January 19, 2013

Swing to win, India

Bowlers who can make the ball talk are what India should be looking to unearth

When Rahul Dravid retired from Test cricket, I remember saying that instead of fussing over who would be the new No. 3 to fill Dravid's big boots, India needed to find three world-class bowlers instead.

A strong batting side can save Test matches but a good bowling attack will win them for you. Pakistan are a good example. When they were a winning team under Imran Khan, they were one of the few to challenge West Indies in their prime. Pakistan did not have a world-class batting line-up - Javed Miandad was more or less the only batting great they had, with an average of over 50 - but they had truly world-class bowling.

Granted, India's batting on current form is a serious worry, but I still think the selectors and those holding the reins of Indian cricket need to be scouting for bowling talent.

India has a strong, deep-rooted batting culture, and they will keep getting top-class batsmen along the line, without trying. It is a land where a Sunil Gavaskar retires in 1987 and a Sachin Tendulkar arrives in 1989. This, however, is not the case with Indian bowlers. They need all the help they can get to become viable international bowlers, for they are trying to emerge from a batting culture.

With Laxman and Dravid gone, and Tendulkar and Sehwag to follow, I know a lot of people are worried about India's batting, and rightly so, but if India are to regain that No. 1, spot and stay there longer this time, they have to find better bowlers than they had last time.

Just one Zaheer Khan is not going to be enough. And finding three world-class bowlers in a batting-friendly environment is not going to be easy; in fact, it will be very tough, and all focus, ideas and energies will need to be diverted to that one goal.

Four weeks ago, after the home series loss to England, I was quite pessimistic about Indian cricket's future. Yes, India's batting had failed once more, but it was the bowling that depressed me more. But today I feel slightly different and that is because of the arrival of Bhuvneshwar Kumar.

Not for a moment am I suggesting that India have found a sensational bowling talent who will single-handedly take them right back to the top in Tests. All I am saying is that with a little work on him, by someone who really knows about bowling swing on the subcontinent, he can be a good Test seam bowler in all conditions.

What really excites me is that Bhuvneshwar is not a freak talent who has come through the Indian domestic circuit, one who cannot be replicated. In fact, he can be the seam-bowling prototype for others to follow and for Indian cricket to invest in.

He is a bowler with a natural Indian bowling action (not one modelled on the Australian pace manual), who bowls at a decent pace, around 135, swings it both ways, bowls it full, and critically, is a good athlete.

Granted, India's batting on current form is a serious worry, but I still think the selectors and those holding the reins of Indian cricket need to be scouting for bowling talent

Bhuvneshwar's impressive skills suggest that India with its dead pitches and its triple-centurion batsmen can still produce fine bowlers, and that makes me hopeful about the future of Indian seam bowling. With three improved versions of the current Bhuvneshwar, India may have a bowling attack that can take 20 wickets overseas.

And this is not just an ex-cricketer's fantasy; I am convinced that with the right guidance this can become a reality. I have seen a couple of young bowlers in domestic cricket who are in the Bhuvneshwar Kumar mould: Siddarth Kaul of Punjab and Ishwar Pandey of Madhya Pradesh look like they belong in the same genre. Talk to a few senior batsmen in domestic cricket, like Amol Muzumdar and Aakash Chopra, and they may have two more names for you.

It is interesting to look at all the major overseas Indian triumphs after 1980: the 1983 World Cup win, the mini World Cup win in Australia in 1985, the Test series win in England in 1986, Leeds 2002, Adelaide 2003, Wanderers 2006, Nottingham 2007, Perth 2008, and Durban 2010. You will find that the bowlers who made the important match-winning contributions were Kapil Dev, Roger Binny, Madan Lal, Chetan Sharma, Zaheer Khan, RP Singh, Ajit Agarkar, RP Singh and Sreesanth: all typical Indian medium-pacers, who bowled it full and swung it around - none express, and none a spinner.

Batsmen around the world today hit the ball harder than ever before, but they are also more susceptible when the ball is pitched up and it swings late than batsmen of earlier generations were. This is India's chance to seize, to find bowlers who do just that. If an Umesh Yadav comes along, bowling at 145, that is a bonus, but it would be more pragmatic for India to look for more bowlers like Bhuvneshwar.

And yes, come what may, do not allow them to cut down on their swing so as to try to bowl quicker. Make them feel proud to be swing bowlers, or else India may be left with more bowlers like Irfan Pathan, who, in the endeavour to get faster, lost his precious, god-gifted swing.

With the disappointing spinning talent coming through these days, maybe it's time for Indian cricket to move away from spin and to make swing the new king.

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

  • G on January 22, 2013, 16:45 GMT

    Well written Sanjay. Yes, I remember reading the article you wrote after Dravid's retirement about good bowlers being the need of the hour and that good batsman always happen for India - I thought well he has got it right. I feel so again. I was pretty impressed with Bhuvaneshwar Kumar in his first ODI. I remember being disappointing at MS Dhoni implying in post match conference that pitch aided Bhuvaneshwar's mode of bowling ("and hence the wickets"). It's well and good to not let success get to head of a young pacer, but he should have been more positive (he's pretty happy with Ravindra Jadeja's success as No.7 and he shows it - as he should). What ever help BK got from the pitch, it was his first ODI and you could see that you have a thinking bowler on hand. And YES, add pace if you can while keeping swing. Indian cricket must also realize that bits-and-pieces players can't win Test matches (not everyone is a Dhoni who makes up lack of technique with guts and talent in other areas).

  • prashant on January 22, 2013, 11:39 GMT

    come next IPL and bhuwanesh kumar will be in the same category as praveen and others are after watching him initiallt lets not make so mush noise around him let him play till the time he is playing good and wait and watch until he retires

  • Alex on January 21, 2013, 23:50 GMT

    Every indian bowler when he bowled in first few test , we thought we found the answer , Sreesanth , Ishant sharma , Yadav ...etc. Problem is not the fitness , its because when you are young , Everything fresh. Once you started to put real force on ankles and joints when you bowl for india. People put 120% of their capacity to show they belong in top tier. Body do not like that. It just eat away good stuff around the bones , no replenishment coming without meat diet and gym habit. Body needs recovery and replenishment at right places. Without serious weight lifiting. One of the thing is this , you can't force people to do things. It will be never successful. Socialism is flawed. Money could be motivation but if batsman make money easy way why anyone wants to be a bowler?. I do think if you get 5 wickets in a Test it needs special reward money equivalent to a 100runs. That way bowlers get selected hit the gym not drink beer and party after each game like batsman does.

  • Ashok on January 21, 2013, 19:16 GMT

    Sanjay, I again emphasise that India is overflowing with talent but the selection process is flawed. The Selectors should be given 1. The Selection critieria to be Current Form, Fitness & Performance record 2. Total current stats. of top 10 Batsmen & top 10 bowlers 3. Team of XI to be given to the Captain + 3 Reserves. 4. The Captain + Coach should be involved in the Selection of the Team & reserves. Based on this selected team, the Captain & players should be made fully accountable for their performance in grading contracts- Grade A,B,C . The current seat- of- the- pant selection process with zero accountability & lack of penalties is badly eroding the Team India's record. Indian team is selected with no basis at all, leaving many deserving guys frustrated. Domestic Cricket (Ranji matches) was always the basis of selection in the past. Now the Ranji record is totally ignored.Spinners & seamers with most wkts. are not even on the radar & the same goes for batsmen.Let Us get Real!

  • Ritvik on January 21, 2013, 16:00 GMT

    Dhawal Kulkarni is worth a mention. Can swing the ball quite a bit. Maybe, along with Sreesanth, Ishant, Umesh and..Zak at his fittest best..India stand more than a modicum of chance in making positive news in the pace department.

    Vinay Kumar, Praveen, Bhuvneshwar, Irfan etc..are new ball heroes suitable for limited-overs..whose effectiveness with the red ball may last only as long as the shine on it

  • ganesh on January 21, 2013, 12:30 GMT

    Game of cricket is harder on bowlers, with runs from edges,over throw,misfield,drop catch and not given outs it would be very tough for a bowler who have to prove himself within a 5 or 10 overs span, not mention the IPL batsman always make the bowlers pay, Selectors have to look in to Ranji performances and restrain the IPL negatives, I thank Sanjay that he didnt mention Vinay Kumar as a fast or swing bowler joginder sharma also.

  • valiyakath on January 21, 2013, 10:47 GMT

    The best new ball bowlers at present in the world is james anderson speed@138 and swing because of his early breakthroughs england spinners where very effective in india series, and reverse swing when the ball gets old he showed his world class attributes. and Dale steyn who also swings the new ball at great pace. So bhuvi to be effective in test cricket has to bowl at 138km pace coz when the bowl gets old to be effective you have to be master of reverse swing at it should be bowled at good pace. or else he will follow in the foot step of praveen kumar.

  • Naresh on January 21, 2013, 9:22 GMT

    I agree with nampally - the BOWLING is more of a concern than batting. BCCI should ensure that a pool of bowlers are created and are compensated for for being in that pool. Wear and tear on bowlers is quite a lot and care is needed. ZAKS may be finished but BCCI should continue to remunerate him for at least two years more.

  • sahir on January 21, 2013, 7:03 GMT

    we should not put pressure on someone who has not even played 5 matches so far.we had glimpse of fast bowling sensations before like sreesant & munaf in carribean test, nehra in odi, agarkar, rp singh,, irfan,pkumar,ishant n the names go on but how many of them were able to do it consistently...i hope bhuwanesh is not one of them...but putting pressure on him is not fair for the young lad.let him enjoy his bowling.i do hope umesh,varun,bhuwanesh,shami,ishant should make up a decent if not lethal attack. if this doesn't happen, its a serious mistake of bcci officials

  • valiyakath on January 21, 2013, 3:12 GMT

    A right-arm medium pacer from Baroda, Zafir Patel is an unknown commodity in Indian cricket. But the fact that the Delhi Daredevils chose to invest in this club cricketer says much about the potential of the 20-year-old. Son of former India left-arm seamer Rashid Patel who played a Test and an ODI each, Zafir is known to have an accurate yorker and a deceiving slower one, useful weapons to have in the Twenty20 format and one day for india it seems he learned his trade from dernbach. in uk where he is persuing pharmacy course .He came across when irfan pathan spotted him bowling in baroda age group cricket and he recommended him to Mr TA shekar the coach of delhi daredevils.In the recently concluded match at cochin the net bowlers who bowled to indian team where in for ahigh praise from indian team bowling coach dawson, it included sreesanth , highly promising fastbowler sandeep warrier, Niyas, anthaf ,Manukrishnan,prasanth parameshwaran let the selectors give them chances.