Watching Junaid Khan and Mohammed Irfan in India in the recently concluded series of ODIs and T-20 matches, there were numerous queries as to why Pakistan produce fast bowlers and India do not. Perhaps more to the point the question referred to quality of fast bowlers, for India too have had their share of bowlers who have caused anxious moments for the best of international batsmen.
There is no doubt however that Pakistan has had the better fast bowlers. If one places the cut-off point as the 70s when the two great inspiring figures Imran Khan and Kapil Dev appeared on the international stage, Pakistan have produced Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar as really great bowlers.
Since the advent of Kapil India have produced only two stand-out bowlers in Javagal Srinath and Zaheer Khan. The difference in quality is clearly borne out by the average and strike rate for the Pakistan quartet have far more impressive figures than the Indian trio.
Everyone has their pet theory why Pakistan produce better quality fast bowlers than India but the scenario here is not exactly bleak. Thanks to Kapil - and in a way also the MRF Pace Foundation - Indian teams give back as good as they get both at home and abroad. Indian speedsters have had several purple patches and match winning spells and even the leading international batsmen are now aware that they cannot afford to take the Indian new ball attack lightly.
Out of quantity comes quality goes the well known adage. Unfortunately this is not exactly true of the Indian pace attack. Over the last three decades India have produced a plethora of young pace bowlers who have promised much only to falter along the way. So many have stayed the course for some time, done reasonably well and given the impression that they could carry on for an extended period but their career record has not been in keeping with their initial potential.
Just recording some of the names will be the ultimate proof of this. Chetan Sharma and Manoj Prabhakar who made their debuts in the 80s would probably be the best of the second rung with Venkatesh Prasad who came in a decade later the only one to match them.
Thereafter the names just keep coming – Atul Wassan, Ajit Agarkar, Paras Mhambrey, Dodha Ganesh, David Johnson, Harvinder Singh, Tinu Yohannan, Abey Kuruvilla, Debasish Mohanty, Irfan Pathan, Munaf Patel, RP Singh, VRV Singh, S Sreesanth, Lakshmipathi Balaji, Ashish Nehra, Ishant Sharma, Praveen Kumar, Abhimanyu Mithun, Vinay Kumar, Jaidev Unadkat, Varun Aaron, Umesh Yadav and now the latest entrants in Ashok Dinda, Parvinder Awana, Shami Ahmed and Bhuvaneshwar Kumar.
The list is quite long but it can immediately be seen that with the exception of Ishant and Irfan, both of whom have taken over 100 wickets in Tests, the others have performed less than they promised. In fact in most cases their international career was very brief. And now with a 34-year-old Zaheer having fitness problems and surely on his last legs there could be trouble ahead unless a couple of the younger brigade lives up to potential.
At the moment it appears that Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron, once they return after solving their fitness problems, are the best of the young pacemen. Bhuvaneshwar is an exciting prospect going by what one has seen in the limited over games.
This is the time for Ishant to rise to the occasion. Provided he is fit, he is the ideal man for spearheading the attack if indeed Zaheer has played his last match for India. Ishant should take over the mantle just as Srinath took over from Kapil and Zaheer took over from Srinath. These four should be the frontline quartet to take on Australia next month with Dinda among the reserves to come in case of injury or lack of form.
There could be others in the running including Sreesanth and Pathan but they have been out of big cricket for so long that it is difficult to see them realistically making a comeback. Praveen Kumar is only good when the ball swings while the others in the above list are either retired, semi retired or anything but strong contenders for a place in the Indian team.
Perhaps another reason why Indian pacemen have not made the mark they should have is because they have been needlessly relegated to second place behind the spinners. In the Test series against England for example one lost count of the number of times MS Dhoni opened the bowling with Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha instead of Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma or Umesh Yadav.
One wonders what kind of signal this sends to the pace spearheads. He even had the spinners bowling with the second new ball. Being innovative is one thing but one can carry it beyond limits and this can be detrimental to a players’ confidence level and consequently to the team’s chances of winning a match. Besides by adopting such an approach the surprise tactic element is lost.