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What a metamorphosis the Indian pace attack has undergone over the years! We now have half a dozen deserving candidates fighting for three places in the eleven. And in home conditions most of the time there are just two places open for opening bowlers.
Bowlers who were match winners just a couple of years ago are now forgotten men as newer and younger bowlers are fast making their mark. Ajit Agarkar has surely played his last match for India, while Ashish Nehra and Laxmipathy Balaji are virtually forgotten men even as comparatively new kids like Rudra Pratap Singh and Ishant Sharma are enjoying the spotlight.
Shantakumaran Sreesanth has been around for a couple of years now, and Zaheer Khan and Irfan Pathan after successful comebacks are very much in the news. And to think that VRV Singh, Pankaj Singh, Munaf Patel and Praveen Kumar are waiting in the wings. There is nothing more heartening for the Indian cricket fan to see energetic young Indian pacemen bowl with hostility and give as good as they get.
In a way the Chennai-based MRF Pace Foundation can take credit for the boom in the fast bowling department. When it was set up in 1987, the cynics far outnumbered the optimists. Fast bowlers are born not made was the general refrain and the disbelievers scoffed at the concept of a training programme that would develop pace bowlers particularly in India which had no pace bowling tradition at all.
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The cynics spoke about the intense heat and humidity and the unwillingness of Indian cricketers to put in gruelling work in adverse conditions - an essential quality to become top-class fast bowlers. But over the last two decades, the Foundation with former Australian fast bowling great Dennis Lillee as the guiding force and former Indian speedster TA Sekhar as the chief coach has proved that a scientific and systematic long-term project can produce results.
Not only have they churned out future fast bowlers but whenever the Indian speedsters have faced a problem, they have always gone back to the Foundation in a bid to rectify it. Needless to say, they have, as more than one cricketer has publicly stated, emerged as better bowlers.
Gone are the days when the Indian opening bowlers used to bowl just two or three overs with the new ball and give way to the spinners to take the wickets. I remember the days when Solkar and Pataudi completed the formalities even as Bishen Bedi was already warming up at third man. Over the last 30 years dating back from the entry of Kapil Dev there has been much more respect for Indian pace bowling but I dare say that never has the scenario been so encouraging and fulfilling as it is right now.