Anil Kumble, the former India captain, has said that while the team has quality bowlers, their progress has to be monitored season by season, and there has to be a flexible approach to selecting XIs when on tour.
The performance of the Indian bowlers on the recent tour to Australia has come in for severe criticism, and Kumble said "some portion of the criticism is justified", but added that the ability of bowlers to adjust to the longest format has to be taken into account when selecting squads.
Speaking to ESPNcricinfo, Kumble, India's highest wicket-taker in Test and ODI cricket, said: "We have the quality of bowlers, it's just trying to see who can adjust to the Test format and then choosing your best four bowlers who you think can pick up 20 wickets, that's also been an issue."
The question that was always raised on the eve of a Test match was simple, he said - how are you going to get 20 wickets? But now, at times, the answer is made complicated, he said: "We have gone into this theory of three seamers and one spinner the moment we sit on an aircraft which travels more than seven hours - that's the mindset… If your 20 wickets are going to come with two spinners and two fast bowlers, so be it. If it comes with three spinners and one fast bowler so be it."
He cited the example of the Adelaide Test, where on a track known to favour the batsmen and assist spinners from halfway through the Test, India went in with a single spinner - debutant, Karn Sharma. Kumble asked, "So who got wickets for Australia then? If you look at the top two bowlers, it was one spinner and one fast bowler." Australian off-spinner Nathan Lyon was the series' top wicket-taker with 23 wickets.
He said that in the last series Australia played before the India tour, "although the conditions were different… two unknown spinners won the series for Pakistan. Without Michael Clarke their batting line up was inexperienced."
The surfeit of short-form cricket, both ODIs and Twenty20s, may have led to the Indian bowlers "not being that disciplined in their approach to bowling when it comes to Test cricket", Kumble said. In ODIs and T20s, "you get away with that. You are constantly thinking of pre-empting a batsman because you think he will play this shot - that's what you do in one-day cricket. You are always guessing and trying to out-guess the batsman. In Test cricket you need to bowl line and length - it is that simple - and keep repeating the same thing."
He said, "That will only come with playing more of this format, and that will only come with what kind of an approach [you have] prior to heading off [on tour]. It's the simple thing that needs to be considered." "Test cricket is all about building pressure and how you can sustain it, the longer you can sustain the pressure, the more successful you can be," he said.
Modern batsmen, he pointed out, were also playing a large quantity of limited-overs cricket. "Generally today's batsmen tend to look for runs, [far] more than what it used to be maybe five, ten years ago. That's the kind of cricket that the batsmen are used to playing - ODIs, T20…" Given the generally batting friendly pitches around the world, Kumble said, "The trend is that disciplined bowlers tend to get you wickets… The more disciplined you are with the line and length you will keep the runs down and that is the best way to get wickets because generally speaking, it's [the scoring rate] been more than four runs an over."
Indian bowlers, he said, needed to be their own leaders and "not look over their shoulder". Most of India's bowlers have played a sizeable amount of cricket, "so they need to start looking at themselves as the leader of the pack." Getting the bowlers to be "self-sufficient" was important, he said. "You can't be looking over your shoulder and ask which ball should I bowl, what field should I set? At the end of the day you know what balls to bowl and what fields to set, you have to be your own captain, you can't be saying 'Okay, set the field and tell me where to bowl and I will bowl'. That's not how we play cricket. You have to be your own leader."
He said the BCCI and team management need to "monitor its 20 best bowlers. It is just a matter of managing the top 20 bowlers and trying to follow them during the course of their season, whether they are playing Ranji Trophy or IPL or Test cricket." It is a suggestion that Kumble had made to the BCCI in the past, but there is no indication that the suggestion has been followed through. "At home they seem fine, they are pretty used to the conditions, but generally overseas you need to be stronger."
The Indian bowling attack for Test cricket overseas, Kumble said, can be built by studying which of the bowlers have the capacity to be stronger when playing long-form cricket overseas. "Not physically stronger, but bowling-wise stronger. People tend to mis-interpret, strength by saying I need to spend time in the gym. That's not strength. You need to sustain yourself for longer when on tour. How long can you bowl? How effective you are in your last spell, whether you are a spinner or a fast bowler. That's what matters in the end."
Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo