September 9, 2011

Find bowlers, find success

India have a pair of replacement openers in Rahane and Parthiv. Now what they need are some talented bowlers, world-class mentors, and a review, followed by corrective action

Summer has left England. Like many visitors who come here, it was on a short stay. And so the t-shirts are being replaced by heavy cardigans and pullovers, and cheery folk who sat on sidewalks with beer or coffee now dart indoors. When the sun goes, it takes the smile with it. Now the chilly breeze blows, the harbinger of a winter that will shorten days and expand gloom. And the sky, like a salesman on hard times, wears the same grey suit every day. Is it a coincidence that talk of a recession is back?

It was meant to be an Indian summer, this. Long days; stylish, wristy batsmen, with clean pads and sleeves rolled down, overcoming tall bowlers who hit the deck and swing the ball. It was meant to be Federer v Nadal over 20 days of Test cricket. But like many cookbooks, where the photographs are more promising than the recipes, the build-up was more exciting than the action. It went downhill very quickly, a banquet that never progressed beyond the starters. And now, while the dessert menu is still being offered, everyone is fidgeting with the car keys. Ah, the Indian summer! Neither word appropriately describes the last two months.

And yet, for those who don't always get their place in the sun, anything will do. Opportunity knocks on their door but rarely, and now, with the most calamitous sequence of injuries befalling India, they see hope in the encircling gloom. Certainly the scratch opening pair has caught the eye, and while Patel and Rahane doesn't quite roll off the tongue like Tendulkar and Dravid, or Sehwag and Gambhir, they bring a little sense of anticipation to the die-hard supporters.

From a boy who held the fort valiantly but whose main scoring stroke was a dab on the off side, Parthiv Patel has blossomed. Mistaking size for stature, England's bowlers peppered him with short-pitched bowling. With a smile here, a word there, and a rapier-like bat, he has played the pull shot as well as anybody; though it must be admitted that the wickets in the limited-overs games have looked like they are waiting for the summer to end too. Now if he can drive a bit like Sourav Ganguly (through the covers, that is, not on the highways), we might have an outsider coming in to take up a batting position. And, more important, someone who can allow MS Dhoni a break.

My colleague Alan Wilkins recently asked Ajinkya Rahane, "Where have you been all along?" It is a question many have posed. He has looked correct and compact, and has walked out like he belongs. And thankfully, he has opened the innings. Whoever makes him bat No. 3 again in the Ranji Trophy should be tried for sabotage. Like with Gautam Gambhir, he might do it occasionally for India, but his place is at the top. Now he must knock on Sunil Gavaskar's door, pester him, ask if he can sit at his feet, for no one in India understands facing the new ball better.

In fact it is an old fantasy of mine that the best young batsmen in India go away on an excursion with Gavaskar to a small town that has but a hotel, a couple of practice pitches and no media. For six days they only practise batting and talk about it over long, lazy dinners. Then the best six bowlers go there with Kapil Dev, leave his golf clubs behind in the cab, and talk and bowl, talk and bowl. For I don't see talent being a problem in India, merely its refinement. Gavaskar sits in a commentary box these days and Kapil has many business interests, but what they know about their profession, the work ethic and the hours it demands, must be transmitted. And they will enjoy it. My father was a teacher and I could see how excited he was by a bright pupil.

Maybe this will emerge from a post-mortem, for one is needed. The essence of a postmortem like this will lie in intent and, thereafter, action. If there is no action, only a report, it will end up being a bit like a discussion on a famine over a fancy dinner. Surely three people can put together a plan to find bowlers in India, for I am convinced they exist. It is a question of finding and nurturing them. If you run a steel plant and start running short of iron ore, you find iron ore, don't you?

And the post-mortem must address the issue of the IPL. The IPL is not a problem in itself; it is what comes before and after. It is not a filler for an interval, it needs an interval after it. In the next two weeks the BCCI will have a new president and soon the IPL will have a new commissioner. If they can put the visiting cards and letterheads aside and get down to work on the real issues, we might even have an Indian summer in 2014, when five Tests are played.

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