November 6, 2007

Mixed blessings

India's bowling has made decent strides over the course of the year, but there's plenty more work left
  shares 12



Flying high again: Pathan may not be the bowler he used to be, but he has learned new skills © AFP

India's fast bowling has been up and down over the last three series. Then again, this has been the case over the years. It is only recently that there has been talk, often critical, about this unevenness, because a basic standard has been established.

Zaheer Khan has come back from a layoff stronger than ever before and is being the spearhead he always promised to be. Sreesanth possesses a genuinely threatening outswinger, RP Singh bowls induckers and yorkers seemingly at will, and Irfan Pathan has understood how to make the most of his skills.

If you look at it purely from an Indian perspective, quick bowling is at a high. Unfortunately, when these bowlers come up against the best batting attacks in the world, it's not quite as simple. When India played Australia in a seven-ODI series last month, many shortcomings were laid bare.

Firstly, the euphoria of the win in the ICC World Twenty20 had to be left behind. It was an exhilarating ride, but it was over. Starting on a clean slate, in conditions very different from those in Johannesburg and Durban, India's quick bowlers weren't quite the force they were made out to be. Often the business ends in an ODI are the initial overs, when the Powerplays are on, and the death, when teams have wickets in hand and are willing to go hard at anything thrown at them. India's fast bowlers have been found wanting in these periods. A serious problem has been accuracy. Often the best way to heighten accuracy is to cut down on pace.

Yet, when you suggest to Venkatesh Prasad, India's bowling coach, that his bowlers are pulling back on speed to concentrate on a certain line and length, he disagrees vehemently. "No way, not at all. That's not a fair comment at all. In the last series against Australia everyone was touching 135 and above, including Irfan Pathan," he told Cricinfo. "In fact, I would go a step further and say that our bowlers are the only ones who can swing the ball at 135-140."

Even if you do grant Prasad that, the problem of inconsistency is not one that can be wished away. Against Australia, Sreesanth gave away 6.77 runs an over, and RP Singh was even more expensive. Zaheer hovered just below the six-per-over mark.

"There is no specific work one can do in this regard [consistency]," Prasad said. "What has to be done is to make sure the net sessions are as good as match scenarios, and make the practice more meaningful and purposeful.

"For example, Sreesanth bowls a fantastic outswinger. All he needs to be looking to do is be more disciplined and make the batsman play most of the time. That should be the aim for any fast bowler. You need to come with a goal - say, to get the batsman out caught at slip. To do that you have to be consistently hitting a good line and length on and outside the off stump and getting him to play off the front foot."

The one bowler who has been consistent is Pathan. Although it's unclear whether he has rediscovered the big inswing into the right-hander that made him a tough customer to handle when he first arrived, Pathan has learned what it takes to succeed. He is varying his pace cleverly, rolling his fingers over the ball to bowl cutters more frequently, and in general has not allowed batsmen to settle against him. In most of the games against Australia he was able to break partnerships - even if a couple of wickets came off stumpings, with MS Dhoni standing up to the wicket - and even when he didn't, he dried up the runs, allowing his captain some control over the game.



Zaheer seems to finally have stepped up to be India's spearhead © Getty Images

There's been plenty of theorising over where Pathan went wrong, what needed to be done to correct his flaws, and that sort of thing, with experts from around the world weighing in. But a stint at the MRF Pace Foundation and time spent with Prasad seem to have done the trick.

Prasad put the slump and revival down to mental aspects. "Definitely [it's a mental thing]," he said. "I really appreciate Irfan in this regard. His interaction with me is fantastic. Every time he keeps coming and talking to me about what he did and what he can do... He has understood how it is to be left out of the team so he wants to work that much harder to ensure that he performs and stays in the team. We have also worked on the line, length, and what he needs to be doing when he is bowling a slower ball: where he needs to aim, what line to keep, what length."

One positive over the last few months is that a core group of bowlers has been identified, and all of them are getting matches under their belt. There's also plenty of variety in the styles of delivery, even if three of the operators are left-arm bowlers.

The real test will come when India tour Australia, however. On true pitches that have good bounce and carry, it becomes impossible to hide even one fast bowler, and relying overly on spinners will be a dangerous ploy. Australia's batsmen are brought up on a diet of fast bowling, and any inconsistency, in the course of a five-day game, will be punished. That series will be the true test of the mettle of India's fast bowlers, in terms of skill, execution and mental strength.

Read the full interview with Venkatesh Prasad here

Anand Vasu is an associate editor at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • POSTED BY deep_63 on | November 7, 2007, 23:22 GMT

    Do not agree at all with Prasad. What I think we have is a truck load of mediocrity, we keep getting happy about, getting praised by possibly the slowest opening medium pacer of modern era (Prasad at 125 K). We need a culture of genuine fast/incisive bowling. Name one of this pack with a sharp bouncer, a quality inswinging yorker which he uses in death overs. Compare this to seamers from Australia, Pakistan or South Africa. They carry their teams basically -- Is our pace attack better than any one of these. We may be at best be par with NZ, England or SL. A yard stick for a good fast bowler should be that he runs over opposition (3 or more top order wickets in one day, 5 or more in test) once in 6 to 8 games not once in a year or two (like Khan, or Agarkar). And is generally adequate on other occasions. Our Seamers fail 3-4 times out of 7-8 games and are about adequate on the remaining count. Also do not hunt as a team -- One guy has a good day , someone else blows it.

  • POSTED BY howizzat on | November 7, 2007, 16:38 GMT

    Mr.Prasad has admitted that there is no specific work can be done regarding consistancy. Our bowlers are way below others as far as consistancy and economy are concerned. Except for Irfan and RP Singh to some extent others dont even look like long term prospects. Even Irfan and RP look mere shadows of Sreenath and Prasad himself. Sreesanth is overenthusiastic for no reason instead of concentrating on his line and length. He bowls only handful of lethal outswingers out of the tons he bowls. His overenthu has even affected his fielding. He definitely needs few more months of remand at MRF. Zaheer is horribly inconsistant as far as economy is concerned. Our pacers are a flop show in slog overs. It means in summary they still have to learn a lot. Can they become a Walsh, Akram, Kapil Macgrath or a Fenil DeVilliers? If Prasad feels this is the best he can do then BCCI should look beyond. Fenil or Akram can be those to whom BCCI can look at.

  • POSTED BY pratham on | November 7, 2007, 4:45 GMT

    Problem is with the criteria used in selecting a bowler Should we prefer one who can take three wickets per match but has an economy rate of 7runs or one with economy rate of 3/4 but may or may not get wickets. In the shorter vesion I think economy rate should be the ddecider. It may, unfortunately, leave out favorites like Sreesanth. If the selectors are not willing to take a decision then where is the point in giving intrviews etc

  • POSTED BY 1.4.9.20.25.1_1.18.15.18.1 on | November 6, 2007, 17:39 GMT

    I agree with Mr.Prasad. I think our bowlers are good except that they need to be disciplined. Sreesanth should keep his anger under control. Otherwise he is great. RP needs to adjust his line and length. He needs to find a good spot on the pitch to bowl. He must also stick to that line and length. Zaheer is good. So is Pathan. Harbhajan and Murali are also doing well. Joginder Sharma also can bowl good except like RP he must find a good spot to bowl on the pitch and stick to it. Newer players should also be brought into the attack depending on their performance. We should kepp on experimenting. Even if we find an excellent bowling squad we must still keep on experimenting for the future. Aditya

  • POSTED BY 1.4.9.20.25.1_1.18.15.18.1 on | November 6, 2007, 17:39 GMT

    I agree with Mr.Prasad. I think our bowlers are good except that they need to be disciplined. Sreesanth should keep his anger under control. Otherwise he is great. RP needs to adjust his line and length. He needs to find a good spot on the pitch to bowl. He must also stick to that line and length. Zaheer is good. So is Pathan. Harbhajan and Murali are also doing well. Joginder Sharma also can bowl good except like RP he must find a good spot to bowl on the pitch and stick to it. Newer players should also be brought into the attack depending on their performance. We should kepp on experimenting. Even if we find an excellent bowling squad we must still keep on experimenting for the future. Aditya

  • POSTED BY Nipun on | November 6, 2007, 17:10 GMT

    Very interesting article since it deals with only (potential)potential & very little performance.Zaheer,the spearhead,averages 30 & has an economy of 5!Out of about 50 tests,a grand return of 4-5 memorable performances!Sreesanth,well,he is a joker & does entertain spectators-with his showmanship!Munaf,plays half a game & gets out for 2 months!(How is he even considered for selection???)Pathan-pace bowler-gets wickets through brilliant stumpings by MS Dhoni! & Let's not forget that the same thing was spoken about Zaheer,Nehra,Balaji & Irfan in 2003-04 & yet they have not delivered! So let them perform consistently for a year & a half ...then perhaps we can say a few things.....Hmm

  • POSTED BY cooldude0503 on | November 6, 2007, 16:04 GMT

    I really appreciate the work V. Prasad is putting in out bowlers. I totally agree with him totally. We always had good bowlers with mediocre speed but now we need good bowlers with genuine speed. It's all mental toughness. People who have succeeded after struggle knows how much mental strength means. Go Prasad Go, we want genuine fast bowlers and swing and street-smart along with it can make them great bowlers.

  • POSTED BY concerned_cricketer on | November 6, 2007, 12:48 GMT

    Really enjoyed reading the article and the comments. It is really heartening to see all these pace bowlers turning out for India each one with something different to offer, even if they all have a long way to go to become consistent match winners. It is also great that we have Venky Prasad out there to guide these speedsters with all his experience. Good luck to our guys. I really hope they do well in Australia and announce the arrival of a new era of Indian pace bowling.

  • POSTED BY Devadatta_Rajadhyaksha on | November 6, 2007, 12:47 GMT

    I think bounce will be more important in Australia rather than pace, and swing (traditional or reverse) will not be a major factor.

    My bowling lineup in the 16-member squad will consist of Zaheer, Munaf, Pathan, Sree Santh, Agarkar, Kumble and Harbhajan/Powar. And a 4-member attack will suffice in tests if we can cajole Ganguly to bowl 10 overs per day.

  • POSTED BY Aditya_mookerjee on | November 6, 2007, 8:54 GMT

    Irfan Pathan is being told to think of himself as a bowler primarily, but I think that he should regard himself as a genuine all rounder. Perhaps, he should not open the bowling, in a Test Match. If India has to field five genuine bowlers for a Test Match, then, Irfan has to play, which I feel is imperative for India. I remember the delivery with which he got Gilchrist out, during the last series in Australia. I have seen few better exponents of reverse swing.

  • POSTED BY deep_63 on | November 7, 2007, 23:22 GMT

    Do not agree at all with Prasad. What I think we have is a truck load of mediocrity, we keep getting happy about, getting praised by possibly the slowest opening medium pacer of modern era (Prasad at 125 K). We need a culture of genuine fast/incisive bowling. Name one of this pack with a sharp bouncer, a quality inswinging yorker which he uses in death overs. Compare this to seamers from Australia, Pakistan or South Africa. They carry their teams basically -- Is our pace attack better than any one of these. We may be at best be par with NZ, England or SL. A yard stick for a good fast bowler should be that he runs over opposition (3 or more top order wickets in one day, 5 or more in test) once in 6 to 8 games not once in a year or two (like Khan, or Agarkar). And is generally adequate on other occasions. Our Seamers fail 3-4 times out of 7-8 games and are about adequate on the remaining count. Also do not hunt as a team -- One guy has a good day , someone else blows it.

  • POSTED BY howizzat on | November 7, 2007, 16:38 GMT

    Mr.Prasad has admitted that there is no specific work can be done regarding consistancy. Our bowlers are way below others as far as consistancy and economy are concerned. Except for Irfan and RP Singh to some extent others dont even look like long term prospects. Even Irfan and RP look mere shadows of Sreenath and Prasad himself. Sreesanth is overenthusiastic for no reason instead of concentrating on his line and length. He bowls only handful of lethal outswingers out of the tons he bowls. His overenthu has even affected his fielding. He definitely needs few more months of remand at MRF. Zaheer is horribly inconsistant as far as economy is concerned. Our pacers are a flop show in slog overs. It means in summary they still have to learn a lot. Can they become a Walsh, Akram, Kapil Macgrath or a Fenil DeVilliers? If Prasad feels this is the best he can do then BCCI should look beyond. Fenil or Akram can be those to whom BCCI can look at.

  • POSTED BY pratham on | November 7, 2007, 4:45 GMT

    Problem is with the criteria used in selecting a bowler Should we prefer one who can take three wickets per match but has an economy rate of 7runs or one with economy rate of 3/4 but may or may not get wickets. In the shorter vesion I think economy rate should be the ddecider. It may, unfortunately, leave out favorites like Sreesanth. If the selectors are not willing to take a decision then where is the point in giving intrviews etc

  • POSTED BY 1.4.9.20.25.1_1.18.15.18.1 on | November 6, 2007, 17:39 GMT

    I agree with Mr.Prasad. I think our bowlers are good except that they need to be disciplined. Sreesanth should keep his anger under control. Otherwise he is great. RP needs to adjust his line and length. He needs to find a good spot on the pitch to bowl. He must also stick to that line and length. Zaheer is good. So is Pathan. Harbhajan and Murali are also doing well. Joginder Sharma also can bowl good except like RP he must find a good spot to bowl on the pitch and stick to it. Newer players should also be brought into the attack depending on their performance. We should kepp on experimenting. Even if we find an excellent bowling squad we must still keep on experimenting for the future. Aditya

  • POSTED BY 1.4.9.20.25.1_1.18.15.18.1 on | November 6, 2007, 17:39 GMT

    I agree with Mr.Prasad. I think our bowlers are good except that they need to be disciplined. Sreesanth should keep his anger under control. Otherwise he is great. RP needs to adjust his line and length. He needs to find a good spot on the pitch to bowl. He must also stick to that line and length. Zaheer is good. So is Pathan. Harbhajan and Murali are also doing well. Joginder Sharma also can bowl good except like RP he must find a good spot to bowl on the pitch and stick to it. Newer players should also be brought into the attack depending on their performance. We should kepp on experimenting. Even if we find an excellent bowling squad we must still keep on experimenting for the future. Aditya

  • POSTED BY Nipun on | November 6, 2007, 17:10 GMT

    Very interesting article since it deals with only (potential)potential & very little performance.Zaheer,the spearhead,averages 30 & has an economy of 5!Out of about 50 tests,a grand return of 4-5 memorable performances!Sreesanth,well,he is a joker & does entertain spectators-with his showmanship!Munaf,plays half a game & gets out for 2 months!(How is he even considered for selection???)Pathan-pace bowler-gets wickets through brilliant stumpings by MS Dhoni! & Let's not forget that the same thing was spoken about Zaheer,Nehra,Balaji & Irfan in 2003-04 & yet they have not delivered! So let them perform consistently for a year & a half ...then perhaps we can say a few things.....Hmm

  • POSTED BY cooldude0503 on | November 6, 2007, 16:04 GMT

    I really appreciate the work V. Prasad is putting in out bowlers. I totally agree with him totally. We always had good bowlers with mediocre speed but now we need good bowlers with genuine speed. It's all mental toughness. People who have succeeded after struggle knows how much mental strength means. Go Prasad Go, we want genuine fast bowlers and swing and street-smart along with it can make them great bowlers.

  • POSTED BY concerned_cricketer on | November 6, 2007, 12:48 GMT

    Really enjoyed reading the article and the comments. It is really heartening to see all these pace bowlers turning out for India each one with something different to offer, even if they all have a long way to go to become consistent match winners. It is also great that we have Venky Prasad out there to guide these speedsters with all his experience. Good luck to our guys. I really hope they do well in Australia and announce the arrival of a new era of Indian pace bowling.

  • POSTED BY Devadatta_Rajadhyaksha on | November 6, 2007, 12:47 GMT

    I think bounce will be more important in Australia rather than pace, and swing (traditional or reverse) will not be a major factor.

    My bowling lineup in the 16-member squad will consist of Zaheer, Munaf, Pathan, Sree Santh, Agarkar, Kumble and Harbhajan/Powar. And a 4-member attack will suffice in tests if we can cajole Ganguly to bowl 10 overs per day.

  • POSTED BY Aditya_mookerjee on | November 6, 2007, 8:54 GMT

    Irfan Pathan is being told to think of himself as a bowler primarily, but I think that he should regard himself as a genuine all rounder. Perhaps, he should not open the bowling, in a Test Match. If India has to field five genuine bowlers for a Test Match, then, Irfan has to play, which I feel is imperative for India. I remember the delivery with which he got Gilchrist out, during the last series in Australia. I have seen few better exponents of reverse swing.

  • POSTED BY Ashutosh on | November 6, 2007, 6:58 GMT

    A pace attack led by Zaheer who averages 30 with an economy of 5!Our pacemen have long suffered from Agarkaritis - it's the tendency to give one hit-me-for-a-four ball every over. The way Zaheer sprays the ball all over the place in the first over, it appears he takes the field without any warmup ! Everyone has been talking about his improved form after his county stint. I think a timely kick on the backside and some time out of the Indian squad is enough for some players to regain their attitude (and form).The real worry for India should be the form of RP Singh. RP was undoubtedly one of the stalwarts of India's T20 success but has been unable to replicate the same form here on home grounds. It's good to see Irfan regaining - what - even I'm as confused as him ?? The keeper's standing up to him - certainly hasn't gained pace ! The way others are bowling, he looks the best of the lot. Sreesanth, the less said the better,for him and us. It's time he bowled rather than bawled, period.

  • POSTED BY GuRuPaarth on | November 6, 2007, 4:54 GMT

    This pace attack certainly is high on potential and generally they tend to perform when the ball is deviating off the wicket. What the pace attack lacks is someone tall who can bowl a heavy ball. Additionally, they depth in right hand fast bowlers. Munaf Patel used to be the answer to both of those problems. Munaf Patel seems to have been handled the wrong way. The management didn't consider his background or his mental strength when criticizing him. They should have supported him.

    Additionally, the pace attack lacks someone who can bowl fast and furious. When Sree strives for the 150 kph, he becomes far to erratic. He bowls more at "skiddy" pace compared with taller quicks.

    However, I do think when you have someone like Pathan, you will win matches against any team. India has progressed in the correct manner by emphasizing and trying to bring in another all-rounder such as Praveen Kumar. Kumar offers a good inswinger and he plays with a straighter bat than Joginder Sharma.

  • No featured comments at the moment.

  • POSTED BY GuRuPaarth on | November 6, 2007, 4:54 GMT

    This pace attack certainly is high on potential and generally they tend to perform when the ball is deviating off the wicket. What the pace attack lacks is someone tall who can bowl a heavy ball. Additionally, they depth in right hand fast bowlers. Munaf Patel used to be the answer to both of those problems. Munaf Patel seems to have been handled the wrong way. The management didn't consider his background or his mental strength when criticizing him. They should have supported him.

    Additionally, the pace attack lacks someone who can bowl fast and furious. When Sree strives for the 150 kph, he becomes far to erratic. He bowls more at "skiddy" pace compared with taller quicks.

    However, I do think when you have someone like Pathan, you will win matches against any team. India has progressed in the correct manner by emphasizing and trying to bring in another all-rounder such as Praveen Kumar. Kumar offers a good inswinger and he plays with a straighter bat than Joginder Sharma.

  • POSTED BY Ashutosh on | November 6, 2007, 6:58 GMT

    A pace attack led by Zaheer who averages 30 with an economy of 5!Our pacemen have long suffered from Agarkaritis - it's the tendency to give one hit-me-for-a-four ball every over. The way Zaheer sprays the ball all over the place in the first over, it appears he takes the field without any warmup ! Everyone has been talking about his improved form after his county stint. I think a timely kick on the backside and some time out of the Indian squad is enough for some players to regain their attitude (and form).The real worry for India should be the form of RP Singh. RP was undoubtedly one of the stalwarts of India's T20 success but has been unable to replicate the same form here on home grounds. It's good to see Irfan regaining - what - even I'm as confused as him ?? The keeper's standing up to him - certainly hasn't gained pace ! The way others are bowling, he looks the best of the lot. Sreesanth, the less said the better,for him and us. It's time he bowled rather than bawled, period.

  • POSTED BY Aditya_mookerjee on | November 6, 2007, 8:54 GMT

    Irfan Pathan is being told to think of himself as a bowler primarily, but I think that he should regard himself as a genuine all rounder. Perhaps, he should not open the bowling, in a Test Match. If India has to field five genuine bowlers for a Test Match, then, Irfan has to play, which I feel is imperative for India. I remember the delivery with which he got Gilchrist out, during the last series in Australia. I have seen few better exponents of reverse swing.

  • POSTED BY Devadatta_Rajadhyaksha on | November 6, 2007, 12:47 GMT

    I think bounce will be more important in Australia rather than pace, and swing (traditional or reverse) will not be a major factor.

    My bowling lineup in the 16-member squad will consist of Zaheer, Munaf, Pathan, Sree Santh, Agarkar, Kumble and Harbhajan/Powar. And a 4-member attack will suffice in tests if we can cajole Ganguly to bowl 10 overs per day.

  • POSTED BY concerned_cricketer on | November 6, 2007, 12:48 GMT

    Really enjoyed reading the article and the comments. It is really heartening to see all these pace bowlers turning out for India each one with something different to offer, even if they all have a long way to go to become consistent match winners. It is also great that we have Venky Prasad out there to guide these speedsters with all his experience. Good luck to our guys. I really hope they do well in Australia and announce the arrival of a new era of Indian pace bowling.

  • POSTED BY cooldude0503 on | November 6, 2007, 16:04 GMT

    I really appreciate the work V. Prasad is putting in out bowlers. I totally agree with him totally. We always had good bowlers with mediocre speed but now we need good bowlers with genuine speed. It's all mental toughness. People who have succeeded after struggle knows how much mental strength means. Go Prasad Go, we want genuine fast bowlers and swing and street-smart along with it can make them great bowlers.

  • POSTED BY Nipun on | November 6, 2007, 17:10 GMT

    Very interesting article since it deals with only (potential)potential & very little performance.Zaheer,the spearhead,averages 30 & has an economy of 5!Out of about 50 tests,a grand return of 4-5 memorable performances!Sreesanth,well,he is a joker & does entertain spectators-with his showmanship!Munaf,plays half a game & gets out for 2 months!(How is he even considered for selection???)Pathan-pace bowler-gets wickets through brilliant stumpings by MS Dhoni! & Let's not forget that the same thing was spoken about Zaheer,Nehra,Balaji & Irfan in 2003-04 & yet they have not delivered! So let them perform consistently for a year & a half ...then perhaps we can say a few things.....Hmm

  • POSTED BY 1.4.9.20.25.1_1.18.15.18.1 on | November 6, 2007, 17:39 GMT

    I agree with Mr.Prasad. I think our bowlers are good except that they need to be disciplined. Sreesanth should keep his anger under control. Otherwise he is great. RP needs to adjust his line and length. He needs to find a good spot on the pitch to bowl. He must also stick to that line and length. Zaheer is good. So is Pathan. Harbhajan and Murali are also doing well. Joginder Sharma also can bowl good except like RP he must find a good spot to bowl on the pitch and stick to it. Newer players should also be brought into the attack depending on their performance. We should kepp on experimenting. Even if we find an excellent bowling squad we must still keep on experimenting for the future. Aditya

  • POSTED BY 1.4.9.20.25.1_1.18.15.18.1 on | November 6, 2007, 17:39 GMT

    I agree with Mr.Prasad. I think our bowlers are good except that they need to be disciplined. Sreesanth should keep his anger under control. Otherwise he is great. RP needs to adjust his line and length. He needs to find a good spot on the pitch to bowl. He must also stick to that line and length. Zaheer is good. So is Pathan. Harbhajan and Murali are also doing well. Joginder Sharma also can bowl good except like RP he must find a good spot to bowl on the pitch and stick to it. Newer players should also be brought into the attack depending on their performance. We should kepp on experimenting. Even if we find an excellent bowling squad we must still keep on experimenting for the future. Aditya

  • POSTED BY pratham on | November 7, 2007, 4:45 GMT

    Problem is with the criteria used in selecting a bowler Should we prefer one who can take three wickets per match but has an economy rate of 7runs or one with economy rate of 3/4 but may or may not get wickets. In the shorter vesion I think economy rate should be the ddecider. It may, unfortunately, leave out favorites like Sreesanth. If the selectors are not willing to take a decision then where is the point in giving intrviews etc