From left: Umesh Yadav, Varun Aaron, Shami Ahmed and Bhuvneshwar Kumar © Getty Images, PTI & Kolkata Knight Riders
By Karthik Parimal
Some teams are quick to learn from their defeats, whereas some continue to live in denial despite a stretch of sluggish performances. It is only when they’ve run out of options that the infusion of fresh blood is seen as mandatory.
The Indian bowling department can be used as an apt example in this case. It was continuously altered with, and whenever a frontline bowler underperformed, another experienced player, who had done little to better his poor form while waiting on the fringes, was roped in. A deaf ear was turned to youngsters constantly knocking on the doors of the selectors with noteworthy performances in the domestic circuit. As Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh gradually became ineffective, and as Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron had fallen prey to injuries, the selectors were forced to look at other alternatives.
In came Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Shami Ahmed, and the duo, at short notice, made a resounding statement with the ball during the recently concluded One-Day Internationals against Pakistan. They’ve refused to take their foot off the pedal in the ongoing series against England as well, producing economical spells and making inroads at appropriate junctures of the game. Although it’d be too early to anoint them as future flag-bearers of Indian bowling, there is no denying the immense potential they possess.
But ‘potential’ is a word that is affiliated to many in Indian cricket, and quite a few players have remained unsuccessful in their attempt to translate their domestic performances on the big stage. This is true especially of the bowlers. As many as 18 bowlers have serviced India in all formats of the game since the 2011 World Cup, and a few aren’t on the selectors’ radar anymore. The debutants during this phase were few.
Also, with the exception of Ravichandran Ashwin, none of the current bunch of bowlers in the frame can claim of being a permanent fixture in the Indian side. Agreed, the team is undergoing a transition, but it’s imperative to chalk out combinations in this department of the game and stick to it in order to infuse stability.
Shami and Bhuvneshwar have shown that in order to be effective, it’s not imperative to always bowl at a tearaway speed. Although the former generated good pace during the Ranchi ODI, he has demonstrated the importance of hitting the right length first. The duo has played a crucial role in restricting England to paltry totals during the last two games. Giving them a longer run will help them bowl better in tandem and build a partnership that could play a crucial role in the outcome of the game. After all, a bowling alliance is as vital as a batting one.
While drawing plusses from the game at Ranchi, Mahendra Singh Dhoni made an interesting statement. “The positive side is that the pool of bowlers has become bigger. With more and more games under their belt they would improve and we would have good pool of bowlers,” said Dhoni. While there is little doubt that the return of injured seamers would bolster the attack, care must be taken to not lose track of the bowlers made to warm the benches during the process. As has often happened in the past, a neglected potential has gradually drifted into oblivion. The existing pool of bowlers must be nurtured and accordingly rotated so as to not cause a burnout.
The Indians have often employed the policy of taking field with three seamers and a spinner, and it would augur well to pick from a bunch of five to six fast bowlers for every tournament. Yadav, Aaron, Shami and Bhuvaneshwar can all be drafted into the squad, as it would give the side an opportunity to play with one pacer and two swing bowlers, or vice versa. Such a combination would certainly add variety to the attack. Or if the thought of playing five bowlers for every game ever arises, it wouldn’t be much of a predicament.
Ishant too can be instrumental in this setup, but his performances have been quite inconsistent. Indeed, it’s surprising that he doesn’t still consider himself the leader of the pack. “I don’t think I am the senior fast bowler in the team because everyone is of a similar age, though I have played more matches and I have played with other boys as well,” said Ishant, who is just 24 but has played 100 matches for India (in Tests & ODIs combined) in over five and half years.
The return of Zaheer Khan or Praveen Kumar could change the equation considerably, but the future must be kept in mind before hanging an axe over a youngster’s head from this point forward. The longer the current group of bowlers play alongside each other, the better it is for long term plans of the side.
(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of thegame. 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)