Umesh Yadav (L) and Varun Aaron © AFP
Umesh Yadav (L) and Varun Aaron © AFP

 

In this third and final instalment of “Revival of Pace”, Madan Mohan looks at the pace bowling units of the subcontinent and the West Indies. It’s interesting how some of the action even breached the subcontinent in 2011, a spinners’ paradise barring Pakistan. With spin stocks in either of India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan not the best that can be, we could see a fundamental re-orientation of strengths in these sides.

 

 

West Indies

 

West Indies once possessed the best pace bowling factory in the world, by far. A look at who all couldn’t quite cement a place in the West Indies side in the ’70s and ’80s tells you more about their strength than just the names of Michael Holding or Andy Roberts. Sylvester Clarke, Colin Croft, Patrick Patterson are just some of the fine pace bowling talents who got fewer than 30 Test caps. They would have made the best XI of West Indies today or even at any time in the decade gone by.

 

For the last 2-3 years, West Indies have shown flickers of promise which have usually been extinguished by a fresh bout of player-board spats. Under Darren Sammy, though, they have shown some signs of stability. Ravi Rampaul and Fidel Edwards have become permanent fixtures to the extent it applies to West Indies. Kemar Roach does not yet evidence sufficient control for the longest version of the game but has been more effective in ODIs. It is ironic and tragic, but the pace bowling boom was least evident in the West Indies.

 

Pakistan

 

Pakistan is the one subcontinent nation that can justifiably claim to have a successful fast bowling factory. They just never run out of fast bowling talents – neither the spot-fixing episode nor the political instability has changed this.

 

In 2011, the loss of Mohammad Amir to spot-fixing charges was compensated by the arrival of two wonderful left-arm pace bowling talents – Wahab Riaz and Junaid Khan. Wahab Riaz made his ODI debut in 2008, but disappeared before becoming a regular fixture in the side from late 2010 onwards. He was mighty impressive in the World Cup semi-final against India and his five wickets could have swung the match in Pakistan’s favour on another day. Since bagging a fifer in England at the Oval, he has not been so impressive in the longest version of the game. Allegations of his involvement in the spot-fixing saga kept him out of the side for the rest of the year, but he has been selected again and will look forward to sealing his spot in 2012.

 

 

Meanwhile, another left-armer Junaid Khan also made an impressive start to his career, his fifer against Sri Lanka at Abu Dhabi giving Pakistan a win and eventually the series.  Pakistan has not been tested much in the longest version of the game in 2011 and the cricketing world doesn’t yet know much about this prospect. But England could expect to find him more than a handful when they play Pakistan this year.

 

India

 

India spent most of the year struggling to cope with injuries or loss of form of their pace bowlers. Zaheer Khan was missing for much of the year and when RP Singh was pressed into service in England, he was found to be embarrassingly below par. To say it was a disastrous situation would be an understatement.

 

Towards the end of the year, Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron emerged as exciting prospects. Aaron still appears too raw for the highest level of the game and his action, while enabling him to generate impressive pace, would appear to make him injury prone. But Yadav moved from strength to strength and made the cut for Australia.

 

Finding both Zaheer and Ishant Sharma  fit at the same time on the off chance, he teamed up with the duo to make an effective pace bowling unit – a rarity in Indian cricket, to say the least. He lacked consistency and strayed off focus at times but won over many hearts with his willingness to go for it and relentlessly attack the Australian batsmen. He was rewarded with seven wickets in the first Test at Melbourne. Fitness and proper guidance permitting, he should go on to scale greater heights.

 

In passing

 

There were other pace bowling highlights through the year if you cared to dig out the details.  Here are two that I found very noteworthy:

 

* Chanaka Welegedara, who will turn 31 this year, was recalled to the Sri Lankan side for the series against Australia. His five-wicket haul at Durban stunned South Africa and sent them crashing to a 209 run defeat. Whether that will spur increased thrust on pace in the nation remains to be seen because spinner Rangana Herath got amongst the wickets in the 2nd innings.

 

* Kyle Jarvis helped Zimbabwe brush aside Bangladesh upon their return to Test cricket with 4 wickets in the 2nd innings of a Test played at Harare.  He repeated the feat against New Zealand at Bulawayo to give them a proper scare but the Black Caps eventually prevailed by 34 runs.

 

This pace bowling resurgence has been more about busy slip cordons than disturbed woodwork or helmets – perhaps less spectacular, but highly effective. Bowlers have invited batsmen to attempt extravagant drives with full-length deliveries in the corridor of uncertainty. Batsmen raised on a diet of more overs-limit cricket than before have fond their defensive technique as well as patience, or lack thereof, exposed. It will not be easy for them to break out of well entrenched habits even as more and more bowlers learn to execute the winning formula.

 

All that should make for an exciting 2012 in cricket, with or without distractions off the field.

 

(Madan Mohan, a 25-year old CA from Mumbai, is passionate about writing, music and cricket. Writing on cricket is like the icing on the cake)