Mohammed Shami needs support from other seamers for India to make their mark on overseas tours © Getty Images
Why can’t Indian fast bowlers hunt in packs as effectively as those in some of the other countries do? Karthik Parimal tries to explain.
The South African and neutral observers were perhaps filled with a sense of savoury when Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander, Morne Morkel and Wayne Parnell, like wolves hunting in packs, dismantled the Australian top-order with a ferocity unique to them. It was almost two hours of pure testament to the charm of Test cricket. While Steyn, Philander and Morkel kept swinging the red leather with proficiency endowed to very few, Parnell scalped the unsuspecting batsmen in the form of Alex Doolan and Shaun Marsh — both chief architects of Australian victory at Centurion, who probably expected a let-up from the searing examination at the other end.
The brief passage of play was an indication of why a team with a robust bowling line-up is bound to taste victory more often than not. If propped by a fine set of batsmen, these bowlers spew extra venom. The Australian attack, led by the talismanic Mitchell Johnson, proved just that during the second leg of the Ashes. So did England during one of their most fruitful summers last year.
On the other hand, India tore through the opponents owing to spinners on turfs that suited their artillery at home. The predicament they face, however, has been the lack of quality seamers who can replicate what Australia, South Africa and England so consistently do in alien conditions.
On a green, or a pacer-friendly, pitch, the Indian fast bowlers did manage to skittle South Africa and New Zealand to scores of 244, 105 and 190, but they also let them gallop to totals of over 450 on numerous counts, twice letting these teams off the hook at crucial moments. Although there were a few positives as takeaways, it was a case of mediocre bowling, compounded by a lack of bite, for most parts. The barrage of short-pitched deliveries bowled at an insipid pace to lower-order batsmen in New Zealand, this when the situation begged for good- and full-length bowling, can be used as an apt example. New Zealand were quite content to nonchalantly hook and pull their way out of trouble.
The reason India needs to mull over this long-existing conundrum is due to the list of upcoming fixtures, one that looks daunting based on the current form, or skill level, of its bowling unit. Although a cliché in cricketing circles these days, a team’s ability to bowl out an opposition twice plays a major factor in its winning percentage. Australia, South Africa, England, and more recently New Zealand, have all validated the theory. Can India manage to unearth one bowler in the next four months who, alongside Mohammed Shami, can bolster the attack? The apparent answer is not in the affirmative, and it’s also highly unlikely that, despite England’s frailties, there is little chance of India usurping them at home with the present bowling line-up.
The Indian selectors will be aware of this crisis. If their moves thus far are taken as references, it’s likely that the current crop of bowlers will be persisted with. They’ve been firm enough to wield the axe over non-performing players, too, but not before presenting a considerable rope. This leads to one question that they will look to answer at the earliest: where does Zaheer Khan fit in the scheme of things? Rahul Dravid, former India captain and one of the sane voices in the sport, doesn’t think he should be a long-term prospect, and it’s hard to counter the points put forth by him. Although the rigorous training under Tim Exeter has helped Zaheer stage a comeback, he’s notably looked flat at times. Dravid couldn’t have been more precise when he said, “I would hate to see Zaheer end his career bowling 120-125 kph and limp away from international cricket. He has done a great job to get himself fit for these two series and to be fair, he has bowled well in patches, and he has bowled consistently.”
Ishant Sharma’s form, which usually oscillates between tepid and cold, would be next on the list of issues to be addressed for the powers that be. Can his performance in the series against New Zealand be a sign of his turning a corner? Will he step up and take responsibility as India’s spearhead finally? Or should he be relegated back to the drawing board? The spotlight must be turned towards the bowling coach, Joe Dawes, too. Sourav Ganguly’s scathing criticism and relentless promotion of his preferred players aside, this one point made by him is noteworthy: “I saw Allan Donald in South Africa, walking around the boundary line, talking to his bowlers. But I don’t see Joe Dawes doing that,” he aptly stated in one of the interviews.
Like most of the other top nations, it’s time India’s bowlers adopted the “wolf pack” mentality. The selectors can help by not shuffling the current bowlers in and out of the side on a frequent basis. Pick one seamer, the alpha male, and let the other two or three seamers — could be Umesh Yadav, Varun Aaron and Bhuvaneshwar Kumar — don the roles of the betas and the omegas. Two other fast bowlers can be termed reserves and roped in whenever need be. Not only patience must be shown, but the bowlers need to be given a sense of security for them to flourish. A blueprint to win Tests, regardless of the conditions, has been laid out by other formidable teams out there. It’d augur well if India could build on it.
(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal)