The Indian selectors meet on July 4 to select the squad for the tour to Sri Lanka. Zaheer Khan’s availability would be a huge talking point and could affect the dynamics of the fast-bowling department. Of course, there are a number of good fast bowlers to step is as back-up; it’s the spin department which is short of options.
Nishad Pai Vaidya discusses the contenders for the bowling department in the Indian team for the tour to Sri Lanka.
While concerns surrounding the Indian batting intensified following the India ‘A’ sojourn of the Caribbean – one where India’s generation next failed miserably – the bowling continues to be the Achilles heel. The One-Day International (ODI) series in Australia and the Asia Cup exposed the Indian bowling as it failed to show guile and effectiveness. On Wednesday, July 4, the selectors meet to pick the squad for the ODI series against Sri Lanka and picking a good bowling attack would be the major talking point.
During the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2012, none of the top Indian bowlers were economical. Only Umesh Yadav – the highest Indian wicket-taker – was relatively parsimonious at 7.42. When one looks at the top performers from other countries, one would find that at least some of them have been economical and wicket-taking. However, even India’s most accurate bowers like Zaheer Khan and Munaf Patel were expensive. T20 cricket is, of course, a different ball game, but the fact none of them were economical is worrying. It will be a major worry for the selectors when they sit to pick the ICC World T20 squad.
Zaheer Khan’s situation is very similar to that of Virender Sehwag. India’s pace spearhead has been prone to injuries and was “rested” for the Asia Cup. If fit, he should be picked for the Sri Lanka tour as it would give him good game time before the Test series against New Zealand. While India have just about managed without Zaheer in ODIs, he remains the best option for the longer format. The selectors may have to keep the upcoming New Zealand series in perspective while taking a call on him.
India have numerous options for the fast bowling department such as R Vinay Kumar, Yadav, Irfan Pathan, Praveen Kumar, Ashok Dinda, Munaf Patel and Varun Aaron. In all probability, India would select four fast-bowlers if it is a 15-man squad. Zaheer’s selection would greatly alter the dynamics and his absence may pave the way for another fast bowler. In the list, Vinay Kumar and Yadav seem to be certainties as they performed well in Australia.
Vinay Kumar may lack the pace, but makes up with accuracy and discipline. In the one-day series in Australia, he showed remarkable progress as his pace picked up. He didn’t have a very good IPL, but should make the cut for the Sri Lanka tour. On the other hand, Yadav’s progress has been heartening and his pace adds a lot of sting into the attack. His absence was noticed during the Asia Cup as the bowling attack became one-paced and lacked zip.
If Zaheer is selected along with Vinay Kumar and Yadav, it leaves the selectors with one more spot to fill. Pathan seems to be a good-candidate given his decent comeback to national colours and his batting ability. However, Praveen and Munaf would be tempting options. Praveen hasn’t had a good run off-late for India. On the other hand, Munaf last donned the blue jersey in September last year. Aaron may have to wait for his chances as the competition is cut-throat.
Dinda did well for India A during the unofficial ODI series in the Caribbean. He continues to grow as a fast-bowler and has received rich praise from some of the best cricketing minds. His teammate Shami Ahmed has an outside chance, but as the Bengal coach WV Raman told CricketCountry, he needs a year to seamlessly fit into the big league.
If the fast-bowling department offers a number of options, there is a paucity of spinners. Ravichandran Ashwin is the only tweaker who has established himself in the ranks and doesn’t seem to have an effective partner. Ravindra Jadeja showed promise and gave India depth with his all-round abilities. However, his bowling has struggled off late and it has been a prolonged run of lack of form. Would the selectors risk picking him again?
Rahul Sharma has been in India’s plans for quite some time and also toured the Caribbean with India A. His opportunities at the highest level have been limited as Ashwin and Jadeja played ahead of him. Compared to his brilliant performance during the IPL 2011, his returns were lukewarm this year. The tour to the Caribbean, too, wasn’t very productive.
Piyush Chawla was India’s best spinner in the IPL with 16 wickets to his name. However, his economy rate was 7.35 – which is a big number when spread over 16 games. Furthermore, he has a tendency to get hit on a few occasions.
Pragyan Ojha has persistently been ignored for the limited-overs formats despite showing consistency. He has a good loop and can turn the ball to trouble the batsmen. On Sri Lankan tracks, his bowling can be very effective and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to recal him to the one-day fold.
Through all that, Akshay Darekar would have an outside chance as an impressive performance in the Caribbean has brought him the limelight. It is a remarkable journey as he isn’t a part of any IPL side and used opportunities at the domestic level to make a mark.
The batting conundrum may be tricky for the selectors, but the bowling is a huge brainteaser. It would be an exhaustive and brainstorming session for the selectors on July 4.
(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)