DTG Collaboration with Pace Journal

DTG sits down with Shahbaz Choudhry, Director of the Global fast bowling website Pace Journal.


DTG: Can you tell us about Pace Journal and give an overview of what your platform does?

Shahbaz: Pace Journal is basically a podcast where where we speak to professional fast bowlers, technical coaches and fitness trainers and we find out exactly how they train and bowl fast. We take the information and then we feed it back through an ecosystem, something we call Pace Bites, which are basically miniature lessons from the podcast and we do that across all the three formats, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram as well as on the website itself. I am the host of the podcast. I have been a fast bowling maniac since a young age. I am the wacky journalist that comes up with tough and crazy questions for the guests on the podcast.

DTG: Why pace bowling? There are many other intricacies of the cricket that are more mainstream. Pace bowling is something that very few individuals do because it's such a demanding attribute for player. Why is it that you took up pace bowling?

Shahbaz: I think fast bowling is the X-Factor of cricket. When you see a fast bowler, you are always on the edge of the seat. It's just a sight worth seeing. I've always been an aspiring fast bowler myself from a young age. I come from a cricketing family. My uncle, Zahid Syed, was a left arm fast bowler and I think it's something which I have been passionate about from a very young age. When I decided to do this(Pace Journal), I wanted to keep it quite authentic in the sense that I don't think it's right for me to talk about spin bowling or about batting. I have endless amount of passion and love for fast bowling so it's something which I can talk about with my guests and relate to them at the same time because it's something I have gone through myself.

DTG: These days we are not seeing that many express fast bowlers coming from Pakistan, which used to be the norm 10 or 20 years ago. Being a student of the fast bowling, why do you think that is the case?

Shahbaz: I think when you look at someone who is able to bowl 150 kph, they are able to do that in 3 ways; 1) they are either blessed with genetics and fibres; 2) they have naturally very good and incredible technique which allows them to utilize every part of the body; 3) they have learnt and developed the ability to bowl that quick every time. If you look at the first two aspects, they are completely random, but the last one, that requires time and support. I think the thing what is lacking in the subcontinent is the support network for these cricketers. I remember Ian Pont, who was a guest on your podcast, making a joke about shaking a tree in Pakistan and a bunch of 90 miles per hour bowlers falling out, and it's true! Talent is there walking around on the streets, but most of them don't have the support system in place at home, which allows them to develop further. I think more needs to be done in the household rather than in the cricket clubs or boards getting involved. It's hard, these guys need to help and support their families, so it's bit of a Catch-22 situation for these guys. That's what my response would be. I think Pakistan has the talent, it's just got to be developed, and I can say that for my family as well. One of my cousins is a very very quick bowler but his father is not supportive of him playing cricket, so his career is gone. I spoke to him the other day, and he's like, 10 kilos overweight, not bowling anymore, and he is busy at work with his father. So I think problem is more more at the household level.

DTG: You seem well versed with the terminologies of fast bowling. Do you see yourself as somebody who would take up coaching in the long term because I'm pretty sure that we need people like you in Pakistan guiding young athletes, especially fast bowlers?

Shahbaz: That's the question that I get asked so many times and it's interesting because I have always been very picky in that regard. I have always said if my student isn't as passionate about fast bowling as I am, then I don't think I could work with him from an ethical point of view. It is tough because you don't come across youngsters who are literally die hard crazy about fast bowling, especially in UK which is where I am based. One of the things I love about Pace Journal is that we are able to inspire and educate tens of thousands of young cricketers within a click of a button, so I guess that's quite satisfying for now and I don't know if I would move into the coaching space in future, but at the present I am kind of indirectly doing that.

DTG: Do you think that Pace Journal can act as an archive for future generations to fall back on, like for people who come from lower middle class, who do not have access to coaching or other facilities that more established parents can provide to their children?

Shahbaz: 100%. I think it's already an archive for fast bowlers. We have a lot of positive feedback from amateur cricketers as well as from high level professionals and they have all said that they benefited from the content. Being a sports person, you can never stop improving and learning, and it's very rare to be informed all the time. I like to think of Pace Journal as a home to all the pros to come and touch up on something that another pro may have experienced and they have heard about it on Pace Journal and they are able to sort of take that and put into place or put into action in their own career, and for youngsters, they can just can just immerse themselves into the art of learning fast bowling. I’ll tell you a funny story about my cousin Bilal Asif. His dad is absolutely crazy about cricket, and coming from a village in Pakistan, all he wants to do is to develop and encourage youngsters to play cricket and get better and better at it. I have got another cousin who is actually Bilal's younger brother, he is a very very gifted fast bowler. He has got a beautiful action and when I was in Pakistan last December, he was telling me a funny story about how his dad made him wear horse shoes. He told him to run in them, and I asked what was the logic behind this. He said his dad told him that horses always run and they never get tired and there must be a reason why, so you start running in these shoes. Essentially, what Bilal's dad is doing is right. He is trying to innovate and think outside the box. That's where Pace Journal can help so that these guys get access to information and they can apply it. They wouldn't have have opportunity to sort of speak to Lahore Qalandars fitness coach Richard Stonier, who is one of our our guests, and Brett Lee's coach John Campbell,who is also on one of our guests. It's quite a privilege for these guys to get information from these coaches and to be able to apply it at the same time.

DTG : Using that same chain of thought, you said that Bilal's dad actually came up with an innovation. We kind of picked up on something that you normally say on your podcast about how there is no one size that fits all the models to bowling fast. Is it exactly what you mean there, when you give example of Bilal's dad or is it something which you can elaborate on? What exactly do you mean by that?

Shahbaz: Not really Bilal's Dad in that case, but just look at Brett Lee, Shoaib Akhtar, Mitchell Starc and Dale Steyn. Just those four to start with.They are all express pace bowlers and they all bowl 90mph+ in their own unique way. One of the biggest truths that I learnt when I was learning fast bowling was that there is not only one way of bowling fast and instead of fixating on one particular method, you should accept your flaws and work around it because you can still bowl quick. For example, there is a consensus that you need to have braced front leg to bowl quick. Mitchell Starc bowls 95mph+ and sometimes his leg is bent almost at a right angle. I spent many years fixating on those little stupid things, when in reality I should have just accepted them and moved on to work on my strengths. The reason we put that on our podcast is because it's the No.1 thing that fast bowlers need to accept and educate themselves, that no matter how unique or strange the bowling actions might be, they can still develop them and become genuine fast bowlers.

DTG: Growing up in Pakistan, we are told that a proper fast bowler should have a side on bowling action, which gives him the force from his back and his upper shoulder goes into the action and then you release it after the jump. What you are telling me here is that every bowler, no matter how the action or body structure might be, can have their own way of bowling fast. Is there no textbook way of bowling fast because Imran Khan had a very inefficient action but then he changed his action and became a classical side on bowler, and he became one of the world's most deadliest bowler. Don't you think think there is a bit of disconnect between what we have seen historically to what we are seeing today or is it down to the individual athlete as to how they develop?

Shahbaz: I think the way athletes develop are very different. Most of the time these guys are are not looking to bowl express fast. This is something Ian Pont talks a lot about also. You have to have the desire to bowl fast. One of my earliest earliest coaches was actually Khan Mohammad, who I believe was the first Pakistani to take a Test wicket, it was either him or Fazal Mahmood. I was very very lucky, my father did everything to ensure that we (me and my siblings) had no shortcomings in life, and I remember Khan Mohammad telling us to go really really side on, almost to the point where my back was hurting. It was just that traditional thought process he had, that you have to be very side on to bowl fast. I think Brett Lee talks about it. Malcolm Marshall ran straight through the crease and bowled 90 miles per hour. I don't think that being side on is the only way of bowling fast. Again, it's just one particular way that someone has done it, and I think people in Pakistan have taken that and ran with it. They haven't opened their minds to the fact that there are other ways of doing it. I'm sorry, did I answer your question?

DTG: Well it did sort of answer our question because coming from a culture which is obsessed with pace bowling, whenever a young fast bowler goes for a trial, they are primarily judged on two things. One of them is how quick they bowl and other is the aesthetics. If both things are are good, they progress to the next level. I’ll give you a very recent example. One of the bowlers who bowls fast but he didn't make it is Bilawal Bhatti. He doesn't have a side on bowling action. He bowls with a front open chest type of action. He generates pace, but his line, length and accuracy takes a hit. Maybe the reason why he doesn't get the ball to move is because of his height. Do you think that becoming side on gives you that edge on accuracy or that's just trial and error by the bowler in a particular action?

Shahbaz: I like Bilawal Bhatti. He reminds me of Tino Best. He is quite short, stocky and attacks the crease. I think being able to pitch the ball where you want is got to do a bit more with the skill, and being able to bowl fast is different. I don't think they go hand in hand, if that make sense. Ian Pont has always said to me that if you get your line and length correct, you’re gonna bowl fast and you're gonna bowl straight. I think there are little things like your wrist position position, your angle at the crease which can throw you off a bit in terms of accuracy. I don't think becoming side on will help Bilawal Bhatti, but at the same time, I think it's the case of him understanding his game and developing that sort of of hand eye coordination, understanding of his body and his action to be able to able to produce more consistency.

DTG: If a fast bowler is bowling at 140 clicks, but he is struggling with his line and length and accuracy, do you think that he should cut down on his pace. Or are you somebody who advocates against that?

Shahbaz: I don't think so. I think being able to become accurate and consistent is just to have repetition. If you are trying to put a ball in a certain area, you keep trying and trying and keep getting it wrong,eventually you are going to get it right. It's about sheer persistence,and it works. The consistency is something, anything you do in life, if you are consistent with it, you are gonna do it at the end of the day. You have to go through the trial and error process to find out what works for you. Each bowler has their own way of doing it. I spoke to Tom Barber, he's a left arm fast bowler from England. He actually went from being a sort of mid-on bowler to a side-on bowler, because he felt that it helped him develop more late swing back into the right-hander. He spoke to to me about making that change from mid-on to side on. He told me that it felt so strange that he felt that he was looking the other way. He said that he made that change to develop an inswinger back into the right hander, and you know for a left-hander bowling at 140-145 clicks, that's a deadly deadly weapon to have.

DTG : Let's talk about Pakistani fast bowlers, both upcoming as well as the ones who are part of the international setup. We saw Mohammad Amir coming back from his ban in 2016 and he hasn't been the same Mohammad Amir that we knew from 2010, so I just wanted to get your opinion on two things. One is about what is Amir doing wrong and which amongst the current Pakistani fast bowlers, be it Hassan, Abbas, Shinwari, Faheem or Shaheen, do you think is going to become a very successful fast bowler?

Shahbaz: With Mohammad Amir, I am always going to be a bit biased because I have actually bowled with him.When Pakistan toured England. I was bowling with them. I just think that Mohammad Amir is an absolute spectacle to see. His pace, the style with which he bowls, is outstanding. I was at the Champions Trophy final at the Oval when he got Virat Kohli out,as well as Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan. He is a game changing bowler.

Remember, this guy has played a lot of cricket,and he might actually need some rest. He has played a lot of cricket and has had a lot of pressure on his shoulders. One of the things with all international sports is that the pressure is quite high.These guys are allowed to make some mistakes, but the media does not allow that to happen. I just think that he might be having a bad patch. I know he is is playing for Sui Gas in the first class cricket,and maybe getting those overs under his belt might get his mojo back .

DTG: Do you think he is facing some technical difficulties like wrist position and moment at the crease, do you think he needs to work on his technical stuff?

Shahbaz: That's hard to say. He is a very experienced bowler. I think he knows what he needs to do and he has got to get it right himself, at that level I don't believe he needs much coaching. I would say that small keys open big doors, so something like you mentioned, Mohammad Amir playing with his wrist position could completely change the game for him in terms of his bowling. That's obviously something that he cannot do in the middle of a Test match,or in the middle of a series, so that's why I think going back to the first class cricket is a great move for him. He is able to do it in a sort of of low pressure environment where he can afford to make those changes and experiments,to see how he is to get back to form. I think there's something going on with his confidence and his approach to the crease, he has got different styles. I don't know if other people have noticed it, but sometimes he runs up with his hands quite compact and closed, and sometimes, his hands are a lot more flowing.

I know Mitchell Johnson, when he came back from his spell of bad form, he changed the way he was running up to the crease, so Amir is definitely doing something. You can tell that, so I guess we just have to to wait and see how that actually translates in the middle.

DTG: He (Amir) has been dropped from all formats. Do you think he has the ability to make a successful comeback into the team before the World Cup?

Shahbaz: Oh that's a good question. I will answer in two parts. I believe that he has the capability to make a comeback because he is world class. We know that he made a comeback after a 5 year ban, so I don't think a comeback is much of an issue for him. In terms of coming back before the World Cup, I am not sure. I wouldn't be able to answer that,although I believe he has the ability to do it.

DTG: And what about the current fast bowling roster that we have in the senior International team?

Shahbaz: I think Shaheen is making a lot of noise at the moment. He made quite an impact in the PSL and in the Under-19 World Cup. Him and the Indian guy, Kamlesh Nagarkoti, as well as Shivam Mavi, all of them were bowling 140+ in the Under-19 World Cup, they sort of lit up the tournament. I think Shaheen has got a lot of potential.

Mohammad Abbas has just been amazing, watching him in England and what he did in the recent UAE Test series against Australia, I think he is one of the best fast bowlers on display. I was talking to one of my uncles and he told me that Mohammad Abbas reminded him of Mohammad Asif, similar sort of style, similar pace, he is able to put the ball where he wants, he is able to move it both ways.I just think that if he adds a yard or two of pace, he is going to be a world beater. He is a world beater at the momen, so just think what he is going to do, if he adds a couple of yards of pace.

DTG: Should he add a yard or two of pace? Is that something you will tell him if you are his coach, or you're just gonna say do whatever you are doing?

Shahbaz: Such a tough call, that's where, as a coach, you’re either going to be a hero or lose your head.What he’s doing at the moment is working, but I do believe that when Sarfaraz bowled him  in the 1st Test against Australia, for some reason I just thought that it was a wrong call. The pace at which he was bowling, at 120-125 kph,isn’t really threatening for these guys, even though Abbas is extremely accurate.He can put the ball where he wants and swing it,but they can find a way of blocking it out. Whereas with Wahab Riaz sort of pace, that job becomes a little bit more uncomfortable, that is the thing with extra pace, you have slightly less time to move on that ball.

So, biased again, of course I would like that Mohammad Abbas tries to bowl quicker. But if that comes at the price of him losing his control and accuracy and skills, then you might be ruining a bowler there.

DTG: Speaking of other bowlers in the Pakistan team, what do you think of Hasan Ali, he burst into the scene in 2017, Champions Trophy winner, was taking almost 3 wickets every game and now we are seeing this phase, won't say a bad patch but he is lacking consistency, why do you think that happens with most of the the Pakistani bowlers, where do you think they fall astray after having such a brilliant start in their careers?

Shahbaz: I think the amount of cricket these guys are playing is a lot.They are not playing a little bit of cricket,they are playing a lot, so it's very much natural to fall out of form. I always say you are allowed fall out of form, it's just the stage at which these guys are playing, those little drops of form are magnified to a whole new level.

I think Hasan Ali is a great bowler, he's got great energy about him, he's got great charisma and that also plays a big part. He's got a presence about him when he steps out on the pitch and that will have an effect on your position. Again,I think the more he plays the more he is going to understand himself. When he gets his mojo back, he is going back to doing what he did when he burst onto the scene,which is just taking wickets and being very successful.

DTG: What are your long term plans, you seem well versed with fast bowling, you have a very good knowledge about this aspect of game, so where do you see Pace Journal in the long term, like in next 5 or 10 years, do you have any specific directions that you would take this platform towards?

Shahbaz: The 5 year planning concept is an interesting one, it is actually something that I don't agree with or long term planning in general. Technology and the market are always changing. It is hard to predict how the market is going to change in the next few months,let alone 3 or 5 years. Even when we started Pace Journal,it was nothing like what it is now. I think most projects get disrupted because they are too rigid, and they stick by a plan even when it is not working. So I think flexibility is the key. Right now we have a packed schedule for the next 12 months, with some amazing guests in the lineup, so my only focus is to spread the word to as many people as possible. Maybe you can bring me back to this in 5 years and we will see where we have got to.

DTG: Since you mentioned about your packed schedule for the next 12 months or so, is there any particular fast bowler, living or dead, that you would particularly want to interview and have a chance to sit down with, do you have somebody that you idolise to that point?

Shahbaz: It's a tough one, when we actually do the outreach, we write down some names and my list is just stupid because it's so long. Once,my friend just looks at me and he's like there are a lot of names in the list.

I guess you can't be called the Pace Journal without having the world record holder on the show, so I would love to have Shoaib Akhtar.

DTG: Because we have also started very recently, is there any advice that you would like to give us as a fellow podcasting group?

Shahbaz: Yeah sure. I think the most important thing for anyone starting a business or a side project is just to be clear about their identity. Most companies have something called an identity crisis, where they don't actually know who they are, what their purpose is and what their value proposition is in the marketplace.

One of my friends made a joke to me once. He said what would you do if someone copies Pace Journal? I said to him I will do nothing because a copy will never deliver the same value as the original and what we do comes from the heart and we are very passionate about it. I believe that's what makes us unique and that's the best form of protection we have. We are not interested in catering to everyone but the particular market that we do serve, we do it with the best that we can. It's funny because we don't reveal any of the identities behind our team on Pace Journal and there are quite a few messages, when I read them, they are along the lines of ‘we don't know who the admin is but we are damn sure that he is mad passionate about fast bowling’.That's the thing about authenticity, you can't fake it. If you are truly passionate about what you are doing, you will find a way of driving that message towards the audience.

So I think with you guys, just be clear about what your value proposition is, what is it that you do and make sure you are authentic and go hard at it. Be the best you can and you will certainly stand out.