By Nishad Pai Vaidya
RP Singh’s call-up as a replacement for the injured Zaheer Khan was one of the many contentious decisions by the Krish Srikkanth-chaired selection committee. But his spells in the third and the fourth ODI suggest that he is on way to cementing a place in the national team.
RP had a fantastic 2007-08 season in which he bowled memorable spells in England, Australia and in India’s triumphant ICC World T20 2007 campaign. He was menacing moving the ball in the air at a good pace. One felt that he could be a good partner for Zaheer Khan and help take some pressure off his shoulders. But the combination of injuries, poor handling by the team management and the rise of Ishant Sharma kept RP out of the Indian side.
On India’s tour to Australia in 2007-08, RP used his pace and swing to trouble the batsmen. The tour to England, a few months prior to the campaign Down Under, was when he showed signs of fulfilling his potential, but in Australia he looked lot more confident. But just when it looked like he was ready to lead the bowling attack in the absence of Zaheer, injury struck and he was ruled out of the Commonwealth Bank (CB) series.
The injury in Australia was the point from where things went downhill for him. He regained fitness for South Africa’s tour to India which followed the CB series. But two wicketless Tests at home saw him being dropped from the playing eleven. It seemed a little harsh because the first of the two Tests was on a batting beauty at Chennai which had nothing in it for the bowlers and the second at Ahmedabad was a pitch that suited the tourists more than the home side. However, it was Ishant’s rising graph that was the biggest factor in benching RP. The left-arm seamer played musical chairs while vying for a place in the playing eleven till late 2009, when he was ultimately dropped.
Now that RP is back in the Indian team, the selectors have to nurture him carefully, especially considering Zaheer’s fitness concerns. RP has come a long way from the shoddy display during The Oval Test and should be in India’s scheme of things when England make the return trip. If RP continues his good work at home against England and the West Indies, he could be a contender for a spot in the Test team for the Australia tour.
The selectors should weigh the positives since his much-criticised comeback. He seems to have shed some of his excess baggage around the waist. The rhythm in his bowling stride also looks good. Its showing in the pace at which he is bowling, clocking around 138 kmph. That mark isn’t his fastest, but as his fitness levels improves and as he plays more matches, he should bowl lot quicker. The movement in the air and off the seam has returned and he looks a completely different bowler from the bowler we saw in the fourth Test of the ongoing tour.
One of the main reasons why the selectors should persist with RP is his pace. As discussed in one of my previous articles, he belongs to the category of brisk fast bowlers - those who bowl in the higher 130s and who can occasionally touch the 145-mark. His inclusion will add variety into the attack as both Munaf and Praveen aren’t quick.
Bowling has been India’s biggest worry. How the national selectors and team management utilise and nurture the existing resources will determine the direction of Indian cricket in the road ahead.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya, a 20-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.")