February 17, 2012

Better bowlers, better Test team

India are much better at one-dayers than at Tests because 50-overs cricket allows you to win with good batting and ordinary bowling. Unless that changes, they'll remain limited-overs tigers and five-day sheep

It should come as no surprise that India are doing much better over 50 overs than over five days in Australia. It is the form India play best and the reasons are not too difficult to see. India are not too bad, as we saw even in the Tests in England and Australia, over short bursts. Maintaining that quality over longer periods is a different skill, and like peace in the modern world, it is a bit scarce in India at the moment.

Most of it has to do with the quality of bowling. In Test cricket wickets have to be earned by inducing mistakes. In the one-day game, batsmen will take chances and mis-hits will result far more frequently, a bowler can have a number other than zero in the last column of his bowling figures without bowling the unplayable ball. R Vinay Kumar knows that well. He rarely bowls balls that have batsmen up in the middle of the night, and so in the Perth Test he looked like he had strayed into the wrong park. In the one-dayers he does just enough, his slower balls and wide-ish yorkers work well.

And so in a one-day international a combination of good batting and ordinary bowling can win you a game. That is unlikely in Tests, where, if at all, ordinary batting and good bowling is a better combination to possess. You saw that in the World Cup, where Yuvraj Singh emerged as an excellent bowling option and provided the team the balance it so needed; something he could scarcely do in a Test match.

You can see, too, that Dhoni is far more comfortable manipulating his bowlers in a one-day game. He can pinch a couple of overs here, three or four there, and get by. One-day captaincy is much more about instinct and short-term rewards, which we in India are naturally adept at extracting. We see opportunities quickly, we rush in, we are satisfied. A space opens up in a crowded local train and we edge in there, a new counter opens at a bus station and we are first in the new queue; our eyes are forever darting around looking for an opening because if we miss it we may not get another. As a wonderfully instinctive person who has his wits around him, Dhoni revels in these conditions. A five-day game is more like booking your ticket early and reserving a seat rather than charging around looking for one.

Maybe if he had a better bowling attack in Test cricket, he would lead differently. In the last eight Tests India have been very poor with the ball (as indeed with the bat, but that is a relatively easier solution to find). Dhoni has had no incisors; at best he has had molars, and he has looked lost. Fifty overs have come and gone without a change of innings.

But until India learns to celebrate bowling, this will continue. Till the production process becomes more rigorous, this will continue. I have been looking at Ashok Dinda's figures in domestic cricket and they are exciting. Sourav Ganguly thinks he is the best fast bowler in India. But how do we judge him if the batsmen he dismisses don't look like they will dominate him? Till he, or for that matter any young bowler, gets to bowl to quality opposition in domestic cricket, he will have to learn his craft in Test matches. Like Umesh Yadav is. And that is why I keep going on about the structure of domestic cricket. A Mercedes doesn't emerge from raw material of unknown quality. It becomes a Mercedes because of the rigour it is put through. For India to become a dominant Test nation and not just a good one-day cricket team, bowling will have to be a priority, and that cannot happen with the existing structure.

And so India will continue to do well in forms of cricket that require short, instinctive jabs, and will continue to struggle in forms that need discipline and sustained performance. Is that a reflection of the policy planning and execution on the Indian political landscape - short-term jabs rather than long-term plans?

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Sagir on February 20, 2012, 22:27 GMT

    spot on Harsha.... well written and agree with you wholeheartedly !

  • Naresh on February 20, 2012, 14:27 GMT

    very well put by @MIDDLESTUMP. The mountains of runs scored by opposition against India only shows where our weakness is. I read an article on ATUL SHARMA - pace bowler who could be refined to bowl really quick. His fit as well. india's problem seems to be with lack of stamina by our pace bowlers - we need at least quality two playing.

  • Naresh on February 20, 2012, 14:12 GMT

    @here2rock - I feel Indian pace bowlers do not have stamina to last in tests. They prefer the ODI where they are still fresh. @shezhad we won this last world cup all teams were there. We also finished runners up in SA in 2003. In tests we need early wickets otherwise we wilt in the field and then this impinges on the batsman.

  • Dummy4 on February 20, 2012, 13:01 GMT

    If we have competitive pitches in Domestic arenas - it will breed both good batsman and good bowlers. Ashok Dinda has been brilliant this season on "Dead Flat track" pitches. he generated pace bounce and unplayable deliveries. Its high time new pace trio - Umesh Yadav, Varon Arun and Ashok Dinda given full time chances in Test Matches.

  • Kaushik on February 19, 2012, 14:07 GMT

    if bowling is so important, why is harsha missing the obvious point? viz. if you don't have quality, then use quantity. tests are won by taking 20 wickets. why do we never play 5 bowlers in tests? it is the foundational move that has to be made if we are to become a competitive test side. yet we are too busy protecting our "champion" batsmen, that we feel the need to provide insurance in our strong suit and then lament about our bowling weakness. in australia, ashwin should have been batting at 7 and ojha should have been playing throughout the series - it would have been a different ball game then. part of the problem of course is that dhoni knows he is not good enough to bat at 6 in tests, and so playing 5 bowlers will expose him even more than he has been already. we need dhoni out, need to give dinesh karthik a proper run (as the only keeper in india who has proven himself as a top order test bat), and start playing ashwin as a regular no. 7.

  • Hari on February 19, 2012, 12:24 GMT

    As pointed out by most people, I think Harsha got it wrong this time. India has over the past few years succeeded because of the fabulous batting starting with Sehwag and of course the Fab middle order. Now while, we have some comparable bowling talents, I cant see batsmen coming through to replace these guys. Its time for Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman to go, but who will replace them??

  • Dummy4 on February 19, 2012, 5:48 GMT

    I always remain surprised; why India can not produce good bowlers and Pakistan good batsmen :(

  • Kuldeep on February 19, 2012, 5:48 GMT

    Shehzad, it takes more than just winning two ODIs in row to win the world cup. India is the only hosting country to win it; it shows their determination in the shorter form of the game. They were simply the best in the last world cup played. They just lack willingness and planning in Test Matches. India doesn't need a coach but they need a strategic planner in the support team to realise their full potential.

  • Dummy4 on February 19, 2012, 0:32 GMT

    ahem.. tigers..lol, at best india is average in ODIs.winning WC doesn't mean much, you have to win 2 ODIs in succession to win the WC.

  • Kuldeep on February 18, 2012, 21:32 GMT

    It is no surprise that India has performed better at the shorter form of the game. Since the introduction of IPL the emphasis has shifted from Test Matches to the limited form of the game. There is always news that who has the biggest IPL contract or what team has been kicked out the tournament. The welfare of the Test Team is not on BCCI's priority list. Why would they care? Some of the members of BCCI have invested interest in IPL. India is the only country where you can get away with conflict of interest. Plus India had poor planning for the tour, poor sections and lack of skilful leadership from Dhoni. Irfan should have been part of the test matches, he is a must for overseas trips, and he gives the team much needed balance. India must play two practice matches at Brisbane and WACA against proper State teams before the test matches, not meaningless matches at Canberra. Australia is not a place to try things, and you need to be test ready. They should not be frindly practice matches

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