The Indian cricket team: Pace bowling riches?

BRIDGETOWN, BARBADOS - MAY 09: Ashish Nehra of India looks on during the ICC World Twenty20 Super Eight match between West Indies and India at the Kensington Oval on May 9, 2010 in Bridgetown, Barbados. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Dhoni’s troubles

On Saturday, the 14th of August, 2010 , Dhoni walked out of a practice session when Dinesh Karthik was struck on the thumb by a nastily bouncing ball. The excuse given was that the practice facilities were inadequate; the pitch was underprepared and dangerous to use.

On Sunday, the 15th of August, Dhoni sought to underline his independence from the BCCI requesting that the Indian bowlers be rotated more often to allow them more rest and time to recover from their many niggles.

So what gives? Is the pressure of arguably the hottest seat in the country getting too much for Mahendra Singh Dhoni to handle?

The weight of a billion expectations is overwhelming. Is Dhoni finding the captain’s kitchen too warm for comfort?

Or is Dhoni trying to cut manic expectations of his young, troubled side?

Is he beseeching the Indian cricket fan to be more understanding, more kind, more real?

Quote of the day:
Millions long for immortality who don’t know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon. – Susan Ertz

BRIDGETOWN, BARBADOS - MAY 07: Zaheer Khan of India bowls a delivery during the ICC World Twenty20 Super Eight match between Australia and India at the Kensington Oval on May 7, 2010 in Bridgetown, Barbados. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

The Fragile Case

A case for speedsters to be rested and rotated is not a new phenomenon.

Ishant’s example has been cited time and again. He no longer appears the bursting bundle of talent he was when he had Ricky Ponting fumbling like a novice. Ishant seems tired and listless most days.

His frame seems too frail to shoulder the burden of unreasonable workloads.

Let’s enumerate the fast bowlers the Indian cricket team has had in the recent past – the last ten years or so.

Sreesanth, Irfan Pathan, Balaji, RP Singh , Praveen Kumar, Ishant  Sharma, Munaf Patel, Nehra, Zaheer Khan, Ajit Agarkar and  Mithun come to mind. Other forgotten names include Tinnu Yohannan,VRV Singh, IR  Siddiqui and SS Bangar. Almost all of them have been in and out of the Indian side either  due to injury or the selector’s whims.

By no means can it be said that the Indian cricket team lacks bowling talent. The above listed make for a XV all by themselves.

Pace bowlers have always suffered at the hands of Indian selectors. They are not treated like the thoroughbreds they are. They are bowled into the ground on our deadbeat pitches; they are donkeys of the trade.

They ought to come with a sign that reads “Fragile. Handle with care”.

Fast But Not Furious

Of the names listed above, VRV Singh, Tinnu Yohannan and IR Siddiqui were birds of passage. They came, they were seen ,they were soon gone.

Tinnu Yohannan played three Tests and three one-dayers. Iqbal Siddiqui played just 1 Test and Vikram Raj Vir Singh has played 5 Tests and 2 ODIs. Of these, VRV Singh is probably the only one still in the reckoning as he is just twenty-five.

What about the rest?

Balaji , the ever smiling assassin , was a huge hit when India toured Pakistan under Saurav Ganguly in 2003-2004.  He has played eight tests for India bagging twenty-seven wickets in the process. His figures include a single 5WI against Pakistan in 2005. Injury has kept him out of the Indian side for the best part of three years.He has not seemed the same bowler since.

Munaf Patel was India’s great big fast hope. But he has flattered only to deceive. He has been in and out of the Indian side and his pace has slackened making him seem like just another trundler. At his best, he resembles Glenn McGrath with his ability to control the ball. No frills for him, just keep putting the ball in the right places and the rest will follow. He has turned out for India in twelve tests and forty-three ODIs. He blossomed under Ganguly and Kumble. Dhoni prefers to look to the younger lot for succor.

Sreesanth was quick, he was fast , and he had a lip and the antics to go with it. He followed in the footsteps of his predecessor Yohannan. He has represented India in seventeen Tests and forty-nine ODIs. He has taken 5WI twice in Tests and once in ODIs. He is in favor with the selectors once more but injury prevents him turning out and up more regularly.

Nehra is India’s version of Australia’s Bruce Reid. When he plays, you know there is no way he could ever have been out of playing eleven. But he has been so very injury prone; his injuries almost called a premature curtain call on his international act. He has played for India regularly in the past year and a half ; his appearances are rationed out so that he does not succumb to injury once again. In tandem with Zaheer Khan, he is very dangerous indeed.

RP Singh impressed in the 2003-2004 series against the kangaroos down under. He has failed to live up to the expectations since ; he has also been prone to breaking down when called to serve the Indian team.

Praveen Kumar is one of those rare specimens in international cricket – a swing bowler. He relies on his ability to move the ball and fox the batsman. He has delivered time and again for India in ODIs. He has yet to make his Test début; his lack of pace is held against him.

Irfan Pathan was seen to be the all-rounder India had prayed for ; someone in the mold of Kapil Dev or Manoj Prabhakar. He too is a left-arm swing bowler and a left-handed batsman. He has played twenty-nine Tests for India; He has a hundred wickets to his credit and his bowling performances include seven 5WIs and two 10WM. He is still India’s best bet at being the all-rounder the Indian team has sought – in vain. If only Pathan would regain his groove!

Zaheer Khan is the spearhead of India’s bowling attack. He is a mentor to his younger bowling colleagues. He is the best left arm pace bowler this country has produced. He has played seventy-two Tests and has 242 wickets under his belt. Khan is caliph indeed!

Another bowler who has served India , in a limited capacity, is Ajit Agarkar. He was touted as an all-rounder but his batting failed to live up to the hype. He , however, does have a Test century to his credit , scored at Lord’s in 2002, batting at number eight.

Cricketer holding cricket ball, close-up of hand and ball

Answers and Questions

If we look at the list of contenders and try-outs this Indian team has had in recent times, the only pacer with an air of constancy or consistency is Zaheer Khan. The rest have revolved, evolved, devolved and rotated – willingly or unwillingly. This is quite unlike the time when the Indian bowling attack  suffered from a lack of adequate replacements. The then bowling attacks,however, did have a settled look – Kapil and Prabhakar, Sreenath and Prasad.

Great fast bowlers hunt in pairs -  Wasim and Waqar, McGrath and Brett Lee, Lillee and Thompson spring to mind.

India’s best bowling line-up, under the circumstances, has to be Nehra and Khan. They are, however, on the wrong side of thirty.

Where does the Indian pace attack go from here?

Can Sreesanth don the mantle?

Can Patel inveigle his way into Dhoni’s good books to parade his wares?

Will Pathan get his groove back?

Will RP Singh rip at the opposition’s throats again?

Can Balaji charm his way back to glory?

Can Ishant re-discover his snap and bite?

Can Kumar swing his way in?

Or will it be Mithun meeting the challenge head-on?

The answers are staring us in the face. Are we asking the right questions?

Have a great day!