Revived Rampaul raises the bar
Port-of-Spain, Trinidad -- The leader of the West Indies attack is a man of Indian origin. He doesn’t have a pronounced jump in his delivery stride, and prefers to run through the crease - more Waqar Younis than Curtly Ambrose.
His default setting isn't the fierce bumper sent down with the intention of knocking the batsman over. His disposition is mild-mannered, and he doesn’t readily convey menace to the opponent.
When Ravi Rampaul started playing the game, such a prototype would have been laughable. Yet it has taken him only 13 Tests to assume charge of the Caribbean bowling unit, while defying several conventions along the way.
Caribbean cricketers of Indian descent traditionally idolised Sonny Ramadhin and pursued spin, or took up batting, inspired by the likes of Rohan Kanhai and Shivnarine Chanderpaul. Rampaul, however, charted a new trail for himself by perfecting what he loved while playing in the streets of Trinidad - sprinting in and bowling as fast as he could.
“When I used to bat and when I had my mates bowl to me, they always tried to hit my head or hit me all over my body,” e recollects with a chuckle. “I just couldn’t hit the ball. So I thought to myself: if they can do this to me, I can do just as well to them. That’s why I took up fast bowling, just to get back at them! And I found a love for it, and continued it.
“Growing up, I have always enjoyed having people a little scared of me. I just stuck with it and worked hard to be able to bowl fast at the highest level.”
Rampaul’s unique style and effectiveness took him through the age-group systems quickly. Perhaps too quickly. He was handed an ODI debut at 19, a dodgy age for a fast bowler, since the core muscles are yet to fill out. The stress caught up with him, and after 17 ODIs, he was sidelined by shin splints, a condition that stems from overloaded muscles. His career went into standby mode.
“I was playing Under-15 and Under-19, and then suddenly I was playing for the senior team,” Rampaul recalls. “The impact all that cricket had on me - I was probably overloaded and the shin gave way. It took me two years to recover. I wasn’t able to train, run or do any gym work because of the great pain I was in, and my shin wasn’t working properly.”
It was the sort of injury that could end a career but Rampaul was not ready to give in. By the time he could resume training, he had visibly bulked up. “That period led to me putting on some weight, and it was a bit of a downfall in my career. After recovering, I started training hard and putting my life back together in the cricket field. The hard work I put in then has got me to where I am today.”
Rampaul came back to the One-Day side after exactly three years - fitter, wiser and more aware of his body and its limitations. He took four wickets against England in his second game on return, delivering West Indies a win in Birmingham. With Jerome Taylor fading away, and Fidel Edwards struggling with a spate of injuries, Rampaul found himself taking on more of a load, but this time he was ready for it.
“A lot of hard work has gone into my bowling,” he explains. “Because of my injury, it makes me aware that I need to train harder and be a lot fitter to reduce the chance of getting injured. Since my comeback I have been doing a lot of gym work and fitness, and I want to continue that discipline as long as I can carry on playing.
“My fitness plan is to do the same amount of gym, cardio, running, and nets, and mix it up well. It is about maintaining the rigour till the point when you need it the most in the middle. Then, once you are in a match situation, you are ready since your body is already accustomed to that workload.”
After 41 ODIs spread over nearly six years, a tough initiation to Tests came in Australia, in 2009. A return of four wickets in three Tests spurred Rampaul towards another round of self-appraisal.
“In that series, I realised I still wasn’t where I wanted to be, to compete against the world in Test cricket,” he says. “I just went back to a lot of training and analysing. I watched a lot of videos and spoke to past players, who helped me through. I constantly talk to Ian Bishop. Ottis Gibson is a great support, and at times even Courtney Walsh. I ask them how they approach the game, how they react to, and think, in different situations, and how to prepare for a Test match.”
All the hard work came together in 2011, starting with a match-winning seven-wicket haul against Pakistan at the Guyana National Stadium. Rampaul hasn't looked back since, picking up 24 wickets in seven Tests, a creditable feat considering all those games were on slow pitches at home and in the subcontinent.
“The wickets in India are quite similar to Trinidad, so it wasn’t a new thing for me. If anything, there was more dew than back home, so it was a little bit better to bowl. It was a tough tour, but I learned a lot of stuff for the future. So the next time I come up to India, I will be even better prepared. The tours of Bangladesh and India did a lot for my bowling.”
Rampaul believes his versatility allows him to bridge the diverse styles of Fidel Edwards and Kemar Roach. “Fidel is our fastest bowler, so he attacks more and tries to be aggressive. I am a little different - I attack when needed, and I can also defend and bowl consistently to build pressure, if that is the requirement. The role changes from time to time and I just try to manage the situation properly.”
West Indies don't have the results to show for their efforts on the India tour, but they ran the home team close in a few games. “As long as we keep playing together, maintain the team spirit and continue believing in ourselves, I am sure we will start winning soon,” Rampaul says.
He won himself several fans in India, but by dismissing Sachin Tendulkar six short of his 100th century, some of that admiration was grudging. “It is amazing to play cricket in India, with the crowds chanting while Tendulkar is batting. It is an experience I will treasure for life,” he says.
Was he subject to any banter when he returned to the Wankhede outfield after getting Tendulkar out to a plan? Rampaul laughs. “They were heckling me a little bit, but it is all good fun. Tendulkar is their hero so it was only natural that they were upset. But I am sure they will soon forget it and be okay with it.”