A journey of a fast bowler in the field of cricket is far from being considered as an easy task by the general public. To be labelled as a top-notch pacer with sheer wicket taking abilities, one has to have the skill to run in with rhythm, bowl with pace, generate swing, and get the adequate bounce and movement to trouble the best of batsmen.
India, a nation which was considered as a factory for producing quality batsmen, quite recently entered into the list of having one of the most daunting fast bowling units in modern day cricket. There were quite a few pacers who had their fair share of success in the international level, but rarely did they get the support from their respective partners who could have assisted in adding further pressure to the opposition.
But one of the major reasons of why the Indian pace attack has become a formidable line up was due to the foundation that was laid in the late 80’s which gave Indian pacers to have an equal say as the batsman, due to the model that was primarily focused on fulfilling their needs in order to enhance the art of fast bowling.
Madras Rubber Factory or “MRF,” as the industry is commonly referred to, came out with the initiative of building an institution to nurture fast bowling in India.
It was in a district in Chennai when the managing director of the Rubber factory – Mr Ravi Mammen joined forces with one of Australia’s most lethal fast bowlers, who ruled the 70’s through his menacing moustache and his jaw breaking bouncers. That man was none other but Dennis Lillee. The duo of Mammen and Lillie had a vision, and the vision was looking beyond the comfort zone and work on making the young athletes of India dominate with the 8 ounces in their respective hands, through genuine pace.
(Dennis Lillee exhibiting his wisdom)
The task was never going to be easy, considering the changes that were needed to be brought in, while remodelling the players’ school of thought, right from their diet, to their methods of training. But that’s what the foundation stuck to and successfully managed to make it a routine which signified about the seriousness about getting it right.
The first selection camp was held in the year 1987, in which one of the biggest stars to ever surface the cricket field was a part of. Ironically, that man or should we say “boy,” was India’s very own Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar.
Though Tendulkar couldn’t become the fast bowler that he wanted to, thanks to Lillee neglecting him, while asking him to focus on batting, Sachin to this day calls it as one of the biggest turning points in his career as he was now able to look clearly at his priorities. The case involving Tendulkar and MRF became one of the best examples of a “blessing in disguise.”
Mr Vinoo Mammen had later taken over the responsibility of directing the MRF Pace Foundation after Ravi Mammen passed away in 1990. The senior brother was determined to fulfil the dream by providing the young cricketers of tomorrow to get the best possible platform to work on their skillset.
In the year 1992, the pace foundation took a bigger leap by introducing an exchange program for coaches, and players from Australia, New Zealand, Bangladesh, England and the West Indies.
(Trainees conducting their routine at the foundation)
As time went by, players such as Vijay Razdan, Venkatesh Prasad, Sreesanth, Munaf Patel, Javagal Srinath, and Zaheer Khan are a few examples of the 20 odd players that have represented the nation while wearing the coloured blue, after being graduates of the institution.
Srinath turned to be India’s spearhead pacer, with 236 wickets in ODIs, and 315 wickets in Test match cricket. Irfan Pathan on the end held the record of being one of the quickest to reach 100 ODI wickets for India, which was recently broken in the series against New Zealand by Mohammed Shami. Munaf Patel was a world cup winner, while Zaheer Khan to this day is regarded as one of the finest left-arm bowlers to surface the cricket arena. Khalil Ahmed is another name who is doing the rounds in the international circuit for team India after graduating from MRF.
International superstars such as Brett Lee, Shoaib Akhtar, Glenn McGrath, and Shane Bond have also been a subject of the institution at some point in their lives, which has not only helped the foundation in gaining higher attention, but it had also given the bowlers, with a fresher, better, and bolder outlook.
In today’s day and age, the Pace Foundation has established the image of being the flag bearers of having quality facilities for young fast bowlers, with the privilege of having the option of world-class gymnasium, an Olympic size swimming pool, its own residential facilities and cricket stadium, while also having three separate pitches which makes players adapt to home as well as overseas conditions.
(Zaheer Khan in a net session at the MRF Pace Foundation)
Though the process was long, 1987 was the period where fast bowlers were given the green signal of having an identity of their own, as they challenged the stereotypical batting friendly nature of the subcontinent nation when it came to cricket. Hadn’t it been for an institution like the MRF pace foundation, then the heroes of the nation would have not got that golden opportunity to enhance themselves in the sport, while also playing a pivotal role in influencing fast bowlers of tomorrow.
India has been made to wait for finding the trio of pacers who can ball equally quick, with a decent swing in their execution to terrorize the cricket world. But the wait has been absolutely worth it, as foundations and facilitates such as the MRF pace foundation gave voice to the voiceless in a nation where batsmen were celebrated more as demi gods.
Dennis Lillee retired as the director of coaching in 2012 while handing over the baton to another legend of fast bowling – Glenn McGrath.
(McGrath takes command)
Having the responsibility of benchmarking rules, patterns, and programs of turning an individual into a world-class pacer, through the usage of MRF’s best of facilities is what the ‘Pidge’ has been assigned to. His induction as the coach at MRF is another feather to the cap of the foundation as well as Indian cricket, as the appointment clearly oozes with assurance for a long time to come.
Also read here about the Greatest Fast Bowlers of All Time
Check more on MRF Pace Foundation Website: http://www.mrfpacefoundation.com
Video: The MRF Pace Foundation