Mohammed Shami should be handled with care or India risk losing him like many fast bowlers before

Mohammed Shami blew away the West Indies in the first Test at Eden Gardens, Kolkata, with his nine-wicket match-haul and has again presented great hope for team India © PTI

Mohammed Shami is India’s next big hope in the fast-bowling department after his match-winning performance against West Indies in the first Test at Kolkata. However, Nishad Pai Vaidya looks back at India’s recent history and suggests why one has to be cautious before pinning their hopes on a new talent.
 

How many times have Indian fans welcomed the arrival of a promising fast-bowler? Go back to Mohali 2006, when Munaf Patel helped India beat England on his Test debut. Two years after that at Perth in 2008, when Ishant Sharma’s spell to the great Ricky Ponting grabbed headlines during India’s famous win. Such performances only fuelled hopes of having a good quick bowler in the bowling attack, but they fizzled out with the passage of time. It was almost as if the script kept playing over and over again — with intriguing sub-plots of injuries, loss of form etc.
 
Since Zaheer Khan’s debut in November 2000, India have handed Test caps to 17 fast-bowlers. That is a huge number in a period of 13 years. Also, considering the fact that the likes of Javagal Srinath, Ashish Nehra and Ajit Agarkar were around during Zaheer’s initial years tells you how many new seamers have been tried after the early 2000s. Ishant is one bowler who has stayed on the longest, but hasn’t lived up to the expectations.
 
These details come in focus after Mohammed Shami’s fantastic Test debut as India welcomes another fast-bowler. Shami blew away the West Indies with his nine-wicket match-haul and has again presented great hope. But, as discussed above, history would ask the Indian fans to be patient and allow him time to establish himself before jumping to conclusions. Yes, he has been outstanding, but one shouldn’t pin all hopes on him.
 
During commentary, Ravi Shastri made an interesting observation, where he spoke about Indian fast-bowlers fizzling out in a year or two. When they come in, they are lean and back their strengths to bowl. However, they then hit the gym, put on muscle and also get injured. But, Injuries are one factor, many lose their form and pace along the way as well. Since it has happened over and over again, it does suggest that something is amiss in the system.
 
Zaheer, though, has been an exception. He has had his fair share of injuries and during the first few years of his career, he wasn’t very successful in Tests. However, a stint in county cricket did him a world of good and he returned a fitter and better bowler. Even after that, he has had niggles, but has managed to bounce back strongly most of the times. It was only after his injury at Lord’s in 2011 that he has failed to bowl with similar guile and pace.
 
When Munaf burst onto the scene, India felt they had found a genuine quick. While clocking speeds over 140 kmph consistently, he added that pace element to the Indian attack. However, he drastically dropped pace over the years, so much so that the great West Indian fast-bowler Andy Roberts said that he was “spinning the ball.” Munaf did play an important role in one-day cricket for India, particularly during the successful 2011 World Cup. But, one could see that the lack of pace affected his Test prospects as he played only 13 since his debut.
 
Then you have Irfan Pathan. As a 19-year-old, he shot to limelight with some breathtaking performances in Australia and performed consistently for a few years. But, then came the move to make him an all-rounder and his bowling suffered as a result. He too lost his pace and swing and at military medium speed, he was no longer the force in Test cricket. Now, he is limited to one-day cricket and his Test prospects have withered away. The interesting thing is that wicketkeepers stand up to both Munaf and Irfan at times. What can be more insulting for “fast-bowlers”?
 
At times, one also has to blame the system for poor handling. Vikram Raj Vir Singh or VRV Singh would vouch for that. He had impressed in 2006 and was doing well in South Africa with Munaf out injured. For the third and final Test, a half-fit Munaf returned at the expense of the in-form VRV. Munaf performed poorly and India lost that game. VRV went on to play only one more Test and has vanished from the radar in recent years. Not only that, but his injuries also ruled him out of domestic cricket for a long time. He hasn’t played a First-Class game since 2008.
 
Rudra Pratap Singh and Shanthakumaran Sreesanth formed the perfect foil for Zaheer during India’s victorious tour to England in 2007. Sreesanth was also hit by injuries, but could rattle a side on his day. Now, his career seems over due to his alleged involvement in spot-fixing.
 
On the other hand, RP Singh was in great form early on, but lost his Test spot after two poor games against South Africa at home. Then, he lost the plot in one-day cricket as well. By the time he returned during the 2011 tour to England, he looked unfit and overweight — completely out of place for modern cricket. Now he can’t find his way back.
 
Praveen Kumar relished bowling during the 2011 tour of England and was India’s best bowler in Tests. However, he is yet to play a Test match after that tour as he injured himself and failed to perform in one-day cricket.
 
Ishant has played 51 Tests, but hasn’t inspired confidence. It is only in patches that he has done well and despite getting a long run in the side, he failed to pick up wickets. And, his recent performance against Australia seems to have been an eye-opener for the Indian selectors. Why did he lose that effectiveness? That is a mystery.
 
Below is a table revealing the statistics of some promising Indian fast bowlers who made their Test debuts after Zaheer Khan but have fallen by the wayside. This also includes Zaheer’s career figures.

 

  M W Ave BBI BBM 5WI 10WM
Zaheer Khan 88 295 32.35 7 for 87 10 for 149 10 1
Ishant Sharma 51 144 37.99 6 for 55 10 for 108 3 1
Irfan Pathan 29 100 32.26 7 for 59 12 for 126 7 2
S Sreesanth 27 87 37.59 5 for 40 8 for 99 3 0
RP Singh 14 40 42.05 5 for 59 7 for 117 1 0
Munaf Patel 13 35 38.54 4 for 25 7 for 97 0 0
Praveen Kumar * 6 27 25.81 5 for 106 7 for 169 1 0
VRV Singh * 5 8 53.37 3 for 48 3 for 70 0 0

 
* The likes of Umesh Yadav, Varun Aaron, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Shami have not been included due to the fact that they have only recently started their Test careers for India. Whereas for VRV Singh, his last Test was played in May 2007. Praveen has been included as he has been part of the Indian set-up for the last six years.

 
All these examples suggest the need to nurture India’s current crop well. Shami seems to be fit as he bowls at a fair clip throughout a long spell or even late in the day. India have to ensure he maintains his consistency and does not fall by the wayside. The same has to apply for Bhuvneshwar and Umesh. Aaron is also recovering after his injury and he could be a good prospect if taken care of. With thin bowling resources, India can ill-afford losing a few good ones they produce.
 
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and anchor for the site’s YouTube Channel. His Twitter handle is @nishad_44)