A fierce pace battery has always been a chink in the armour for Indian cricket. The late 80s to early 90s was the only period when India had a formidable operating duo of Kapil Dev-Manoj Prabhakar. But after Kapil’s retirement, Prabhakar lost his sheen as a reasonably good swing bowler. Javagal Srinath has arguably been the best produce in both Test and one-day cricket as far as the pace department is concerned. However, the pair of Srinath and the tall Venkatesh Prasad never really sent shivers down the spine of opening batsmen in the late 90s.
Zaheer Khan spearheads the current Indian fast bowling armoury. He has been the most consistent Indian fast bowler now for a long time. But the lack of proper support from the other end has only added to his burden. The likes of Ajit Agarkar, Irfan Pathan, Munaf Patel, RP Singh and S. Sreesanth have always promised a lot without delivering to the expected level. Ishant Sharma emerged as the most exciting pace prospect during his intimidating spell that troubled Ricky Ponting and eventually got him out during India’s last tour to Australia. But since then, he has been marred by consistency problems. Likewise, Sreesanth has also been a great casualty with respect to consistency. On his day he may be lethal with his outswingers as we recently saw on the second day of the third Test between India and South Africa, but when his morale is low he gets taken off for plenty.
Apart from Zaheer, Ashish Nehra and Praveen Kumar have now been the mainstay of Indian new ball attack for sometime, at least in the one-dayers. Their recent performances in the limited-overs game have won them serious accolades. However, the two also have their share of shortcomings. Praveen, who predominantly thrives on swing, needs to step up his speed. Nehra’s career has been lacklustre because of his injury woes and hence has been in and out of the Indian scheme of things.
India might be the No 1 in Tests and No 2 One-Day International rankings in the world, but in the run-up to the World Cup next month, the fast bowling department needs to up the ante. There is no denying the fact that spin will be the dominant factor considering the conditions in the subcontinent, but India cannot afford to be complacent as far as fast bowling is concerned. The subcontinent pitches will serve as a heaven for the batsmen and the matches will surely be run feasts. In such a scenario, the initial few overs bowled by the seamers will be highly crucial.
India is touted to be a serious contender for this year’s World Cup. And with the home conditions behind them, the battle will become even more interesting provided Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s men go out there with all guns blazing, be it batting, bowling or fielding.
(Shuvait Koul, a Post Graduate Diploma holder in Journalism from Times School of Journalism, New Delhi, is a freelance writer from Delhi)