By Nishad Pai Vaidya
An Indian fast-bowler breaking down before the commencement of any overseas tour is an all too familiar occurrence. If one felt that Zaheer Khan was the one who consistently featured on the casualty list, the others have entered the unwanted arena by turns. Vinay Kumar is the latest example as his injury ruled him out of the tour to Sri Lanka paving the way for Irfan Pathan to make the flight to the Emerald Isle. It has been an unending chain since the end of the 2011 World Cup – one that isn’t showing any signs of abating.
The tour to the Caribbean was India’s first assignment after the World Cup. A number of players opted out of the one-day series as the long run on the cricket field had taken a toll on their body. However, most of them returned for the Test series which followed the limited-overs segment. Zaheer and S Sreesanth were originally a part of the Test squad, but had to withdraw at the eleventh hour due to niggles.
Later, on the tour of England, Zaheer infamously limped out of the first Test at Lord’s – a development that kick-started India’s nightmare. That incident exposed India’s poor injury management and its hurried approach in playing key players immediately after recovery. The myopic approach of the whole Indian system was out in the open as the lack of practice games hurt the team big-time. Virender Sehwag’s return to the team midway through the series turned matters from bad to worse.
Things seemed to have changed a little as India prepared for the tour to Australia, but there was no effect on the result. Zaheer had to play domestic games to prove his fitness and then work his way into the Indian side. Even during the practice games Down Under, he bowled less as the team management opted to keep him fit for the series. In an encouraging development, he completed a full-tour to Australia for the first time. However, some of his compatriots weren’t so lucky. Varun Aaron and Praveen Kumar were ruled out even before the team took the flight to Australia.
Through all that, Ishant Sharma’s case has been very intriguing. It looks like he played through pain as his ankle injury surfaced at the end of the Test series in England. That ruled him out of the One-Day International (ODI) series and he then returned for the Test series against West Indies. There were a few concerns surrounding his fitness during the practice games in Australia, but somehow he managed to pull through. It was heartening to see that Ishant opted for surgery and the glamour of the Indian Premier League (IPL) didn’t lure him to prolong his painful run. If the Country vs Club debate divided opinions last year, Ishant’s choice comes as a ray of hope.
Aaron has been touted as India’s next pace sensation along with Umesh Yadav. If he maintains his fitness, he can add tremendous value to India’s line-up. Australia would have been an ideal place for him to make an impression as the conditions would have suited his style of bowling. His rehabilitation looked well planned as he returned to action only during the later stages of the IPL. However, the same injury has come back to haunt him and it serves as a big wake up call to the Indian board.
The frequent breakdowns of India’s fast bowlers is a worrying as India look to regain lost ground following the post-World Cup. The same bowler may not get injured every now and then, but the fact that there is one casualty before almost every tour indicates that something is certainly amiss. It is time the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) wakes up to the reality and makes fitness a priority in its player development programs.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a club-level cricketer with an analytic mind and a sharp eye. It was this sharpness which spotted a wrong replay in IPL4 resulting in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. Some of his analytical pieces have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. Nishad can also be followed on Twitter)