By Nishad Pai Vaidya
The impressive Indian bowling hasn’t got it due attention compared to the heroics of Gautam Gambhir and Mahendra Singh Dhoni. While the two batsmen rallied India’s run-chases in two successive games, it is the Indian bowling which has been tidy and helped restrict the opposition to gettable targets.
Vinay Kumar has been a revelation. He stands out on the bowling charts for India in the Commonwealth Bank tri-series, but it has been a team effort with the others chipping in at crucial intervals. The only blemish in the campaign was the first One-Day International (ODI), where they were ruthlessly carted around the ground by the Australians in a rain-shortened game. Since then the bowling has looked a rejuvenated attack. And it’s principally because of the addition of the third seamer. India had gone in with two specialist seamers and two spinners (along with Jadeja) in the first ODI which cost them dearly.
Zaheer Khan came into the side for the ODI against Sri Lanka at Perth and made an instant impact. He may have a few niggles, but the fact that he has completed the Test series and is available for the one-dayers is a huge boost. In the two games he has played, Zaheer has continued from where he left off during the World Cup - his previous one-day assignment. Upfront, he is a difficult bowler to get away as he bowls in the tight channel outside the off stump. The left-handers in particular find it even harder to play him as his natural angle can get the better of them.
The addition of Umesh Yadav has also bolstered India’s bowling as he brings variety to the line-up. In England, the bowling struggled in the ODIs because it was too “one-paced.” Yadav brings pace to the table, which gives the Indian attack a new dynamism. India have to give him a long run in the side so that he can replicate his form from the Test series.
Zaheer was left out for the Adelaide ODI against Sri Lanka due to a calf injury and that allowed Irfan Pathan to come in to the side. Pathan bowled accurately and got the ball to move in the air. The most impressive aspect about his bowling was his accuracy. He was disciplined in his approach and didn’t bowl too many boundary balls. One just gets the feeling that he is yet to get back to his best as he can get the ball to swing far more than he did at Adelaide. He did purchase movement, but when he gets into top gear, the same ball would swing even more and his pace may pick up as well.
Coming to spin department, it is good to see Ravichandran Ashwin get past his struggles in the Test series. He is getting the ball to turn and bounce, making it difficult for the batsmen. What was good to see is that he is prepared to flight it and use the long boundaries to his advantage. In the middle overs he does a good job by bowling a tight line and creating pressure.
It is surprising to see Ravindra Jadeja not amongst the wickets. In four games, he has only one scalp to his name, which is strange considering his form coming into this series. In fact, during the last two games, he has conceded more than 50 runs on each occasion, which indicates that runs have come relatively easy against him.
With the Jadeja situation, the team management may be tempted to play Pathan as the all-rounder who would bat at number seven. The thrilling tie against Sri Lanka would be remembered for Dhoni’s attempt to hit a boundary off the last ball. However, it was Pathan’s six in the previous over that helped India reduce the asking rate. His good performance with the ball may support the argument in question.
If Pathan is played in place of Jadeja as an all-rounder, it may allow Rahul Sharma to come into the line-up. With Pathan in the all-rounder’s spot, India would anyway have three seamers (counting Vinay and anyone of Zaheer, Umesh and Praveen) and that would give them the opportunity to play both Ashwin and Rahul. Rahul may be effective on the Australian pitches as he is very tall and can extract good bounce on any surface. The height factor may be his advantage over Jadeja. The other way Rahul might get to play is if India decides to “rotate” Ashwin and give him a rest.
The ploy of fielding Pathan as the all-rounder has its own hazards. Firstly, he is just making a comeback to the international arena - that too on the strength of his bowling performances in domestic cricket. To thrust the all-rounder’s role upon him would be premature and may just spoil his bowling rhythm by dividing his focus. Secondly, the move to carve an all-rounder out of him a few years ago was disastrous as his bowling took a backseat. Keeping these facts in perspective, it wouldn’t be wise to replace Jadeja with him.
Thirdly, Jadeja may have had a few off games with the ball, but can get back into full flow anytime. With the bat he has already played a good knock and won a game for India. His fielding has been absolutely brilliant and electric- a factor that setup India’s T20 win. India wouldn’t benefit by benching him as it would only spoil the balance and might reduce his confidence.
In the midst of all this, the burning question is: Where does Praveen Kumar fit into the scheme of things? He has had two uncharacteristic outings with the ball, but if one looks into the record books, he was one of India’s stars during their previous visit Down Under. With the resources India have, it is difficult to see who sits out. And it may only be rotation that may give him a game.
While the Indian batting is following the rotation policy, the bowling department doesn’t seem far from a similar practice.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya, a 21-year-old law student, is a club and college-level cricketer. His teachers always complain, “He knows the stats and facts of cricket more than the subjects we teach him.")