With Indian cricket and bowlers, we are in perpetual autumn. At least the leaves have only one season to abdicate and make way for fresh green shoots. But India’s bowlers seem to disappear all the time. They look very promising (lovers of cricket, like lovers of nature, react to new shoots with similar enthusiasm!) but promise must translate into performance. It is a journey India’s bowlers are struggling to make and is an aspect that needs to be addressed with far greater alacrity than many others that occupy the mind.
My grief over how Sreesanth and RP Singh waylaid themselves is known. Out of despair must come awareness but they have been followed by Munaf Patel, Praveen Kumar, Irfan Pathan (who had everything going for him) and even Ishant Sharma, whose current harvest needs to be compared to what should have been. And now I am worried that Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Umesh Yadav could join them unless they are pulled back from the brink.
It is easy to pin the blame on the bowlers, bemoan their lack of drive or ambition or their propensity to get into a comfort zone. We need to ask ourselves whether we, in fact, don’t know how to find fast bowlers, or, having stumbled onto them, we don’t know what to do with them. Many many years ago, a very young Kapil Dev was told off when he asked for more nutrition. He said he was a fast bowler and he was told India don’t do that! Now nutrition isn’t a worry, neither is equipment and resources haven’t been an issue in Indian cricket for a while. But the train that brings in fast bowlers stops too briefly before it leaves the station again. With the bowlers on it!
Kapil Dev’s greatness was that he emerged from an environment that didn’t know what to do with him. Things were better by the time Javagal Srinath and Zaheer Khan came along but three quality bowlers in thirty eight years is dire. So maybe we don’t know how to produce fast bowlers. In Mohd Shami, Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron there isn’t a shortage of pace but I am often told by those that should know that they don’t think batsmen out, that they have to be told a lot.
I am not an expert on that but I do know that telling young people what they should do all the time prevents them from learning to figure things out themselves. And that is real education. I recently shared my concerns with a fast bowling coach and he thought bowlers are, if anything, being over-coached. They are told how much to train, how to train, how much to bowl, when to start, when to stop. When your food comes to you in a spoon, you don’t need to stretch. It is a point of view that is worthy of thought.
I thought Shami and Yadav were very good in patches at the World Cup. India have since lost Shami to a bad injury but, as a former cricketer said about Yadav, “in spite of a couple of good spells, he finds a way of reaching 10 overs for 70”. When Wasim Akram went through a phase where he was being clobbered in the end overs, Imran Khan took him to the nets during the lunch break to teach him the yorker. Akram was a cricketing genius but without the care that Imran bestowed on him maybe he would have fallen short of where he ended up. Do we have that kind of fertiliser in our system that can cause flowers to bloom?
Yadav, for example, has been around for four years. We can look at that wonderful limited overs series against Sri Lanka last year, and some games at the World Cup and believe all is well or look at a career that has remained unfulfilled in spite of so much promise. Bhuvneshwar Kumar is a fine young bowler but he isn’t taking wickets anymore (3 from the last 10 games as I write this!). And Aaron is left out more often than he is picked.
Eventually bowlers win matches. We glorify batsmen, we berate them, we analyse them, we make them stars, we make them wealthy but we also know how to produce them. There are a lot of good batsmen around the national team. The batting equivalent of Ishant Sharma, for example, would have been gobbled up by competition long ago. But bowlers win you matches. Fast bowlers even more so!
Maybe fast bowling isn’t in our DNA? But musn’t we fight that?