Fast bowlers are a rare breed in India. India haven’t had many world-class fast men and have only three bowlers in their entire cricketing history who have gone past 200 Test wickets. Zaheer Khan is the last fast bowler who has gotten anywhere close to being world-class. In the nineties, India struggled to find a decent third seamer to consolidate the good first spells of Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad, but at the end of the decade there were some promising additions. Zaheer was the first to emerge in 2000, followed by a plethora of young fast men who promised a lot but faltered to deceive in the long run.
The problem with Indian pace bowlers over the years has been their fitness. Ashish Nehra, Munaf Patel, Irfan Pathan, RP Singh, S Sreesanth etc. all began their career with lots of promise — bowling quick and swinging the ball. However, none of them were able to convert their earlier promise into performances over a sustained period of time. The trend is extremely disturbing. The emphasis on fitness is something which seems to be lacking in the Indian fast bowlers. Within just a year in international cricket, these bowlers have lost their fitness, pace and ability to swing the ball.
The number seems to be increasing over the years. In 2007, India possessed one of the best pace attacks for a long time. Zaheer, Sreesanth and RP Singh bowling in the excess of 135 kmph and swinging the ball both ways was a great sight for an Indian fan. However, the joy just lasted for a year before RP Singh lost his way and pace. Sreesanth has been plagued by injuries throughout his career, whereas Ishant Sharma, who bowled India’s fastest delivery in Australia and troubled the best batsmen in business with his length and bounce, has lost the attributes which made him an instant success in his first year in international cricket.
It is hard to understand how a cricketing board can turn deaf to the problems causing this decline of the fast bowlers. Fitness is an important aspect for a bowler in international cricket. It is also important for the bowlers to keep evolving and learn new tricks as they advance their careers. The Indian pace men have faltered on both counts. The reason can be many and one of the most important reasons in the recent times has been the excessive cricket the bowlers have been subjected to. The IPL/CLT20 followed by countless international games can only break a bowler.
Varun Aaron and Umesh Yadav spend more time recouping from an injury than to play for their country. Playing excessive T20 games also gives no option for the bowlers to work on their bowling. The Indian board has to realise that Zaheer’s stint in county cricket in England was the reason for his evolution as one of the best bowlers in the world for about four years. The BCCI has blocked that avenue too. County cricket can be a great learning ground for these bowlers and will be much more beneficial than playing in meaningless T20 games in India.
Now, India again have a talented new crop of bowlers like Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Shami Ahmed, and it will be interesting to see how the board handle these bowlers. The BCCI have the finances and resources to keep the promising Indian bowlers away from the T20 leagues and keep them fresh for international cricket. It will be great to have Umesh Yadav, Varun Aaron, Bhuvneshwar, Sreesanth, Ishant Sharma, Praveen Kumar and Shami Ahmed fit and available for an international series. Constant cricket can only be detrimental to Indian cricket future. If India needs to become a force to reckon with at the international level, it needs a pool of good pace bowlers and this is the time to preserve the resources they have.
(Giri Subramanian is a US-based software engineer who has been following cricket for over 20 years. He is a passionate Sachin Tendulkar and Team India fan)
First Published: January 31, 2013, 3:07 pm