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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Jay on September 12, 2011, 2:32 GMT

    (Contd) Only time will tell. Actually, India's lucky to have a pool of young promising talent, both batsmen & bowlers. Plan on a select few to emerge as breakthrough players. But they need to capitalise and break out soon. Like Ganguly & Dravid did in 1996. And Zaheer & Bhajji later. 3) Most important, the bowling is definitely the team's Achilles' heel: It needs to be strengthened. Go with 5 bonafide bowlers, including 2 spinners. Entrust Kumble & NCA with the vital task of scouting/player development. Call it "Cricket U"! Yes, invite Kapil as ("emeritus") teacher-mentor for bowler/all-rounder development. Likewise Sunny for batting. 4) Compress IPL window to 3-4 weeks. It can be done. Look at MLB: 30 teams, each plays 162 regular-season games over 6 months, a game almost daily. Final word: the Sun rises in the East. Soon they will head home. Look forward to the warm weather, though the Desi summer is over. Rest assured, a healthy Team India will be ready for the next challenge.

  • Jay on September 12, 2011, 2:20 GMT

    Harsha -- "Indian summer" - by one official definition - is a meteorological phenomenon: a period of above-normal warm, dry weather occurring in the U.S./Canada in late autumn/early winter. Its brief & fickle nature often means it's a "false summer." Sadly, that's what Team India has weathered on this English tour. Importantly, it's exposed a few ground realities: 1) The elite senior players are still the weather-tested bedrock - Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman, Sehwag, Gambhir, Zaheer & Harbhajan. And cool Dhoni. There's nothing much the hapless skipper can do without his experienced crew. 2) Yes, openers like Rahane & Parthiv have shown good ability. But so have other youngsters - like Raina, Kohli, Vijay, Pujara, etc - been given chances to claim top-order spots. Yet, no one's grabbed it as a regular. Parthiv is a "recalled" player - started in 2002 at age 17, has played 20 Tests. Rahane is an "accidental" opener - an emergency replacement for injured seniors. So where do we stand? (TBC)

  • Munawar on September 11, 2011, 7:50 GMT

    Promising batsmen and bowlers spending time over lazy dinners with Gavaskar and Kapil in a small town with no media appears to be a great idea. Kapil may do it but Gavaskar is a ?. You and others are talking pretty highly of Ajinkya and Ashwin. Forming opinion over performances over three innings for Rahane is a bit premature. Same is the case with Ashwin. Rahane might prove to be good for shorter version - T20s / ODIs but he doesn't seem to have the technique and skills for Tests. Jaffer is a far batter bat than Rahane.Ashwin with some doosra and carrom balls in his armoury and helpful tracks may prove to be handy in ODIs / T20s but he is certainly not a Test level bowler. I don't think Ashwin is there yet. Likes of Cook, Bell, Ponting, Clarke, Kallis, Amla, DeVilliers, Mahela, Sanga will quickly sort him out.Equating him with Kumble would also not be right as Kumble was a gifted one. However, with Srikkanth at helms of selection,Ashwin might be pushed into Test team sooner than later

  • Ashok on September 10, 2011, 23:32 GMT

    "Find Bowlers, Find Success"!. Yes true. But which bowlers are you talking about?. This article is mostly about the opening batsmen who replaced Sehwag & Tendulkar in the present India B Team. England had so much trouble with this new pair. I wonder what the England pace bowlers would have done against the regular opener. Sehwag in full cry would have creamed the England pace attack. I think India should have included ojha, Rahul Sharma in the spin for the ODI's. Rahul with fast, accurate & bouncy leg breaks would have been handful. Ojha is more accurate than Jadeja, who caused so many problems to the English batsmen in the third ODI. Furthermore England is weak against leg spinners. So India missed this chance.Aeron should at least have been tried instead of serving drinks. Parthiv should have been WK & Dhoni fielding.Even with the present team India can do better with slight tinkering. Talent is there but never used properly - Proper selection committee is crucial for this.

  • Ayush on September 10, 2011, 21:35 GMT

    The title is spot on this time. But Harsha, I must say that the article and title do not match. Anyways it is good to see that you are not only quashing the BCCI this time. BCCI may be at fault, but talent in players is much more important than that. See Australia's methods not working after McGrath and Warne. See West Indies falling after their good players gone. Methods are only secondary. See IITs and IIMs. They are what they are because of the talent that goes there. Their methods and infrastructure are not the best in the world obviously.

  • Anny on September 10, 2011, 20:03 GMT

    sreenath Arvind -------------------

    wickets in ipl2011 - 21 strike rate in ipl2011- 13.1 econrate in ipl2011 -8.0

    this says few things: Arvind has a strike rate better than malinga,aswin and bollinger in ipl2011 zaheer's presence with a young indian bowler is priceless Indian selectors are not fair,Arvind has taken 68 wickets in 20 first class matches in the flat wickets of India Arvind was picked for India emerging players but didnt get a single match and varun aaron,unadkat,vinaykumar,umesh yadav get matches ahead of him.

    i think the selectors should go with Arvind,unadkat,varun,umesh,aswin,amit for home series against England

  • Dummy4 on September 10, 2011, 18:30 GMT

    I think india's pitches n conditions were the main reason behind the lack of quality fast bowlers for india who can bowl above 90mph.We have only mohali as a pitch which assists pace bowling.Most of the tracks in india are still belters n they always give nightmares to our bowlers.It is the time for BCCI to think about the changes needed in playing conditions in india keeping in mind 2015 cricket worldcup to be hosted by oz n nz.

  • Lakmal on September 10, 2011, 18:01 GMT

    It's unbelievable that India can't find out a good fast bowler out of 1 billion people.(OK.everyone are not interested in cricket)

  • J on September 10, 2011, 15:47 GMT

    Pick a pair of good fast strike bowlers and give them ample opportunities, guidance and let them learn their skills. Currently Varun Aaron and Umesh Yadav appear to fit the bill and they should be in the team.

  • Salman on September 10, 2011, 11:53 GMT

    This is indeed a testament to the Indian disaster itself - an unprecedented reality check, that out of the shambolic ruins of the tour has emerged a flicker of spark and light to kindle Harsha's hopes and that too from someone who has been at the periphery of the team and had nothing to do with the mauling received from English in the Test Series. Harsha should also come down like a ton of bricks on the IPL pantomime and circus which has made Indian cricket team a laughing stock of the world - so spectacular has been their humbling, and so meek has been their capitulation. That Tendulkar has now gone off citing a toe inflammation (contrast that to the Pak skipper who played on in a victorious WC campaign despite shoulder problems by taking cortison injections), in the wake of Tendulkar failing his billion fans so miserably - a huge quantum of fans which was looking forward to a decent display and all they got was a horrific display in spite of some lucky lbw escapes.

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