England in India 2012-13 November 30, 2012

India's bowling not a new problem

India's bowlers, especially the spinners, had perfect conditions in Mumbai yet fluffed their lines dramatically. However, it wasn't a one-off. The bowling has been a problem for a while

The defeat at the Wankhede Stadium last week was arguably India's worst in Test cricket. Not in terms of margin, but in how almost everything was stacked in their favour: the pitch, the toss, the combination, the runs. The illusion they have tried to create through countless interviews that they were done in on "green tops" and they were still world-beaters at home has come crashing down. If ever there was a match set up for the bowlers to win, it was this, with 327 on board on a square turner. And as it has been happening over the last 18 months, India's bowlers came up short again; in the case of their lead spinner's length, literally so.

Starting July 21 last year, India have been the worst bowling unit of all Test sides bar Bangladesh. At least statistically so. Not only have they averaged 40.39 with the ball, better only than Bangladesh, they have give away more runs per over than any Test side over that period. And whisper it, for most of this period India have bowled on "green tops". With the bat, their average - 30.80 - is better than that of Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. Needless to say, they have lost more Tests than any other side over the period.

There is no denying that India's batting hasn't been ideal over this period, but it has neither been as bad as the bowling nor as crucial to this slump. If Test cricket were a spin bowler, batting would be its line and bowling its length. The former optional, the latter mandatory. Pakistan are a glaring example. Even during their most turbulent period, with non-existent batting and wicketkeeping, they have still managed to survive as a Test side purely through their bowling. In 2010 alone, they won two Tests in England, as many as India have in 26 years.

However, the main focus of most of the debates around India's defeats, even in Mumbai, has been around the batting. Even when India were No 1, the bowling hung by a thread. A brittle, not-always-fit, but highly skilful thread. The captain's statement that this thread was the Sachin Tendulkar of bowling was spot on. Ever since Zaheer Khan has gone into what seems like a terminal slump, all others have been brutally exposed. In the two to three years since Anil Kumble's retirement, Zaheer carried the bowling on his own. He brought the control the unit badly needed; when he was injured, India would look lost in the field.

Zaheer is not the same any more. He has not even been there for six of those 15 Tests. With other bowlers, you never know what you will get. In Mumbai, for example, when Kevin Pietersen felt comfortable enough to boss the bowlers, chances are even the best would have suffered, but it was the easy period of easy singles that let him feel comfortable. That's where Indian spinners failed on two counts.

On a pitch that was calling for them to exploit the turn, they didn't put in enough effort to spin the ball. Spin here is not just the sideways turn, but action on the ball, which gets you drift and dip. They didn't do it on purpose, it's their techniques. They don't put enough shoulder or hip behind the delivery, they have hardly any follow-through. R Ashwin, especially, ends up relying too much on his variations. In so doing, he bowls a release ball almost every over, which is the bowling unit's second shortcoming. MS Dhoni has copped a fair deal of criticism for his defensive fields over this period, but his bowlers haven't done him any favours with their inconsistency.

The desperate part, though, is that there are no replacements in sight, except for a hospital ward full of tried-and-tested bowlers missing the Ranji Trophy. Which is why somebody like Harbhajan Singh can walk right back into the squad without having done anything at the domestic level to earn a comeback, although when he did make that comeback he bowled better than Ashwin and got only half the overs. Outside the squad, only Pankaj Singh and Jalaj Saxena have both the wickets and the fitness. Neither of them seems to enjoy the faith of the selectors and the team management.

After Wankhede, Dhoni made what seems like a fair point on paper when asked about the direness of the situation. "I think we have got replacements," he said. "It's not like we don't have replacements. But you don't chop and change players on the basis of one or two Tests. We have to give them a fair run." Apart from the fair run, they also need a huge improvement, especially in their discipline.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Sanjay on December 3, 2012, 14:37 GMT

    India's loss was England's gain in Mumbai, literally speaking! As an avid, discerning & critical viewer of the game for over 2 decades, I can say that India's best option in this case is to prop, spruce & gee up their batsmen to make the most of their stay at the crease (if they can survive) & bat England out the remaining matches! True its a negative, parochial & spineless strategy but in hindsight, I don't think India have the confidence, belief & spirit to enforce any thoughts of a win in the next 2 tests unless England commit some major blunders which they are capable of but by evidence in the last 2 Tests, it seems the visitors are on an upswing & are making the most of these contests. Probably Pujara, Kohli & Ashwin hold the key to a rearguard action in case India's batting is suspect & Ojha, Harbhajan or Dinda (if either's picked) will decide the bowling. I feel post this series all seniors will get a dressing down as its mandatory

  • Ravi on December 3, 2012, 9:55 GMT

    I find this bowler-bashing rather biased-pray tell us what Nos 4,5,6 & 7 in the Indian batting line-up were doing by scoring single-digits in either innings.We lost 19 wickets to the spinners due to spineless a batting.It was indeed pathetic to see these guys losing their wickets defending on wickets they have played all their life..The last few series wins at home were crafted by VVS in the company of tail-enders with even Captain Dhoni not hanging around and giving company to the maestro who pulled of these great wins. OK, Ashwin played poorly but how come Bhajji with 99 tests and 400 wickets under his his belt come to the party and lead the attack?

  • Manoj on December 3, 2012, 8:09 GMT

    The job of a bowler, or a bowling team is to fool the batsmen. They did a fantastic job last year in Australia, where they fooled one of the greatest batsmen, Ponting, into thinking that he was still good enough for test cricket. Consequently, Ponting played on for another year, thus weakening the Australian batting, which eventually led to a series defeat to SA, even though the Aussies held the whip for most of the series!

    On a slightly different note, I wonder which bowling team has fooled Tendulkar et al in thinking they can still cut it, at this level? LOL......

  • Dummy4 on December 3, 2012, 6:59 GMT

    It is unfair to compare someone who is just playing his 1st full year in test cricket to someone who has played a lot . . . Spinners mature late.

    It is Indian batsmen who have to take the blame - After all, Indian batsmen are great players of spin. I dont know why cricinfo is mute on that. Indian bowling is anyways weak is what all know. What about irresponsible batsmen? And an ageing liability??

  • Anit on December 3, 2012, 1:15 GMT

    It is too much to hope for BCCI to have a vision and plan to back it up. The only vision BCCI has is make and squander money using cricket. Most nations rebuild and replenish weaknesses in 5 years. India has has perpetual bowling weakness for ages. The batting is sliding precipitously. Most new talent who are accustomed to IPL can't cope with the rigors of test cricket.

  • Kuka on December 3, 2012, 1:03 GMT

    Dude Monda learn to be honest. If Dhoni is useless at being test Captain then say so. This team BCCI which is presented to Indians as team Indias run for money only. BCCI bosses raking in big money out of this lousy team, Sandeep Patil who is the chief selector used to be a pathetic player. Team BCCI management is run by people who know how to make cement, sugar etc, It's not batting, bowling and fielding which is the problem. It's the management, selectors and Captain who are the problem. Dhoni should go as test Captain.

  • Surajit on December 2, 2012, 22:38 GMT

    India is defintely a weak team. It has got hardly any potential to win outside as a test team. It used to be a strong team at home. But now that is also gone. It is the media which make them look like a champion team but it has not got the quality. There is too much politics and interference. Tendulkar should have long time ago. He is still going depriving others a slot. Dhone has not got anything to offer in test matches. Sewagh make one 100 and media talk about it for next 1 year even if he makes no run. Dhoni gets the team he wants, pitch he wants, win the toss but cannot do any thing except talking like a politician. Unless there is some self pride, willingness to win this team is going to make us all ashamed. Sorry to see this condition.

  • Dummy4 on December 2, 2012, 13:50 GMT

    MAKE A RULE TO TAKE 5 BOWLERS WITH 3 QUICKS AND 2 SPINNERS IN RANJI MATCHES AND HOPE FOR THE BEST. in ranji matches they r following same as in indian cricket to take only 4 bowlers thats the reason we r getting so many big scores but not quality batsman

  • Cricket on December 2, 2012, 12:51 GMT

    when you know you have weak bowling, yet you pick only 4 bowlers and you need 7 batsmen. Where is the balance,?this is what dhoni never tries to understand!

  • D on December 2, 2012, 11:09 GMT

    The problem today is performance should be the criteria to be in the team and not reputation this would however imply that almost 90% of the side would be sacked. Plus MSD has no vision as to where he wants the team to be in 2 years from now, he is just turning up to play. He doesn't think of the need to groom a bowling attack from scratch , have bowlers specifically for test and commercial cricket (T20/ODI). MSD shudn't apply commercial strategies to test cricket, i.e. starting with spinners, having 3-6 spinners with defensive fields. MSD doesn't even know what the role of the new ball is, he is completely arrogant and not willing to accept the shortcomings of both himself and the team. Indian cricket is where Australian cricket was in the mid 1980's , but Aussies were at least willing to start from scratch and rebuild.

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