After his playing career was over, Pont won two consecutive Bangladesh Premier League titles as head coach with the Dhaka Gladiators and runner up with the Quetta Gladiators in the Pakistan Super League. He has proven to be highly successful in teaching young bowlers the right way to bowl fast and his project over the past year, the Ultimate Pace Foundation, has aimed to do just that.
“At the moment, I don’t see many high-level fast bowling academies”, Pont tells LastWordOnCricket. “What we are offering is a chance for young fast bowlers to develop their skills through our advanced technical coaching. The bowler does not have to be county level, we have picked up people from the age of nine up to those who didn’t quite make it at their county.”
UPF has proven to be very successful over the past year, improving the techniques of young fast bowlers through Pont’s ‘four tent peg’ system, the four stages of delivery of the ball, which he aims to implement into the bowler’s action.
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’”.
Pont has been head coach at UPF for over a year and is now launching a new project in October – the National Fast Bowling Academy (NFBAUK). The academy aims to improve the technical and physical skills of young fast bowlers through advanced coaching for up to 12 months from Pont and UPF assistant head coach, Catherine Dalton, a former International who represented Ireland at the 2016 T20 World Cup who now plays for Middlesex. She is now also International fast bowling coach and has worked with several players across many levels of the game, including Test level.
The academy is being sponsored by The Hamro Foundation, a charitable foundation that supports cricket developments that have potential. In addition, NFBAUK have cricket gear designer ICON Sports as shirt sponsor and PulseRoll as fitness equipment sponsor. Pont may be the brains behind the operation, yet these sponsors are vital for the academy’s progress.
“We are teaching speed and skills together,” says Pont. “My view is technique & skill are the two most important factors for a fast bowler. And we support this with sports psychology and fitness to give a more rounded cricketer. I think many young cricketers lack confidence. That’s why when they understand how to do something and when to apply it, they become far more resilient and likely to succeed.”
UPF has so far gained the support of several current and former international bowlers, such as Irfan Pathan (centre)Pont believes the potential of NFBAUK could be huge due to the current lack of technical coaching around the country. The concept fully supports County Age Group, EPP and Academy programmes so it’s something counties can get behind, too. He is also of the opinion that not enough is being done generally to emphasise the importance of pace and the difference it makes to a side’s chances.
“The missing part of almost every programme in fast bowling I’ve ever seen is actually teaching pace. Whatever level of cricket you play you want to be a bit better and extra speed with control turns a good fast bowler into a great one. I don’t know anyone who would turn down the chance to unsettle a batsman with pace. It’s an extra weapon in your armoury and this is why the concept of what we are doing could be truly outstanding.”
Could this be the breakthrough in providing the English game with more genuine pace bowlers? The ECB may not have the solution but Pont and UPF believe they do.
The emphasis on combining improved technique with fitness and mental toughness is one that has perhaps not been fully exploited, yet the upcoming National Fast Bowling Acdademy is using these methods to develop quicker and more accurate pace bowlers.
And few would argue the benefit it would bring to English cricket.