Srinath backs Pathan to come good

Javagal Srinath, the former India fast bowler, reckons Irfan Pathan's temporary loss of form is "not a cause for concern and that he should be persisted with." Srinath asserted that, given his age and talent, Pathan will bounce back and is still a worthwhile investment.

Laxman Sivaramakrishnan, the former India spinner and currently a commentator, felt that it was crucial for Pathan to focus on swing and not pace. Speaking in a forum jointly organised by the television broadcaster, Ten Sports, and the Press Club of Mumbai, Sivaramakrishnan observed that Pathan had been low on confidence in the recent series in the Caribbean.

"When he started out, he was more side-on [at the point of delivery], but now his action seems to have opened up," said Sivaramakrishnan. "Andy Roberts, [the former West Indies fast bowler] identified a few technical deficiencies. His initial strides in his run-up were longer and it shortened as he approached the crease. Roberts said that it should be the opposite."

Srinath concurred with Sivaramakrishnan's view that Pathan's focus should be on swing but asserted : "there is a minimum threshold of pace - 130 kph - which he should maintain".

Looking ahead to the tri-series in Sri Lanka, also featuring India and South Africa, Muttiah Muralitharan was identified as the chief reason why Sri Lanka will start as favourites. Should the Indian batsmen, especially Mahendra Singh Dhoni, try to attack Murali? Srinath reckoned that it wouldn't be an easy task.

"Dhoni can tear apart a one-dimensional bowler," explained Srinath, "but Murali is multi-dimensional, with his doosras and variations." Sivaramakrishnan agreed and was of the opinion that India should preserve wickets against Murali and ensure that they score 35-40 runs without losing a wicket. He said: "If he remains wicket-less, a wicket-taker like him might end up trying too hard and that could benefit India."

Sivaramakrishnan identified Ajit Agarkar as one of the key bowlers for India, with the capability of restricting Sanath Jayasuriya. "He was our best fast bowler in the West Indies and managed to contain Chris Gayle, a strokeplayer in the mould of Jayasuriya." While Sivaramakrishnan felt that Agarkar should have been retained for the Test series, Srinath believed his absence was a "blessing in disguise". He said: "Agarkar's body is fragile which doesn't allow him long spells. He should stick to playing one-day cricket."

Considering the sluggish wickets on offer in Sri Lanka, Srinath said that it was imperative that India went with two specialist spinners - Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh, backed by two seamers. The panel felt that the playing surfaces in Sri Lanka and the West Indies, where the World Cup would be played, are quite similar, and hence this tri-series would be an ideal dress rehearsal for the big tournament.

Srinath believed it was time Kumble was reinstated permanently to the ODI squad. "Kumble is a senior pro and should be assigned a task to groom the other bowlers - spinners as well as fast bowlers, given that he has a wealth of knowledge in fast bowling. He should have been included earlier."

Srinath backed Zaheer Khan - who has been out of the squad since the tour of Pakistan and now included in the 30-member probables list for the Champions Trophy - and stated that he had earned his recall after a successful stint with Worcestershire.

On the Rahul Dravid-Greg Chappell combination, the panel shared the view that Dravid had found a like-minded individual in Chappell - both are methodical in nature but felt that it was time they cut down on experimenting and arrived at a settled combination. While Srinath accepted that flexibility is important, the constant shuffling of the batting order had affected the performances. He cited Pathan as a case in point. "The added pressure of batting has affected his bowling."

On Sachin Tendulkar's return from injury, the panel exuded confidence that he would be among the runs. Srinath felt that Tendulkar could still walk into the team. He said, "He has to play whether he makes runs or not. He might even struggle in this tri-series but will come good soon. It will be difficult for anybody, however great, to come back immediately into form after a long lay-off."

The panel were unanimous in their opinion that South Africa were severely handicapped by the absence of Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis and Justin Kemp. Manjrekar and Srinath expressed concern over Shaun Pollock's loss of form and pace. Srinath opined that "his body has taken enough beating", while Manjrekar was especially "saddened" at the sight of Pollock bowling offspin in the recently concluded Test series against Sri Lanka.