Interview by Rvel Zahid
Ian Leslie Pont is an English former fast bowler and ECB national skill sets coach. He has worked as a bowling coach with the Netherlands, Bangladesh, Quetta Gladiators, Ranji Team Haryana, Dhaka Gladiators in the BPL, and several county sides. Some of the greatest fast bowlers of this generation, Shoaib Akhtar and Dale Steyn, benefitted tremendously from Pont's coaching tips.
Pont is the pioneer of introducing ballistic biomechanics in fast bowling coaching and invented 4 Tent Pegs Drill and the Advanced Biomechanics Speed & Accuracy Technique (ABSAT) methodologies that pertain to developing a bowling action that it helps generate faster speeds and achieve greater accuracy. Moreover, he authored the coaching manual "The Fast Bowler's Bible" in 2006, 'Coaching Youth Cricket' and 'Ultimate Pace Secrets'. Pont has thrown the second-longest throw of 126.18m in Bellville, Cape Town in 1981.
Pont talked exclusively with Cricingif about his coaching stint with Quetta Gladiators, thoughts on Jofra Archer's workload, his experience of working with Shoaib Akhtar and his overarching coaching philosophy.
You applied for the position of Pakistan's bowling coach but weren't shortlisted. What was your motivation behind applying for Pakistan's bowling coach position and how did you envisage to contribute to the pace department? Also, will you consider applying again if an opportunity arises?
I have applied twice. Once under Dav Whatmore, who used to send me videos of bowlers to have a look at and then under Mickey Arthur. The Pakistan role would be a natural progression for me and given the amount of great young quicks in the country, it would be superb to help establish a ‘pace factory’. To have 100s of young boys learning the secrets of how to bowl faster and more accurately is an obvious benefit. With regards to the national team, you get a great deal of opportunity to help and influence players, so they can train correctly and improve between matches. But, I am not sitting around waiting for the role. I am not a serial applier of coaching jobs because I have nothing else to do. I am the head coach of 'The National Fast Bowling Academy' in the UK and a T20 head coach. So, if a role fits into what I am doing at the time, it’s something I would consider.
The entire PSL is set to be hosted in Pakistan, what are your thoughts on the tournament and what kind of impact will PSL V have in the country and in terms of the development of the game?
I hope we see a great PSL 5. I said after PSL 1 that Pakistan needed to host the tournament for the fans and the country. The PCB has done a great job. I am thrilled it is fully at home and I would love to have been part of it. If it is hosted correctly with logistics, coverage, ticket sales and promotion, it is a great chance to inspire millions of cricketers. I hope overseas players commit to it and enjoy it. It’s a wonderful opportunity.
I have been lucky to work with Dale Steyn before he made it big then watch him go on to be world number one for almost a decade.
You had a coaching stint with Quetta Gladiators in the inaugural edition of PSL. How was your experience of working with Pakistan's bowlers?
I loved being in the PSL. Obviously, as a double-winning head coach, I felt I had much to give as an assistant to Moin Khan. We didn’t always have the time to work with the bowlers as I would like, but Aizaz Cheema, Grant Elliott and Anwar Ali, in particular, were very receptive. My view is preparation is vital. And the local bowlers are very talented. How they are developed is key.
Ian Pont worked with Shoaib Akhtar ©Ian Pont
Shoaib Akhtar is a highly intelligent man when it comes to understanding his own bowling. We met and he said to me: “You are the pace guy. Do you think I can bowl faster?”
Out of all the high points in your entire coaching career, which ones do you cherish the most?
There are two things: Winning BPL titles back to back as head coach. I was a professional cricketer but didn’t play for my country at senior level. There is still backward thinking you can only be a coach if you are a star player. We know in other sports like football, the opposite is true. So I feel I always have to prove myself continually when other ex-players get given leading roles without much success records as coaches.
The second thing is being the innovator of teaching speed. I have been referred to as the ‘Godfather Of Pace’ and mentioned in Shoaib Akhtar’s book “Controversially Yours”. These are humbling. 25 years ago, no one was talking about teaching speed. Now today it’s being talked about so I feel I have waited for cricket to catch up somewhat. I have been lucky to work with Dale Steyn before he made it big then watch him go on to be world number one for almost a decade. Small things like that make coaching worthwhile. And now as head coach on 'The National Fast Bowling Academy', I am proud to be part of the next generation’s future.
Is Test cricket in peril? What is your take on the matter of reducing the number of days in Test?
Stick with 5 days. Test cricket can be very exciting and there is always a place for it. It is still the pinnacle of a person’s skill level.
You were excited to see young fast bowlers including Naseem Shah, Musa Khan and Mohammad Hasnain and said 'with great mental & technical coaching they might be world-class'. What tips and major technical adjustments would you recommend to these pacers so that they realize their full potential?
Everyone can improve what they do - it’s just a matter of knowing what to do and how to do it. A large part of that is a mental issue: belief, expectation, understanding plus realising that to be successful, you have to go through failure. And no one should be AFRAID to fail. This is how we learn as humans. But the second part is the bowling action itself. If you have grown up with little or no support on the technique of what you’re doing, you develop methods that are not always the most effective or efficient. That means you can make improvements in your accuracy, control and speed. I have yet to meet a single bowler who wouldn’t want to improve this.
The challenge is working with coaches who know how to do this themselves. Having been a great bowler does not qualify you to be a great coach. Great coaches understand HOW things work technically and biomechanically, so those players can get the best out of themselves. But the player himself has to ‘buy-in’ to that and not just be content with getting where they are. Don’t let success get in the way of improvement. Sadly, most ‘coaching’ is passing on tips about what an ex-player used to do themselves. This is mentoring - and telling stories to people. The technique has been long overlooked. In most other sports it is the main thing taught to make a difference to run faster, throw further, cycle quicker, swim better, jump higher etc, yet in fast bowling, it’s thought you can’t teach speed.
Bumrah has many of the core values of speed generation, such as a braced front leg, good hip rotation and fast arm rotation.
Ian Pont alongside Sir Viv Richards at PSL ©Ian Pont
What is your core coaching philosophy?
Educate the player. The best coach a player will ever have is himself. My role is to give them enough knowledge so they can make informed decisions. We need self-thinking players and that requires them to have the knowledge they can apply under pressure. I believe the technique is king and your servant. If you go onto the pitch with a poor technique, you have no servant and are on your own. The player has to meet you halfway through and want to make improvements. If you have to continually tell a player, then it’s like either you or him, is doing it wrong. Coaching is about relationships and emotional connection. If you don’t have that it’s going to be more difficult.
How did you discover your own slow ball that you named 'The ‘Butterfly' (commonly referred to as knuckleball) which flutters in its flight?
The Butterfly ball has since been renamed the knuckleball by most people. Julian Fountain (fielding coach for Pakistan) and I worked out a way to take the knuckleball from baseball (as we both have baseball backgrounds) and transfer it to fast bowling. We realised you had to slightly change the grip from baseball, where you can push against a glove to hold it and pinch the ball more in the fingertips or fingernails. We worked this up in 2009 and now everyone in the world kinda uses it. I don’t mind they refer to it as the knuckleball, but it really is the Butterfly Ball.
How has your experience of playing baseball and javelin helped you in becoming a distinguished fast bowling coach?
I was interested in how speed is generated from those sports. And realised that there are certain core principles that apply to speed generation from the body that applied to all ballistic, rotational movements. So I set about adapting (not adopting) those movements and found that there was a framework all fast bowlers went though to maximise their speed and control. I called these The 4 Tent Pegs. These are checkpoints to ensure a bowler is ‘on track’. Everyone gets through these positions in their own way or style. Therefore, I have been able to create a specific methodology that means players can be the best version of themselves. So I have been helping bowlers around the world to make the most of their speed and accuracy through these methods.
You have been following England cricket very closely, what are your thoughts on Jofra Archer’s workload? Is he being overworked?
The challenge when you have a talent like Jofra is not to overuse him. I feel that initially he has been asked to bowl too much. He now has a stress fracture on his elbow, but I don’t know if that is due to overloading of his workload. What I would say is, Jofra is a thoroughbred and not a carthorse, so he has to be treated with a somewhat different approach to someone who can bowl medium-fast, all day long. There is always a danger in working the same way with every player. But we are all different and require different handling. I suspect the management are reviewing how they have dealt with Jofra and are likely to come up with some better solutions.
How does Jasprit Bumrah generate extreme pace and accuracy from such a short run-up? Does his stiff non-bowling arm break the batsmen’s rhythm?
Bumrah has many of the core values of speed generation, such as a braced front leg, good hip rotation and fast arm rotation. What should be remembered is that every bowler does this in a style that is different from another. We can coach the core values (technical structure) but we cannot coach ‘style’ as this is unique. And Bumrah has his uniqueness including an unusual load up. I don’t think this is off-putting to a batsman. There is much footage and he is well-known to everyone. Players can see how he bowls.
You worked with the fastest bowler in the world, Shoaib Akhtar, what was the experience of working with the tearaway quick and what separated him from other great fast bowlers of his era?
Shoaib Akhtar is a highly intelligent man when it comes to understanding his own bowling. We met and he said to me: “You are the pace guy. Do you think I can bowl faster?” He wanted to know how much he could push his speed as this was what he was really known for. He has a passion for speed and never gave up on it as his main weapon. Yet he had a great slower ball and could bowl reverse swing and great yorkers. So I feel what set Shoaib apart from others was his desire to be the quickest.
There isn't much purchase from the wickets in Asia so what aspects of fast bowling do quick bowlers from the subcontinent need to focus on?
If you get little from the pitch, your options are pace, swing, variations and control. If a ball turns it will also be great for cutters. Regardless of how slow a pitch is, a yorker is unaffected by it. Sometimes when the pitches are slow, variations work better. You can still ‘set a batsman up’ irrespective of the pitches. And of course, speed comes from the hand, not from the surface, so 100mph bowler will still be 100mph out of the hand in any conditions.