It's time to ask the question: Who after Zaheer to spearhead Indian attack?

At nearly 33 and over 10 years and 200+ international matches for India, Zaheer Khan’s body is probably showing the after-affects of the huge workload he had to bear over the years © Getty Images

By Nishad Pai Vaidya

 

India’s bowling in the disastrous tour of England, now meandering towards an end, was battered and bruised into submission. Once spearhead Zaheer Khan limped off the field on the first day of the series, the quality and penetration of the Indian attack plummeted. Much of the woes that followed is a reflection on the reliance of one international quality bowler.

 

At nearly 33 and over 10 years and 200+ international matches for India, Zaheer Khan’s body is probably showing the after-affects of the huge workload he had to bear over the years. One often hears the question: “Who after the exit of the Big Three (Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman)?” Maybe, its time to ask: “Who after Zaheer to spearhead the Indian attack?” And there are no clear or happy answers to the worrying query.

 

Praveen Kumar is the only Indian bowler who has done well in the England Test series. The best thing about him is that he has bowled to his strengths and not tried anything extraordinary, getting the red ball to move as much as he does with the white. In the three Tests on this tour he has swung the ball and pitched it in the right areas to trouble the batsmen. He has been the only bright spot in the Indian bowling on this tour and has been a one-man army as a wicket- taking force.

 

Shantakumaran Sreesanth and Ishant Sharma are very talented, but lack consistency. When they are good, they rock; when they are bad, they are a nightmare. Sreesanth was fantastic in South Africa early this year while Ishant was brilliant in the Caribbean. But both of them seem to have been replaced by their unpleasant doppelgangers in England! Both of them average over 55 with the ball in the Test series. It shows how much they have struggled. Ishant did really well in the second innings at Lord’s and on the first day at Trent Bridge, but has looked clueless since then. Sreesanth was brilliant on the first day at Trent Bridge, but lost his touch once Stuart Broad wielded his willow.

 

Sreesanth and Ishant need to do some serious rethinking. There is no shortage of ability, but they need to find the consistency to do well at the international level. Having talent is one thing, but striking it big needs clarity of thought and focus. All said and done, the Indian selectors shouldn’t dump them, the way they have done with quite a few talented fast bowlers in the past. Instead, the two of them should be worked upon and brought to the level which will help them reach a point of consistency.

 

In the past, quite a few promising Indian fast bowlers have fallen by the wayside due to bad management by selectors. Rudra Pratap Singh is the most relevant example. He had a fantastic time in 2007 and it looked as if he had cemented a place in the eleven. However an injury cut short his good run and when he came back he had two bad Test matches and was immediately put on the bench. Since then he played a few ODIs here and there but was discarded at the first available opportunity. Here was a bowler who could bowl fast and get movement, but the selectors chose to desert him when he needed guidance to get back to his best.

 

RP Singh’s performance in the first innings at The Oval should make the selectors think and change their approach while handling fast bowlers. The gamble of selecting him out of nowhere for this series was a good brave call but it has also reminded the Indian establishment of their mistakes. They have to ensure that they do not repeat the same mistakes with Ishant, Praveen, Sreesanth or any of the talented fast bowlers doing the rounds in Indian cricket. Dropping Ishant or Sreesanth isn’t going to help as there would be a risk of creating more RP Singhs.

 

The Next Generation of Indian Fast Bowlers

 

The likes of Varun Aaron, Jaydev Unadkat, Abhimanyu Mithun, Pankaj Singh and Umesh Yadav should be handled with great responsibility. Aaron, Mithun and Yadav are genuinely quick and should be encouraged to continue with their ability to send down the fast ones. Some of the current Indian bowlers seem to have lost pace over the years but the Indian think tank has to ensure that this doesn’t happen with the young trio. They should be given enough A tours so that they continue bowling and remain match fit.

 

Unadkat, who has already played a Test for India is an exciting young talent and needs to be given the right direction so that he can serve Indian cricket well in the years to come. The selectors must ensure that he is on their radar and is given enough opportunities to learn and improve before graduating to a permanent place at the highest level.

 

Pankaj Singh, the tall seamer from Rajasthan, was the highest wicket taker in first-class cricket during the last Indian domestic season. It was very difficult to digest the fact that he wasn’t chosen for the Emerging Players Tournament as he picked up 53 wickets in the season. He toured Australia with the senior side in 2007-08 and then was called up for the ODI tri-series in Zimbabwe last year. As has been the case, he hasn’t been given a right direction nor has it been indicated as to where he stands in the selectors plans. He can be a very useful bowler for the longer format but needs that support to reach his highest potential.

 

The England Test series has taught Indian cricket quite a few invaluable lessons. It would be foolish to ignore them but would be truly refreshing if the Indian establishment accept their mistakes and decide to make amends. The young fast bowlers need attention, guidance, support and nurturing.

 

Over to the BCCI.

 

(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.”)