Shannon Gabriel, a fast bowler transformed – ESPNcricinfo – ESPNcricinfo.com
Mohammad IsamBangladesh correspondent, ESPNcricinfo
As he runs in and looms into his intended target’s field of view, Shannon Gabriel is an imposing figure. It doesn’t matter that his wind-up at the crease isn’t as massive as West Indian greats of yesteryear – he generates enough momentum to consistently clock upwards of 140kph. Gabriel stomps down at the crease, and delivers with a high-arm action.
Courtney Walsh, West Indies’ leading wicket-taker and now Bangladesh’s bowling coach, is reminded of a couple of his former fast-bowling colleagues when he watches Gabriel bowl.
“He definitely reminds me sometimes of Patrick Patterson, with raw pace,” Walsh says. “When he gets the ball to swing, he is probably like Ian Bishop who had the outswing. He has the inswing.
“With the pace he has, he reminds of me the guys back in those days who used to bowl real fast.”
Gabriel has been a transformed fast bowler in the past two years, with the numbers to show: since the start of 2017, he has bagged 71 wickets in 17 Tests at an average of 23.94, the highlights being his 20-wicket series haul against Sri Lanka this June and 15 wickets at 18.80 against Pakistan last year.
His last Test, against Bangladesh in Chattogram, came in challenging conditions for any fast bowler and yet he engineered a first-day collapse with a four-wicket burst and ended the game as one of the few West Indian players with their pride intact.
Gabriel says he became aware of a need to transform himself at some point in 2016. It is likely to have been during or after the home Test series against India in July, in which he only managed five wickets across four Tests at a strike rate of 90.00. His Test career wasn’t going anywhere – at that point he had 39 wickets from 20 Tests at 38.74.
But by the time West Indies next played a Test series, in the UAE against Pakistan, Gabriel was a changed bowler.
“First of all, I just want to be thankful to god,” Gabriel tells ESPNcricinfo. “Without him, this wouldn’t have been possible. In the past two and a half years, I really made a conscious effort about both the physical and mental aspects of my cricket. It has taken me to where I am today. I have done some technical stuff, as well as my fitness. Mentally and physically I am in a good place now and I want to continue that way.”
The UAE tour was followed by Pakistan’s return trip to the Caribbean, and across those two series Gabriel bowled 217.1 overs, taking 25 wickets at 25.56. Against the Sri Lanka and Bangladesh batsmen this home summer, he was at times literally unplayable. And when Kemar Roach and Jason Holder join him in West Indies’ pace attack, Gabriel’s danger only intensifies. Great fast bowlers often speak of the effect of hunting in pairs or trios, and Gabriel, the experienced Roach and the vastly improved Holder – who has taken 33 wickets an an astounding 12.39 this year – have formed an effective combination of late.
The trio were in full flow in the Test series against Bangladesh in July, creating relentless pressure on the visiting batsmen. It must have been a soothing sight for those looking back fondly on watching the great West Indies pace batteries of the past.
“It has been a wonderful opportunity [to bowl with Roach and Holder],” Gabriel says. “Jason with his bounce brings a different variation to the attack. Kemar Roach has all the experience and he is a consistent bowler. Does his bit with the ball.
“They have given me the opportunity to express myself. It is a great combination. It gives me the ability to give my own natural game.”
Gabriel has impressed some of his predecessors too. Walsh, West Indies’ all-time highest wicket-taker, is now Bangladesh’s bowling coach. He says Gabriel’s hard work has turned him into a bowler who can change the course of a game.
“He has improved tremendously,” Walsh says. “His fitness level is up there. He has the aggression. I am happy with the way he is bowling. I am probably happy that he didn’t play against us in the second Test. He had a very good spell in the first Test.
“He is the type of bowler who can change the game for you. Big improvement from him and he is getting from strength to strength. I am very happy to see that from a West Indian’s point of view. He is a kid who likes to work hard. I am sure that he will keep improving as his career goes on.”
Walsh has also noticed Gabriel’s improvement in moving the ball, particularly his ability to produce reverse-swing. “[Seam and movement] will happen with experience, and the more you play. He is in in a better place than when he first started. He has a number of Tests under his belt and now he has the composure and confidence.
“Once you are playing, those improvements will come. You can see late reverse-swing from him. He has good control and he knows how to set a batsman up. He is [going] in the right direction.”
Gabriel is full of respect for past fast-bowling greats from the West Indies, and is close to Bishop, a fellow Trinidadian who is now a regular companion in home and away Tests in his capacity as a TV commentator.
“I have always been a great fan of Ian Bishop,” Gabriel says. “One of my close uncles is his friend as well. Must say thanks to him for all the knowledge and advice he has given me. I have kept it, and made it part of my game.”
Gabriel’s is one of the encouraging cricketing stories of recent years, of a player picking himself up from an ordinary start to his international career and turning himself into a match-turning asset, all while thrilling fans of fast bowling around the world. Through it he has remained a humble man, without the frills of most of his contemporaries.
“I started [playing cricket] late but it is something that just happened.” he says. “I was just able to stick with it. To be honest right now, I am living my dream. It is something that I have always wanted to do – playing cricket. I want to be thankful for that.”