March 4, 2011

Give bowlers a chance

Pitches in the World Cup have not exactly been sporting. Bowlers have been marginalised - and no team exemplifies this better than India

Teams are mismatched, bat and ball are not loved equally, and the quarter-finals are looked forward to like school vacations once were. I know the Associates and the qualifiers have a right to dream of sitting at the high table but we need to see whether being the best of the rest is a sufficient qualification. Ireland may have struck a mighty blow in favour of the non-Test playing nations, but I'm afraid they stand alone. They must earn a World Cup place not just because of the result against England but because they have a structure that is producing young home-bred cricketers. And even they will suffer while we allow the practice of established teams pinching the best players from the Associates.

There is word that George Dockrell, the impressive 18-year-old from Ireland, is on the England radar. It must be fought tooth and nail. If the best of the non-Test-playing nations, which Ireland is, exists as a feeder for England and has to accept those that big brother rejects, they cannot progress.

And so it comes as no surprise that most of the qualifiers have been embarrassingly weak and are a real concern for the product quality that the World Cup seeks to deliver. I have been in the studio every day of the World Cup and decide I am going to root for the underdog. I don't have much artillery on my side. It is difficult to be a believer in the idea that everyone should get the opportunity to play a World Cup. When India played England or when Pakistan played Sri Lanka, you didn't know who was going to win. That is how it must be.

The more immediate concern at this World Cup is that pitches are conspiring against bowlers. It cannot be so. If 338 is easily scored and scarcely defended, and 327 isn't enough, nobody will want to be a bowler. It is reflected in India's bowling reserves too. It is easier to bring down the price of petrol, maybe even to bring peace to troubled lands, than it is to spot a quality bowler now. In politics and business and public life we talk of the need for equal opportunity, but in a showpiece event like the World Cup we bury bowlers in public.

Teams like India, who haven't really worried too much about developing fast bowlers - dropping pace is the more fashionable thing to do here - are struggling therefore to take wickets. England chased 338 and Bangladesh might have embarrassed India if they had batted first and ignored the dew, the fear of which, like that of weapons of mass destruction, was ill-founded. Indeed it is not only the absence of quality fast bowling, or just simple quality bowling, that is hurting India. It is also the fact that they do not have the fielding that can give the bowling teeth. Harbhajan Singh should have caught Andrew Strauss every day of the week, something put into perspective by the catch Paul Stirling took to end an innings by Ian Bell.

MS Dhoni admits there is little he can do about his team's fielding. But the BCCI can, once it gives itself a bit of a respite from finance, its favourite preoccupation, and switches to cricket. Currently I get the feeling there is a sub-clause in the constitution somewhere that says fast - oops, new-ball - bowlers must be bad fielders. India might still go far at this World Cup, but they will do so in spite of the fielding.

I also wish tickets for the India games were easier to get. Sometimes when riches visit a kingdom you forget that the subjects are simple folk who have to work hard for a living. The strength of cricket in India comes from middle-class people who give loyalty and expect little in return. We have to allow them to visit a stadium and see their heroes perform in flesh and blood. They cannot be priced out; we cannot make a hole in their pockets every time they want to watch cricket. The game exists because of them. I fear sometimes that cricket will become a privileged man's sport and lose touch with reality. If stadium seats are limited maybe free public screenings is the way out, but watching cricket has to be a pleasant community event.

Meanwhile Sachin Tendulkar scored century No. 98 in international cricket. With which other player in history would that have been mentioned as an afterthought in an article?

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Swampy5 on March 5, 2011, 20:12 GMT

    Easy to 'blame' the associate nations and the pitches for a dull world cup Harsha, but as a TV man you studiously avoid the main problem with this tedious WC - it's a television event dressed up as a cricket tournament. Hence only one game is played on most days and the group stage stretches on far too long. A 7 week CWC is a joke and is the reason there is little engagement with the WC outside of the subcontinent. Ireland and Holland, far from being the problem, have given some fine to outstanding performances so far, and yet you'd get rid of them? Instead of two groups of 7 teams, it should be 3 groups of 4 (maybe, possibly even 5). The first round will be much shorter, then you can have a finals series (not super 6) with the top 2 from each group. It probably won't happen because it'll mean a 4 or 5 week world cup with less games to show on TV and less TV revenue, and that's really what this whole tournament is all about, isn't it?

  • cricketlover80 on March 5, 2011, 19:22 GMT

    May be we need services of Kumble. Afridis bowling is similar to Kumble which is bowling spin with pace and Afridi seems to be on more wickets than pacemen or quality spinners like Murali or Bhajji. Kumble always used to be successful whenever the paceman fail during field restrictions and he used to get that wicket which was needed for the occasion. If only the bowling reserves yusuf, yuvraj or sehwag try spin with pace, I think it might work for India in the wickets department. Successful or not depends on the quality but its worth a shot.

  • Vilander on March 5, 2011, 19:19 GMT

    good article Harsha, being genuine is the way to go. Bangalore pitch is a shame, totals of 340-330 being chased its ridiculous. In a proper wicket i do not think the Irish would defeat the English.

  • vijaysun1 on March 5, 2011, 15:23 GMT

    if india's bowling is so poor (based on 2 games on flat pitches) then england's is probably worse by the same reasoning.only problem with that theory is that india and england are 2 of the top test teams at the moment.wonder how they got there harsha?note that the "poor" indian bowling attack went toe to toe with south africa only a month back in their backyard.if the pitches used for the 2 india games were bad for cricket then how come those 2 india games have been some of the most exciting so far in this world cup.harsha loves highlighting shortcomings in the indian team and after reading his articles u feel no other team has any weaknesses except usual,he slants against india in the name of "fairness"...something that has long since become annoying.manjrekar,shastri,arun lal etc. are all much more balanced in comparison.

  • vedanthy2 on March 5, 2011, 15:10 GMT

    Give Bowler's a Chance!!!. That is a joke.The modern day bowlers lack intelligence. Formula bowling does not work when bats are nearly like 5 lb.hammer bottom heavy.balls have inner core a round small golf ball(may be) which enables even Mural to hit the ball with a scythe shot 80-90 meters.Yester years on uncovered pitches men have faced bowlers with brain and guile batsmen were pleasant to watch.Pitches lasted 5 days. The pitch that was prepared for warm up at B'lore for Aus-India match was a shabby dirt track.Unworthy showed men streak of the curator to see Aus struggle. Not Cricket.Cricket real died in 1980.Long live Cricket. You are too much obsessed with Sachin tendulkar!! Carry on with "after thoughts!!!

  • zuber21886 on March 5, 2011, 12:14 GMT

    Why there has been a lack of some star bowlers in India since so many years? like the one SA, Pakistan, Australia have.

  • Sheela on March 5, 2011, 10:35 GMT

    One suggestion for limited overs games - Though eleven players per team should be allowed but at the same time (1) for 50 over matches if eight wickets are down, the team should be considered all out and (2) similarly (inT20 match)if six wickets are down then the team should be considered all out. In base ball, after three batsmen are out, the innings is over and where the fields are extremely big compared to cricket. Of course there are nine innings in baseball, but with 3 batters getting out rather too often there is lot of interest. This will make the cricket matches of limited overs more interesting not totally loaded in favour of the batsmen.

  • batfry on March 5, 2011, 7:18 GMT

    @RaviMathur: That's quite an idea there! Would certainly be worth a try. Rather tragic, though, that India's World Cup 15 doesn't contain 11 full-fledged batsmen.

  • batfry on March 5, 2011, 7:14 GMT

    No matter what India might do in this World Cup, it must be conceded that this team's bowling lacks the class of a world beater. Zaheer Khan apart, no Indian bowler has performed at a consistently outstanding level for the last couple of years. And Zak had just about enough gas left in the tank for another couple of years of international cricket. What then? Difficult to see any of the current crop filling his shoes. If India nurtures ambitions of being the world's top cricket team over a reasonable period, then it needs at least two outstanding bowlers each in the pace and spin categories. That's an improbable ask!

  • dummy4fb on March 5, 2011, 6:37 GMT

    Glad u mentioned the price of tickets, Harsha ! Tickets in Chennai for England-South Africa match cost Rs.2500 plus internet booking charges for the lower tier of the stand, straight opposite to the pavillion. This lower tier doesn't have a roof over it and u are exposed to the harshest sun in the country throughout the game(Whoever designed these new stands in Chepauk had only artistic beauty and not the paying spectators in his mind). There is also no difference in pricing between India and this non-India match.

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