March 15, 2012

The quest for three bowlers

Forget replacing Dravid; if India can find three world-class Test bowlers instead, they'll do very well for themselves

As a nation, India can't help but be driven by personalities. After the retirement of Rahul Dravid, everyone seems caught up in trying to find who his successor at No. 3 will be. For all you know, Indian cricket will never find anyone.

But you know what: it does not matter. If in the next two decades, India find three world-class bowlers instead, they may well win more matches than they have ever done; four batsmen averaging around 45 runs per innings and three bowlers averaging under 30, with a good strike rate, will win India plenty of Tests.

For the last decade or so India had four extraordinary batsmen playing for them at the same time. Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Dravid and VVS Laxman were undisputed stalwarts. (And don't forget Sourav Ganguly too.) They had outstanding records and their heroics did not come only at home. Laxman and Sehwag may have had a bad run of late overseas, but one should not forget that these two have played some great innings in other parts of the world. There have been very few instances in the history of Test cricket where a national team has boasted this kind of batting wealth at one time in a playing XI.

Having said this, why was India's Test record not as great as their strength in batting may have led one to expect? The obvious answer is that their bowling in that period has not been as rich as the batting.

India started to earn respect as a Test team when they began to post improved performances overseas after 2000, culminating in their becoming the No. 1 side in Test cricket. But even in their prime, India had never beaten Australia or South Africa away. The great No. 1 teams of the past who ruled world cricket for a length of time, like West Indies and Australia, went into the backyards of strong teams and hammered them in front of their home crowds. When you do this, you are not just ranked No. 1 in the computer rankings but also in the minds and hearts of the world's cricket followers. Australia and West Indies could do this because, along with good batting, they had terrific bowling attacks as well.

India will always have enough batting capital, and that is because Indians love to bat! I see this every time there are open trials held to select junior teams: the talent scouts ask the kids to form two groups, one for batsmen and the other for bowlers, and the batting group is always much bigger than the bowling one. India may not get replacements for the Dravids and Tendulkars, but because of this love for batting over bowling and fielding, there will always be decent batsmen coming through the ranks. Finding good bowlers is the challenge for India to stay at the top of world cricket.

It may seem like quite a hindrance, but it's not impossible for India to have three world-class bowlers playing at one time, like they had the four batsmen. And these need not necessarily be three fast bowlers; there could be a couple of spinners in there. Australia and South Africa are havens for fast bowlers, but after day three in a Test match - a critical stage - there is enough in their pitches too for a quality spinner to win a game for his side.

In overseas conditions, there is spin in the pitch - just not as readily available as in India. It has to be extracted, and for that there needs to be more "strength" behind every ball, which means the whole body has to go through the grind, not just the fingers and bowling arm

R Ashwin is a good recent example of an Indian spinner who did not quite make the same impact in Australia as he did at home, and that has been the general story, with a few exceptions, of Indian spinners overseas. When Nathan Lyon and Ashwin were seen together in the Adelaide Test match, it was clear to see that for those conditions Lyon was a better offspinner than Ashwin. In India, though, Ashwin will be in a completely different league and Lyon will watch in awe.

The important thing for Indian spinners to become effective in all conditions is for them to learn to use more than just their fingers and bowling arm. In overseas conditions there is spin in the pitch - just not as readily available as in India. It has to be extracted, and for that there needs to be more "strength" behind every ball, which means the whole body has to go through the grind, not just the fingers and bowling arm. To do this it also becomes imperative that you are strong and fit as a cricketer, with strong legs.

Any bowler can account for this need on his own by adopting a separate training programme for himself while playing in India. Playing stints in county cricket in England and local cricket in Australia will force him to do this as well.

It's no different for Indian seamers too. How often did we see in Australia a pitch that failed to respond to Indian seamers come alive when the big, strong Aussie bowlers had a go? Just running in and releasing the ball - which seems to be the natural style of many Indian seam bowlers - is not enough to get life out of foreign pitches, even though those are supposed to aid fast bowling.

While commentating for Sky Sports in England last year, I did a split-screen comparison of James Anderson and Sreesanth, both of whom rely more on seam movement than pace. The effort at the time of delivery that Anderson was putting behind his stock ball was clearly far greater than that of Sreesanth, who seemed to just run in and release the ball without straining too much.

Till Indian seamers do not get stronger and fitter, they will just not be able to put the amount of effort needed to find life in pitches that are not very lively. Even for a swing bowler bowling at 135kph, if there is a stronger body and a strong wrist behind the ball, the difference is magical. It's the difference between finding the edge and a batsman making a last-minute adjustment to play the ball with the middle of the bat.

Indian cricket needs someone to keep pushing bowlers to the next level, and frequent stints outside the subcontinent while not on international duty would really help. Granted, there are fewer kids in India who want to bowl, but let's be thankful there are some at least. India needs to make the most of them and give them more attention than ever. More than looking for the next No. 3, India need to begin their quest for three world-class bowlers instead. With Dravid gone, there is even more reason to.

Former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar is a cricket commentator and presenter on TV. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on March 17, 2012, 15:15 GMT

    Indian lack of spin bowlers may be genetic. Watched a doci India apparently have the smallest amount of genetic devaiation of any polulation group over 100million. This is because of the isolation due to the mountains and a possible volcano that whiped out almost 90% of people in the subcontinent. Pakistan on the other hand have a lot more genetic variation due to all the wars and travel that have gone through the area. Same with South Africa which is a mish mash of all european peoples not to mention the genetic material from all the other races present and produce top pace men. West indies sad history of slavery reulted in only the very strongest surviving and allowed to reporoduce hence the tall fast bolwers.

    Just a theory.

  • theo on March 17, 2012, 15:13 GMT

    Great article, and it seems to make alot of sense. The WI sides of old prided themselves on their bowlers probably more then their batsmen.. likewise, Aus had McGrath, Warne, Lee in their prime. SA now have Steyn, Morkel, Philander... England have some good bowlers, which is why these 2 teams are at the top of their games currently.

  • malkeet on March 17, 2012, 4:41 GMT

    yes it is for everone to see that our bowling has been of poor standards...but u have talked of stong arms and fitness...forgot about simple basic things of bowling good line and length....which our bowlers somehow never do....remember that zaheer first over in world cup 2003......our bowlers dont stick to basics.........secondly u r true that india should look to get good bowlers.....but WHO IS GOING TO DO IT?????? BCCI--- LOOKS TO ONLY MAKE MONEY FROM EVENTS LIKE IPL WHERE CROWDS COME TO SEE BIG HITTING BATTING...... SELECTORS--WE ALL KNOW WHAT A BIG BUNCH OF JOKERS THEY ARE......... PLAYERS----WHY WOULD THEY LOOK TO IMPROVE IF THEY R EARNING LARGE AMOUNTS OF MONEY FROM IPL BY DOING LITTLE HARD WORK.........AND ABOVE ALL FANS.....WE AS FANS ARE ALSO HAPPY TO SEE POWER HITTING IN IPL AND MAKE SUPERSTARS OUT OF THIS EVENT ONLY.......COACHES.....WHAT R THEY DOING??????????????

  • imran on March 17, 2012, 4:10 GMT

    pak has constantly produced great fast bowlers lyk sarfaraz, imran, wasim, waqar, shoaib, asif, aamir etc...and d pitch conditions in pak are similar to india....i dun undrstnd y india cant produce even one quality fast bowler....maybe bcoz in india nobody wants 2 be a fast bowler...evry1 just want 2 bat...but in pakistan evry kid wants to become imran, wasim, waqar and shoaib...etc

  • imran on March 16, 2012, 18:48 GMT

    India Loose against Bangladesh despite a Century of CENTURIES from 10dolkar.What a Humilation,they only play for money and personal quests not for their country. Go home and play some matches against Aghanistan,Ireland and other associates to get some form

  • Dummy4 on March 16, 2012, 15:23 GMT

    once i thought Pathan, Ishanth, sreesanth will evolve into world class test bowlers but it didnt!!!! we should develop pitches suitable for fast bowlers.

  • Dummy4 on March 16, 2012, 13:52 GMT

    Neither Lyon nor Ashwin were effective as bowlers. All the balls looked straight, they hardly spun the ball. Ishant Sharma is clearly not a test class bowler, cant seam or swing so took very few wickets even in pace friendly conditions in England & Oz. No point blaming Irfan's lack of pace if neither Zaheer nor Praveen hardly ever clear 135 km. Zak's 1st ball every over is 128 km. The great hopes are Aaron & Yadav. The no 3 has already been found, obviously it's Kohli.

  • arvind on March 16, 2012, 12:18 GMT

    One thing that gets completely missed out is that the mentoring of Indian fast bowlers is extremely poor unlike in Pakistan in the Imran and to some extent Akram days. We saw that with Srinath and Zaheer who took seven-eight years to learn to bowl the right length and now we see that with Ishant. Ishant bowled very well in England in the first two tests and in patches in the first couple of tests in Australia.However, he consistently bowled to fields that were not set to his strengths. A predominantly inswing bowler cant be bowling to the same field as an outswing bowler. The other fundamental issue is whether the Indian bowlers are amenable to being coached at alll. We hear the clinical way in which the Australian bowlers executed Mcdermott's plan and this when he has just now taken over. We find no improvement or steady deterioration in the Indian bowlers and them having no plan B at all.

  • Dru on March 16, 2012, 9:51 GMT

    I think the PITCH is the single biggest factor (wonder what they prepare in Pakistan though!) as bowling captain tends to use the fast bowler to get the shine off and then operate with the spinner as the focul point of the attack. Looking for seam movement or bounc is not really an option if there isnt any so you dont develop the skills to extract it even when its available which is why I beleive in Eng, the Indian seamers looked pop-gun compared to the English. The best example of my point is Philander from SA. This is not a big fast bowler who bowls at 145+ and bounces you out or swings it both ways. He has crafted seam movement to the highest level. He has mastered the skill of extracting what is available because the conditions were condusive for him to master these skills.

  • Amjad on March 16, 2012, 9:35 GMT

    Three world class fast bowlers of the quality of lets say wasim, waqar and shoaib, as a cricket fan if India can find such bowlers would be amazing but looks like a distant dream and the other thing that India is a batting country or Indians prefer better batsmen over better bowlers is a no brainer, Wasim Akram is as popular and admired in India just as he is in Pakistan, imagine if wasim Akram was from India he would have been worshiped over there in India.

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