August 17, 2012

India's bowling cupboard is empty, not thinly stocked

Worse, no one seems to want to do something about it

India's recent team selections have been a lot like the Indian finance minister's recent budget speeches. Much was expected, much was possible, a new road map could have been put in place (as the business channels would have put it) but you got the feeling that, like Pranab Mukherjee, Krishnamachari Srikkanth was saying goodbye too. This was a handover selection, one characterised by leaving the big decisions to someone else. It happens in public life all the time, though, doesn't it?

Not taking a stance can be harmful. Teams, like economies, cannot plod along at a barely acceptable rate of growth. If India want to be No. 1 again (and I am assuming that that objective isn't gathering dust somewhere) then you need to take bold steps. Part of that is making a place in the Indian team aspirational, not something that you turn up after a break and find waiting for you.

That is why, for all of Ishant Sharma's innate ability, he should have been made to prove that he is ready to play; he ought to have done the hard yards, run through a Ranji Trophy team, and then forced the selectors to look at him. He hasn't played a game for months, has had surgery, and as everyone knows, you don't prove your match fitness by turning up for a couple of practice games. Worse still, how were the selectors convinced that he earns a place even at full fitness? His last year-odd has produced 21 wickets from 11 games at an average of 68 in largely helpful conditions. In terms of experience, with 45 Tests he is now only next to Kapil Dev, Zaheer Khan and Javagal Srinath, and has played more Tests than some of India's greats. The message going out to a young man who is desperately short of fulfilling his undoubted promise is that the team is just waiting for him to be fit and that they really can't do without him. Ishant himself would have been far better served fighting his way back. It's a poor selection. And we haven't even come to Piyush Chawla yet.

Chawla had a decent IPL at best, and stumbled when the pressure rose. You would need an advocate of great skill to win his case to be in the T20 side; and, to be honest, he would struggle to find someone to take on the job in the case of Test cricket. As Aakash Chopra - a sane voice India should use more - points out, Chawla took 27 wickets in first class cricket last year at 40.62 per wicket. It is like setting the bar to one metre to pick a high jump team. I don't even remember seeing his name in an India A team recently.

If this is the best bowling team India can pick, I would like the BCCI to get into an emergency meeting and appoint detectives to search for bowlers. I had thought all along that India's cupboard was thinly stocked. I can now announce that it is officially bare. There are no bowlers in India. We had anticipated this but didn't think the day would come so quickly.

I don't know what is worse, the absence of bowlers in India or the absence of any intent at all in looking for them. I keep coming back to what an organisation's priorities are. The BCCI is a well-evolved, financially savvy body. The IPL, and for that matter most cricket in India, is fairly efficiently organised, and the legal and financial acumen is outstanding. Look how quickly they moved to tackle a huge potential problem with the Deccan Chargers.

But there is a major fire raging around Indian cricket and I do not see anyone rushing to do anything about it. There are just no spinners, and the new-ball bowlers, like seasonal flowers, wither away, never to return. If Indian cricket has thrown up Sreesanth, RP Singh, Munaf Patel, Praveen Kumar, Varun Aaron, Ashish Nehra and Parwinder Awana, it means new-ball bowlers exist; but the mortality rates are too high. Currently the only people worried about that seem to be columnists! Indian cricket needs the alacrity shown on issues like television rights and franchise defaults to apply in areas like nurturing bowling as well. Without that, the No. 1 spot will never return.

There are many other issues. The A team tours, thoughtful in theory, are being marred by roulette-style selections. I do not believe any country can have more than 25 players capable of playing at the highest level; even that is a stretch. The best 15 should be in the national side and the next 15 on A tours, and it stays that way till someone comes to knock the door down. But there is no pattern at the moment, or if there is, it is a deeply complex code that none of us can crack.

By end 2013, India may be without the services of some or all of Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Zaheer Khan, Virender Sehwag and MS Dhoni. If three of those remain, India should be happy, but it also means that replacement players must start finding their feet around now. Maybe that is for a new set of selectors to do. Whoever they are, I would love to sneak in and look at their notepads for a things-to-do list. I greatly fear I know what I would find on it.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ashok on August 20, 2012, 21:11 GMT

    @Jay57870:Pl. do not Shoot the Messenger Harsha - He is merely stating the facts. What have the BCCI & the Selectors jointly done after the poor showing of the Indian Team to drop it from #1 to #5 spot? What is the real reason behind the Indian Team's downfall? You don't blame the batting when there is No Test Class Bowler in the Indian team. Take South African team - they have better Seamers + superior batting than England. Hence the over whelming 2-0 series win. Every Cricket team needs to have excellent bowling, Batting & Fielding to be the World #1. If they do not, the BCCI & the Selectors should put their heads together to see the "Big Picture" & fill in the missing needs of the team. Brits admitted their short comings at the Lords as dropped catches + poor top batting, which is true - clearly they admitted missing KP. I ask You Sir Why doesn't the richest Cricket Board in the World, BCCI, replenish its Empty Cupboard to meet the Team's needs instead of doing Nothing - Eh?

  • Jay on August 20, 2012, 16:50 GMT

    Harsha - It's become fashionable to blame selectors & boards for stinky problems: England for dropping KP & public circus; Australia for shaky batting lineup; India for "empty cupboard"! Only just-crowned SA is unscathed for the time being. Dissing selectors for failure is easy, because it's the popular thing to do: Hype! But it obscures a stark reality: Competition's been fairly even the past few years. Dynasties are long gone. Upstarts have erupted: Pak in the top 5; SL always a threat & WI vastly improved. As the Bard wisely proclaimed (long before England's coronation as cricket's top dog): "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown"! Watch that shaky crown switch heads at the coronation at Lord's today! Nothing to be ashamed of: The Brits put on a Jolly Good Show at London 2012! All those medals. So why not in cricket? Put the top 3 on the podium: SA - gold, Eng - silver; Oz - bronze! Spread the wealth! Spare the selectors & BCCI a thought: At least the coffers are full, Harsha!!

  • Binoj on August 20, 2012, 14:39 GMT

    I don't understand why Ishant Sharma gets selected again and again? Most of the times I see him spraying balls around without any plan or target or troubling the batsmen in the process. I feel that Munaf Patel bowls more on target and ask some questions to batsmen than him.

  • Vinodkumar on August 20, 2012, 3:59 GMT

    Atlease I was hoping after all men Srikant could have served indian cricket better but oh gosh! he is serving temilnaadu and his son only sadly :( I think Kapil deserves a chance now!! but BCCI.... :(

  • Dummy4 on August 20, 2012, 0:29 GMT

    @coolitbaby .................FACTS & STATISTICS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS OF Mr. XYZ.......................................In WC 2011 avg score against Ind was by far highest among all other teams despite all WC matches being played on Asian flat pitches........Statistically Indian bowling stats are world's worst for past 1 year with ER of 5.4 as opposed to 4.7 of Ban & 5.0 of Sl who also play on flat tracks............ @coolitbaby Now since ER of team is world's worst, that can be either due to lack of skill in bowling or due to poor field placements ...........Any kid can tell that currently Indian bowling skill-wise is certainly better than at least Ban & equivalent to that of Sl ..........Hence the problem must be with field placing by rule of elimination...Who plans field placement strategy ?? Ans. CAPTAIN...........Hence Indian captain is world worst captain in terms of field placements & bowling strategy......PERIOD!

  • sam on August 19, 2012, 4:17 GMT

    Piyush Chawla is not much better than a club bowler. Has a good googly and nothing much else. Zero control. Should never play test cricket as he is not a bowler of international quality (Bangladesh second spinners are much better). Ishant's problem is different. Ishant should play county cricket before playing test cricket. His length (and sometimes line) has been his biggest problem. Very few balls on a good length on and around off stump. Either too short or too full. Ok Irfan Pathan. Should not play test cricket, unless he is played as an all-rounder and 5th bowler in England, NZ, SA and Australia in only those pitches which are not flat. On form, Irfan is a very good ODI and T20 player. India must try Parvinder Awana and Shami Ahmed. You do not know how good someone is unless you try him. I heard Shami Ahmed was bowling 87 mph (140 kph) even in his last spell in WI for A team and was the only standout performer along with Pujara on that tour. Deserves a chance.

  • Mohan on August 19, 2012, 3:49 GMT

    The selection seems to be quota selection 2 from U.P, 2 from Hyderabad,2 from Punjab,2 from Maharastra(or Mumbai),2 from Delhi(+2 openers already fixed),1 from Gujarat(or Saurastra),1 from M.P,1 from Jharkhand.The selectors seemed to take no bashing from state boards.Other boards are satisfied by picking their players in India A squad.Selectors followed an age-old selection policy and bade good-bye(or rather bad bye).Merit and potentials are taken into account,performances are given next preference.Missing Irfan Pathan was a biggest debate.

  • Chatty on August 19, 2012, 2:06 GMT

    The problem for India, just like for SL and Bangladesh, is to do with the physique of fast bowlers. I rarely see naturally athletic fast bowlers in these countries, unlike in Aus (such as Lee) and SA (such as Styne). It is a lot to do with life style and diet - too many samosas - too little protein! Perhaps SL is better. But even there, good fast bowlers such as Malinga are prone to injury, way too quickly.

  • Cool on August 19, 2012, 0:54 GMT

    @Legend_of_All_Times You are probably confusing India with your country the MIGHTY Bangladesh. Just the mention of Bangladesh strikes fears in opponents hearts I am sure. LMAO.

  • Sharif on August 18, 2012, 23:13 GMT

    I think Ordinary team India should withdraw themselves from playing Test Cricket for some period of time and should play against the Associate Members as well as ICC Trophy instead, so that India's Poorest Bowlers may have got some opportunities to grow their confidence level high enough to compete with Test Nations. Its really Harming Cricket Finance when Indian team go to England-Australia and send the Spectators back home from Ground by getting Defeated within 3-4 Days. ICC must intervene in this Issue.

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