Dhoni criticises state teams for overbowling quicks
India's ODI captain MS Dhoni has strongly criticised the state associations' handling of India's fast-bowling resources, suggesting they have used the fast bowlers "without checks and balances", and sometimes against the wishes of the said bowlers. His comments, following India's defeat in the semi-final of the World Cup in Sydney, mark the first time a member of the leadership group in Indian cricket has come close to identifying a reason for the continued mediocrity in their fast bowling, especially away from home.
During India's ordinary performances overseas, it is usually their quick bowlers' inability to maintain intensity and pressure that has let them down. Another worrying trend has been that their fast bowlers lose their pace after one successful season to come back as trundlers. None of India's bowling coaches in the past - Eric Simons, Joe Dawes, their current bowling coach B Arun - Dhoni himself, new Test captain Virat Kohli has ever spoken publicly of what ails them. Instead there have been the usual catchphrases of the need for consistency, patience, right areas, and adjusting to conditions. Now that the bowlers have enjoyed a good run, with Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami in the top five wicket-takers in the World Cup, Dhoni has unloaded on state associations.
When asked what was needed to nurture and protect the likes of Yadav and Shami, Dhoni said: "This is a problem that we have had for quite some time now in our set-up," Dhoni said at his post-match press conference. "Once a fast bowler completes his international assignment he is then asked by his local state associations to come and bowl in domestic cricket. However, there are no checks and balances on the number of overs they are being asked to bowl."
Without naming any bowler, Dhoni suggested there was undue pressure on them to keep their state association happy. "If the fast bowler refuses to play domestic matches, then the local association gets annoyed and would grumble that, 'Now that you are playing for India means that you won't play for us.' So problems are there."
Dhoni insisted on a proper log of the workload of the fast bowlers not just when they are with the team but throughout the year. "If we want to look at the interests of Indian cricket, we have to monitor the progress of fast bowlers as to how many overs they are sending down and what's the amount of workload they are taking," he said. "At the same time, our bowlers shouldn't play too many matches in Indian domestic cricket. They should play on and off."
He did not, however, mention the bowlers' workload during the IPL or Champions League T20, at which time they are managed by the franchises. Indeed, the grouse of domestic coaches has been completely opposite to Dhoni's contention. They complain that India players are rarely available during the domestic season. They have also noticed extra caution and resistance to diving in the field towards the end of the season lest the players injure themselves just before the IPL. The statistics, too, don't bear much evidence of India quicks' being over-bowled by their state teams when compared against the overs bowled by them for their IPL teams.
Since the end of the 2007-08 home season, Ishant Sharma, for example, has sent down only 226.1 overs for Delhi in first-class cricket. Over the same period he has bowled 247.5 overs in IPL and Champions League T20. Shami made his India debut in January 2013. Since then he has bowled 83.3 overs across formats for his state association Bengal to go with 53 overs for Delhi Daredevils and Kolkata Knight Riders. Since making his India debut Bhuvneshwar Kumar has not bowled at all for Uttar Pradesh, but has sent down 110.1 overs for his IPL teams.
A mini era before these quicks, RP Singh played somewhat regularly for India from September 2005 to September 2009. His comeback in 2011 was a one-off shock. Between 2005 and 2009 he bowled 482.5 overs across formats for Uttar Pradesh, but also 111 overs for his IPL sides even though the tournament only began in April 2008. Praveen Kumar did bowl 736.4 overs for Uttar Pradesh while being an India bowler as opposed to 215.2 for his IPL teams, but that had to do with his being a limited-overs specialist for India: he played only six Tests.
Similarly Mohit Sharma, who doesn't play Tests, can claim to have bowled significantly more overs for his state association than his IPL franchise: 372.5 for Haryana since his India debut and 84.5 for Chennai Super Kings.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo