Since Kapil Dev (L) retired,India has found just one big impact fast bowler in Zaheer Khan (R), who has been both durable and effective © Getty Images
Since Kapil Dev (L) retired,India has found just one big impact fast bowler in Zaheer Khan (R), who has been both durable and effective © Getty Images


By Dileep V


In the 17-plus years since Kapil Dev Nikhanj retired from Test cricket on March 23, 1994, India has struggled to find a good crop of quality fast bowlers for the traditional form of the game.


Javagal Srinath was a potent force, but he had made his debut way before Kapil’s retirement. India has found just one big impact fast bowler in Zaheer Khan, who has been both durable and effective with a tally of 271 wickets in a Test career spanning over a decade and 78 Tests.  A few made dramatic and promising entries, only to fizzle out in quick time, while the vast majority were mediocre from the word go.


First let’s look at Kapil’s magnificent track record in Test matches and then let’s go through the long list of fast bowlers that followed him on to the Test arena after his retirement:


Player Span M
Wkts Best Avg SR 5WI/10WM
Kapil Dev 1978-1994 131 4623.2 434 9/83 29.64 63.9 23/2
Zaheer Khan 2000-2011 78 2626.0 271 7/87 31.94 58.1 10/1
V Prasad 1996-2001 33 1173.3 96 6/33 35.00 73.3 7/1
I Sharma 2007-2011 31 940.4 90 5/118 35.97 62.7 1/0
I Pathan 2003-2008 29 980.4 100 7/59 32.26 58.8 7/2
A Agarkar 1998-2006 26 809.3 58 6/41 47.32 83.7 1/0
S Sreesanth 2006-2011 24 792.1 79 5/40 35.16 60.1 3/0
A Nehra 1999-2004 17 574.3 44 4/72 42.40 78.3 0/0
RP Singh 2006-2008 13 388.2 40 5/59 39.10 58.2 1/0
M Patel 2006-2009 12 399.0 34 4/25 36.17 70.4 0/0
A Kuruvilla 1997-1997 10 294.1 25 5/68 35.68 70.6 1/0
L Balaji 2003-2005 8 292.4 27 5/76 37.18 65.0 1/0
VRV Singh 2006-2007 5 111.3 8 3/48 53.37 83.6 0/0
D Ganesh 1997-1997 4 76.5 5 2/28 57.40 92.2 0/0
A Mithun 2010-2010 3 92.0 6 4/105 62.00 92.0 0/0
T Yohannan 2001-2002 3 81.0 5 2/56 51.20 97.2 0/0
H Singh 1998-2001 3 45.3 4 2/62 46.25 68.2 0/0
D Mohanty 1997-1997 2 71.4 4 4/78 59.75 107.5 0/0
D Johnson 1996-1996 2 40.0 3 2/52 47.66 80.0 0/0
P Mhambrey 1996-1996 2 43.0 2 1/43 74.00 129.0 0/0
R Singh Jr 1999-1999 1 40.0 3 2/74 58.66 80.0 0/0
I Siddiqui 2001-2001 1 19.0 1 1/32 48.00 114.0 0/0
J Unadkat 2011-2011 1 26.0 0 0/0


As many as 22 fast bowlers have played for India in Test matches since Kapil retired, but only Zaheer and Irfan Pathan have taken 100 or more wickets.


It speaks volumes about Indian bowlers in the area of containment that not a single bowler has a sub-30 bowling average. And only a few have a decent strike rate. The 22 fast bowlers who have played for India since Kapil’s retirement, between them, have collectively accounted for 32 five-fors in an innings. It contrasts with the 23 five-fors Kapil single-handedly took in his glittering career.


Zaheer is the only fast bowler who has played and performed consistently since his debut in 2000. His tally of 271 wickets is the fourth highest for India in Tests. In the same period, India has played 118 Tests, which puts Zaheer’s appearance at 66%. Barring 2002, he hasn’t played over 10 Tests for India in a calendar year. If we had to pick any one year to showcase Zaheer ‘s performance, it has to be the year 2010 where he played nine Tests and picked up 47 wickets at an average of less than 22. This includes his match-winning performance at Durban against South Africa and his first 10-wkt haul in Tests against Bangladesh.


Irfan Pathan is the only other bowler to have picked up 100 or more wickets for India in Tests, highlighting the woeful lack of consistency and appearance by Indian fast bowlers. Irfan is a prime example of talent going haywire. When he made his debut in Australia he was hailed as India’s next great fast bowler. His performance in 2004 and 2005 made the world perceive him as the next Wasim Akram. His first two years yielded 72 wickets at less than 25 per wicket, which included six 5-wickets in an innings and two 10-wicket hauls. Then the slide began, resulting in 27 wickets in 11 Tests spread over three years. He lost his pace and more importantly his swing. He hasn’t played Test cricket for India for the last three years and doesn’t even remotely look like playing any in the future.


Venkatesh Prasad formed a formidable pair with Javagal Srinath and had success in his first few tours to England and South Africa in 1996, including picking up five wickets in an innings at Lord’s and in both innings at Durban. He picked up 37 wickets in his first season with an average less than 23 and strike rate of about 49, raising hopes that we have finally found a bowler who could consistently deliver for the team. He only played for five more seasons before meandering into coaching.


Ishant Sharma made Ricky Ponting dance to his tunes on debut, bringing back memories of the raw Srinath in his first Test. Ishant was fast, lethal and could extract considerable bounce from his great height. Ishant since then has been brilliant in flashes and could not even hold on to his place on the Indian. But he is still young and his performances in the ongoing IPL suggest he has got his pace and bounce back and can be a force to reckon with in the future.


Shantakumaran Sreesanth is another who performs in patches. He was the architect of India’s first Test victory in South Africa in 2006 and played a huge part in its second win at Durban in 2010. But apart from few other cameos, he has been in news for all the wrong reasons.


Ajit Agarkar has had a stop-start-stop Test career. He has played 26 Tests spread over nine long years. He has had one bowling high – a match-winning six for 41 at Adelaide in 2003. He has played just seven more Tests for India after that epic bowling effort, which yet again underlines the inconsistency of Indian fast bowlers.


There is a saying that if a fly farts in Madagascar, Nehra will get injured! With a reputation like this, the injury-prone Nehra has played just 17 Tests between1999 and 2004 and hasn’t been part of the Test side since then.


RP Singh bowled well in England to fire India to their first series win since Indian historic win in 1971. However, he has fizzled out of the map and only his performance in IPL is worth talking about.


Munaf Patel has played 12 Tests mainly due to the fact that India has limited bowling options. With his exploits in World Cup and IPL 2011, he could prolong his career, but he’ll be more stop-gap option than a lasting answer.


Laxmipathy Balaji made a strong debut in his first series against Pakistan, but once injured never got back into reckoning.


Dodda Ganesh and David Johnson were tried in South Africa and West Indies after stupendous season in domestic cricket, only to find out they lacked the necessary skills to be an international cricketer. The likes of Paras Mhambrey, Tinu Yohannan, Harvinder Singh and Iqbal Siddiqui, too, should have never been tried. VRV Singh and Abhimanyu Mithun were tried for few series but not persisted with. Jaidev Unadkat was thrown in at a wrong time in wrong place. With age on his side and a mentor in Zaheer, Unadkat could well be India’s answer to Australia’s Mitchell Johnson.


Most of the fast bowlers mentioned started with a bang only to lose their way. In most cases they were neither pursued nor nurtured properly for long time. Probably they lacked a mentor who could show them the path or probably they were just mediocre. What the entire nation is waiting for is one lethal bowler who would create fears in the minds of the opposition and who plays for a very, very long time. Till then we wait and hope that the Umesh Yadavs, Unadkats, Varun Aarons and the Mithuns will learn their trade and make the cut.


Till Srinath overtook him, Kapil was also India’s leading wicket-taker in ODIs – by a huge margin. When he hung his boots, Kapil had 253 wickets to his credit, with an excellent average of 27.45 and an enviable economy of 3.71


Kapil played in an era where Test cricket was still given greater importance; not more than 20 ODIs were played per year. Rewind to present and we see a team playing close to 40 odd matches an year. In spite of that, Kapil is still the fifth highest wicket taker for India in ODIs.


Since the number of ODIs played was also high, the number of fast bowlers tried out was also more in number. Couple of them who played few matches and fizzled out include Thirunavukkarasu Kumaran (8 ODIs, 9 wickets), Amit Bhandari (2 ODIs, 5 wickets), Avishkar Salvi (4 ODIs, 4 wickets), Prashant Vaidya (4 ODIs, 4 wickets)


When you see juxtapose the figures of the other Indian fast bowlers, Kapil’s true worth comes under sharp focus. And what fitness he had! He missed just one Test in his entire career – and that too under very controversial circumstances.


At his pomp, Kapil Dev featured in an ad where the catchline was, “Kapil Dev da jawaab nahin“. Indeed jawaab nahin – aaj tak!


(Dileep.V is a Scouser fan, Sports freak, Movie buff, Laggard Quizzer and dreams of setting foot on Anfield one day)