Fast bowlers August 31, 2010

Five fast men

Two from India's first Test, one from the era of spinners, a 90s stalwart, and a noughties hero make the quick bowlers shortlist

For years the question asked most often about Indian cricket was, "Where are the fast bowlers?" or its variation, "In a country of a billion people etc." Despite the recent accomplishments of a Zaheer Khan or the sporadic successes of a Sreesanth or Ishant Sharma, fast bowling is not seen as an Indian thing, and Indians console themselves with a dose of pop psychology. This is the land of spin, they tell themselves, the seat of the triumph of brain over brawn. We prefer subtlety and cunning to brute force, they say, and thus make a virtue of necessity.

The few successful fast bowlers, therefore, have a place in folklore that is a tribute to their bucking the system, as it were.

Yet it wasn't always so. Before Indian wickets began to actively discourage fast bowling, and many captains did likewise, Mohammad Nissar and Amar Singh authored the finest first 20 minutes of any debut country. At Lord's in 1932, they reduced England to 11 for 2, Nissar clean-bowling both openers, who had only the previous week established the world-record partnership in first-class cricket.

Amar Singh's 7 for 86 in Chennai in the next series stood as a record for an Indian opening bowler till Kapil Dev went past it half a century later. In between, India had shine-removers rather than fast bowlers, although the likes of Ramakant Desai, who bowled an awkward bouncer, Karsan Ghavri and Madan Lal did prosper for a while. But it was those who succeeded Kapil - Chetan Sharma and Manoj Prabhakar initially, and then Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad, who carried the mantle.

The successes of Kapil and Srinath made it inevitable that India should find a new generation of quick men. India sometimes played with three seamers and a single spinner, and not one was a bits-and-pieces man. After the retirement of Anil Kumble, the question became: "Where are the spinners?" The faster men began to rule. A change from the days when a wicketkeeper opened the bowling, and such tearaways as Ajit Wadekar, Sunil Gavaskar, Tiger Pataudi and ML Jaisimha underwhelmed the opposition with their pace and swing.

The candidates

Javagal Srinath
If Kapil Dev inspired a generation of fast-medium bowlers, it was Srinath who shepherded them through the highs and lows. Not having watched Nissar in action, it is difficult to be certain, but Srinath was probably the fastest bowler India has produced. His 236 wickets from 67 Tests came at a better strike rate on the less helpful home wickets.

Kapil Dev
Held the world record, 434, for the most wickets, and in the years following the retirement of India's great spin bowlers carried the bowling attack on his broad and willing shoulders. Kapil's bowling was as much art as heart. He put both to good use for a decade and a half, with only occasional support from a brigade of lesser mortals who shared the new ball with him.

Zaheer Khan
Statistically second only to Kapil, with 242 wickets from 72 Tests, Zaheer discovered the joys of the yorker early, and continues to be the best of the pack of left-arm seamers who made their mark post-Srinath. Can take credit for a Test series win in England, where he was Man of the Series with 18 wickets in 2007.

Mohammad Nissar
Headed the bowling averages on India's first tour of England, in 1932. According to CB Fry, Nissar was faster than Harold Larwood, who in six months' time was to run through Australia in the Bodyline series. A strike rate of 48, even if only over six Tests, hinted at what might have been had his pace and stamina been at India's service in later years.

Amar Singh
Had the most wickets on India's first tour, 111, and in Wisden's judgement was "the best bowler seen in England since the War." Walter Hammond was more poetic, saying Amar Singh "came off the pitch like the crack of doom". Singh's 51 was India's highest score in their inaugural Test. With better support from the field, India's most potent new-ball attack might have surprised England.

We'll be publishing an all-time India XI based on readers' votes to go with our jury's XI. To pick your fast bowlers click here

Suresh Menon is a writer based in Bangalore

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Vineet on September 3, 2010, 20:44 GMT

    I don't even feel like voting, because the choices, except Kapil Dev, are so lame! It's shame that two of the candidates we have here have played less than 10 test matches. That clearly highlights the fact that India has never had world class fast bowlers. Zaheer and Srinath would never make any World XI. They are fine bowlers, but not world class. I'm looking forward to the spin nominations!

  • Musti on September 3, 2010, 13:41 GMT

    After a lot of thought I have come up with the following all-time XI. 1. Gavaskar, 2. Sehwag, 3. Dravid, 4. Tendulkar, 5. Laxman, 6. Vinoo Mankad, 7. Kapil Dev, 8. Kirmani, 9. Amar Singh, 10. Kumble, 11. Srinath. The team will be strong in pace bowling with Amar Singh, Kapil Dev and Srinath. In the spin department also, it is quite good with Mankad (left arm spin) and Kumble (right arm leg spin). Additional support can come from Sehwag and Tendulkar. With Kapil coming at no. 7 and Kirmani at 8, the batting has depth. Finally, even Kumble who comes at 10 has a test 100 and five 50s! Kirmani is the best wk for India if you consider his long career. Fielding is also pretty good with Dravid and Laxman in the slips. Overall, the team should do well against the other all time XIs. The key strength is the batting with 3 batsmen who crossed 10000 test runs and one more (Sehwag) who will one day reach that mark.

  • Sudeep on September 2, 2010, 15:20 GMT

    Anil Kumble - 11, Erapalli Anantharao Srinivas Prasanna - 10, Mohammad Nissar - 9, Amar Singh - 8, M.S Dhoni - 7, Vinoo Mankad/Kapil Dev (Depending on Conditions) - 6 Gundappa Rangnath Viswanath - 5, Sachin Tendulkar - 4, Rahul Dravid - 3, Sunil Gavaskar - 2, Virender Sehwag - 1

  • madhurendra on September 2, 2010, 14:46 GMT

    while i still opt for laxman (safe close in catcher too) over hazare i agree that hazare is a most worthy close contender; to be fair to hazare apart from losing many of his best years to ww2 his away average deteriorated by playing on too long to 1953; his away avg otherwise till 1952 was about 44 and above 40 in both eng and aust; and no1 matches his phenomenal home record; but he is not the only indian cricketer whose record suffered by playing on a few seasons too long nor the only to have been unfortunate to be selected for tests later than he ought to have been (unavoidably in his case); nor the only international cricketer whose career suffered due to ww2. i still opt for laxman at no 5 (also as his avg 49 at no 5 his higher than hazare's 47 at no 5 and since laxman over 40 in rsa with overall fastest wickets, faster than eng/aust wickets of hazare's times though austr had lindwall/miller, eng bedser 46 trueman 52) but yes its a truly close call and a most serious candidate

  • madhurendra on September 2, 2010, 14:19 GMT

    actually the format 2 pace 2 spin plus 1 allrounder is fair; other teams had 1 spinner; this recognises india's strength in spin vs pace; and this makes for 'balance'. the issue is really who is the allrounder kapil or mankad? choosing kapil gives the better genuine allrounder (higher batting avg than bowling avg) and much higher batting average at 6-9 than mankad and 3 seamers (more effective away) while choosing mankad would mean playing 3 spinners when in most cases even at home when india played 3 (even 4 sometimes) spinners only 1-2 have really carried the attack and would be far less effective away. apart from risk to middle order since mankad scored heavily as opener not in middle. mankad was a fair decent fielder n good of his own bowling but kapil was better athlete n overall much better fielder

  • madhurendra on September 2, 2010, 14:01 GMT

    i agree with nissar, amar singh selection but given allrounder kapil's outswing new ball success n amar singh's reputed leg cutters with not so new ball i would open with nissar, kapil with amar as 3rd seamer, rather than kapil as 3rd seamer; early kapil n amar were similar brisk medium rather than genuine pace. while i believe chetan was unlucky not to be in contention the truly unlucky pacers with inadequate opportunities and thus can't be contenders but surely rated a mention were shute banerjee n t a sekhar; i would still opt for nissar n amar singh even if chetan, banerjee, sekhar were contenders. ramji of course was in the 20s before india played tests

  • madhurendra on September 2, 2010, 13:50 GMT

    i believe that the australian 1st xi in 67-68 and 85 was similar batting as australian 2nd xi in 77-78 and bowling weaker as 77-78 team had express jeff thomson; also australian wkts early 50s-early 80s were rated faster than australian pitches in the preceding and subsequent 3 decades each. for these reasons i rate 77-78 tour performances despite packer effect ahead of 67-68 and 85-86 aust tour performances; i admit this may be slightly unfair to pataudi n prasanna but this value judgement remains i chose bedi for variety, and since i feel bedi/chandra 70s were the leading spin twins in history ahead of ramadhin/valentine 50s; and also as good captain potential especially as his test bowling average as captain (6 series, 4 away including pak 78 disaster) was below 25/wkt. i rate tamhane a better keeper than kiri but kiri the better bat

  • Ashish on September 2, 2010, 13:32 GMT

    I am not able to understand, why our jury went with only two specialist fast bowlers, It should be three. If I select Mankad as an allrounder, then I have only two options remaining for fast bowlers - One is quite obvious - Kapil Dev and other...? Actually I want to choose Amar Singh and Nissar as Fast bowling duo. As this pair of Fast Bowling is the best opening fast bowling pair EVER produced by India. Kapil can give them good support as third seamer. Srinath can also be chosen....but I will definitly go with Amar Singh and Nissar. So in my bowing I have five options. Amarsingh, Nissar and Kapil for Fast Bowing and Kumble and Mankad for Spin. We can also choose Gupte insted of Kumble.

  • madhurendra on September 2, 2010, 12:04 GMT

    also australia, nz in 67-69 had for them below par teams, nz had weak batting and no richard hadlee (but a good seam attack) and australia like mid-80s had for them relatively weak teams especially the pace attacks; for this reason i disregarded finally the otherwise fine performances by pataudi n prasanna down under in 67-68; i feel austr 77-78 were stronger or at least equal despite packer impact; i do admit though that gupte is unlucky not to make my AT XI as I also wanted bedi as captain n for variety n since his bowling average as captain (below 25- 4/6 series away) was exceptional n since bedi/chandra in 70s made perhaps the best spin pair in history ahead of 50s ramadhin/valentine; but gupte s fine performances in windies 53 (windies had the 3 w's all fine players of spin, good batting wkts), pakistan (hanif n mats) 54-55, and vs strong team in eng 59 in wet green conditions makes him the strongest contender not in my AT XI apart from Engineer who wasn't in contention

  • madhurendra on September 2, 2010, 11:45 GMT

    sri averaged nearly 60/wkt in australia n poorly away vs other major teams save admittedly good performance in rsa which has had fastest pitches other than perth n barbados in past 20 years; zak's (n irfan') away average is due mainly to performances in zim, bd, nz and in zak's case a good tour of england in 2007; however, in 2007 his performance in england is less than chetan sharma's in 1986 vs a stronger english team and chetan isn't in contention and didn't even rate a mention; chetan's wkts/test and average suffers due to poor home performance; away performance was better than most indian bowlers- away average about 33, 3.5 wkts/away test, away sr 57

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