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'India's bowling is a major worry'
Sanjay Manjrekar and Dileep Premachandran analyse the issues India need to address ahead of the World Cup next year (12:01)
Producers: Akhila Ranganna and Siddhartha Talya
July 2, 2010
'India's bowling is a major worry'July 2, 2010
Eight months ahead of the World Cup in the subcontinent, several questions have been raised about India's preparation for the tournament. How strong is their bench strength? What's the matter with Yuvraj Singh? Can they compete with the best while lacking a genuine allrounder? And most important: do they have enough reserves in the fast bowling department?
While India's three frontline seamers - Ashish Nehra, Zaheer Khan and Praveen Kumar - played a decisive role in their Asia Cup win, concerns over fitness have prompted selectors to experiment with young bowlers like Ashok Dinda and Vinay Kumar, but with little success.
India's captain, MS Dhoni, thinks there is merit in giving young players greater exposure at the international level.
MS Dhoni: Fast bowling is a difficult job in the subcontinent. We have tried quite a few fast bowlers but they have not done really well. We have to see; this is their first stint at the international level and they have played only a few games. The more exposure they get, the better they will get. It is not just about bowling fast; you have to be smart and set your fields accordingly and bowl according to them because we have seen in the subcontinent that more often than not you get wickets that are not in favour of the fast bowlers. What really counts is the number of games they will play - the more the number of games, the better they will get slowly.
We spoke to former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar and Cricinfo's associate editor Dileep Premachandran for their views on the issues India need to address ahead of the World Cup. While Sanjay says India have historically produced few quality fast bowlers, the current problem, according to Dileep, is more to do with the poor management of the available seamers.
Sanjay Manjrekar:It's been India's major weakness. If you look at the history of Indian cricket, we've not been able to have three decent, or three top-class fast bowlers playing for India at one time. If India has not been, consistently, one of the top teams in the world, that's been one important reason. You can't win consistently at the highest level without having a good seam-bowling attack. Pakistan was one of the top teams in the nineties because they had three great fast bowlers [Imran Khan, Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram] playing at one time. India have, at the most, two top-class spinners playing for them. It's been so many years that India have just not managed to get decent fast bowlers. And the culture that you have in India, which has not been able to produce quality fast bowlers - it's been there for a while now.
Dileep Premachandran: I'm not really sure how much of a problem it's with the resources themselves as much as with how India manage them. If you've noticed what's happened with Indian cricket over the last couple of months, you've had a very young team sent to Zimbabwe. I don't think any of those bowlers have a chance of being part of the World Cup XV. Then you have the bowlers who were dropped, like Ishant Sharma, Sreesanth, RP Singh and Munaf Patel, who have international experience and who've done things for you before. Agreed, they may be in poor form, but why did the selectors not send them on the India A tour to England? Those kinds of things need to be answered.
If the player that you trust is going to be part of the mix in eight months time is now out of the picture altogether, how do you expect him to get back in form? Why was he not sent to England? Now if you pick Sreesanth or Ishant for the Sri Lanka Tests, it means they come into it with zero match practice and zero experience in the big league over the past several months. It's hardly ideal preparation.
When he made his debut in 2003 in Australia, Irfan Pathan quickly came to be labelled a fast-bowling allrounder. But his absence from the side for the last 16 months has created a void that India have been unable to fill. Dhoni admits that remains a concern.
|"If the player that you trust is going to be part of the mix in eight months time, is now out of the picture all together, how do you expect him to get back in form? If you pick Sreesanth or Ishant for the Sri Lanka Tests, it means they come into it with zero match practice and zero experience in the big league over the past several months" Dileep Premachandran|
MSD: We do [miss a fast-bowling allrounder] and it is not something that we are just missing in this series. For the past couple of years we haven't really had a fast-bowling allrounder who can bowl 10 overs and contribute a bit with the bat. We are trying to do whatever best we can with the potential or the talent that we have got in the side. So let's hope for the best and see what happens.
Dileep and Sanjay, however, think the absence of a fast-bowling allrounder isn't a major problem and could be compensated.
DP: I think in the long term it becomes crucial, but if you're looking at the World Cup in 2011 as your short-term goal, it's not that important. On pitches in the subcontinent, in those kind of conditions, the pace-bowling allrounder is not essential. You do need a bowling allrounder. I think they've looked at Ravindra Jadeja for that role. Harbhajan Singh is no mug with the bat. So India will be okay in that regard, but if you're looking to be the No. 1 team in the world over a sustained period of time, yes, a pace-bowling allrounder would be a huge asset.
SM: I don't believe in this theory of having a fast-bowling allrounder, or that you have to get an allrounder in your side. If you have 11 good players, you can still win a cricket match and win cricket tournaments. More than really looking for a fast-bowling allrounder or a pace bowler who can bat, the composition of the team is important and the kind of ability it has. MS Dhoni is the allrounder in the team, if you look at it. He's a wicketkeeper, and perhaps, if Sachin Tendulkar and the big guys aren't around, he is the best batsman India have. So more than a fast-bowling allrounder, India maybe need a little more quality in their bowling.
One of the players who displayed promise with his all-round skills was Ravindra Jadeja. Though he still averages an impressive 35.57 in ODI cricket, he's recently experienced a slide, and has held his place in the side only due to his tidy left-arm spin. Dhoni, however, says Jadeja is the best available candidate for an allrounder.
MSD: Jadeja has done well in the IPL and in the domestic tournaments and he has got a fair chance at the international level also. We are hoping he clicks. His bowling has been up to the mark and he has done really well. But we are hoping that he comes good with the bat as well. He is the kind of guy who can give you some stability batting at No.6 or 7. There are not many players that you can spot right now and it is a difficult situation for us. He is the best that we have now and we persisting with him and we are hoping that along with his bowling he can contribute in a big way in a few games.
India's batting, on the other hand, does inspire confidence ahead of the World Cup. Apart from a strong core group of experienced players, they also possess young batsmen who have already accumulated a significant amount of international experience.
DP: I'm not sure if the batting bench strength is a concern, because Suresh Raina's played nearly a hundred games, Rohit Sharma has played 40-odd, Virat Kohli has already played 30, so these guys definitely have the talent. I think what they perhaps lack so far is a defining innings at the international level, but that will come with time. What really concerns me is the lack of bowling bench strength, the lack of match-changing young bowlers coming through. Batting I don't think is a big problem. If anything, what Raina or Rohit need is a place in the Test squad so that they spend more time with the senior players. I know it strikes some people perhaps as being silly that a player who needs to be a big part of the one-day squad needs to be part of the Test squad, but you can't see things in isolation. The experience that they get from being part of the Test squad would stand them in great stead for the one-day game as well.
SM: To be fair, the Indian team in Zimbabwe was almost like an A team playing international cricket, with no senior international player to guide them around. That match against Sri Lanka [the dead rubber in the Asia Cup], it's a one-off match played purely for academic interest. So we shouldn't look too much into India's performances when the young guns have been given the exposure. At no point of time are you going to have seven or eight young players playing straightaway for India. Maybe at most there'll be three or four players breaking in and playing alongside Dhoni and some of the other senior players. There is some talent as far as the batting is concerned, and Suresh Raina and Rohit Sharma are perhaps the guys India can start looking at as those who will take over from the more senior batsmen who will leave the scene shortly.
The bowling is a real worry for me. There is some spin talent to look at: Pragyan Ojha and R Ashwin, who impressed in the IPL. Fast-bowling talent, though, is the major worry. I don't think India can win international tournaments consistently if they don't have at least two top-class international-standard seam bowlers.
Yuvraj Singh has long been a vital part of the Indian batting line-up but was excluded from the Asia Cup on grounds of fitness and form. His World Cup prospects received a major boost when he was picked for the Test series in Sri Lanka.
MSD: The kind of talent that Yuvraj is, I don't think it will be difficult to come back into the team. I am hoping he comes back as soon as possible because I am a big fan of Yuvraj Singh. He is one of the best batsmen to bat at No. 4, especially because of the way he bats, given the changing formats with the Powerplay. He is the sort of batsman who can cash in and play both ways: he can play aggressively and at the same time he can play good defensive cricket.
SM: I've always believed Yuvraj Singh will go down as one of the best limited-overs batsmen the world has seen. That is the kind of ability Yuvraj has, and that is the kind of value he brings to the Indian limited-overs team, be it Twenty20 or 50-over cricket. If Yuvraj isn't around, India will certainly move on and there is enough batting talent for them to still compete. But Yuvraj in the team adds great value and if he isn't around for the 2011 World Cup, it's a setback. If you look at all the important Indian wins in the last decade or so, or in the last six-seven years, Yuvraj has been one of the main contributors to those wins. He is a tremendous limited-overs player, and let's hope, by the time the big tournament comes, that Yuvraj is back in the fold, is getting the runs and is as relaxed as he was in his prime.
DP: I think it comes back to the bowling again. You have to remember that Yuvraj Singh has done his bit with the ball in Indian conditions several times before. And very few batsmen in the world are really comfortable putting away left-arm spin, or "left-arm filth" as Kevin Pietersen calls it. But mainly you go back to Yuvraj as a batsman. India's ideal top four is still Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Yuvraj in my eye. MS Dhoni and Suresh Raina can bat in the top four, no problem, so can Rohit Sharma, but if you're picking your best one-day XI on form, when he is in form Yuvraj will definitely be part of that.
The major test for India in the months leading up to the World Cup is how they best equip their current set of fast bowlers to remain fit and consolidate their success from the Asia Cup, and how they groom the reserves to shore up their bench strength.
With Siddhartha Talya, this is Akhila Ranganna for Cricinfo.
MS Dhoni audio from his press conferences during the Asia Cup
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