Watching the Indian bowling being lambasted in most games these days my mind goes back to the days of the Indian spin quartet. Those were the days when the batting for most part was fragile.
Unlike Indian bowlers in the new millennium who have had totals of 600 and 700 to back them thanks to the most lustrous batting line up in the contemporary game Erapalli Prasanna, Bishen Bedi, BS Chandrasekhar and S Venkatraghavan were lucky if the batsmen put up a total of 300. Very often they would win Test matches with 250 to defend.
The pressure on them was enormous for the pace attack was an apology and they constituted the entire bowling attack. They not only had to keep things tight but also take wickets at regular intervals and needless to say they responded magnificently almost every time.
In an interview a few years ago Anil Kumble was gracious in admitting that the batsmen made the bowlers’ task easier by running up mammoth totals.
It is always easier to bowl with a total of 650 behind you rather than having to defend 250. It is a tribute to not only Kumble but also Harbhajan that they were able to build upon the good work of the batsmen and shape Indian victories at home and abroad.
Indian cricket’s traditional strength has almost always been spin bowling but with the advent of Kapil Dev pacemen too were instrumental in scripting Indian wins.
Kapil himself almost single handedly won many Tests for India and in the 90s his natural successor Javagal Srinath too had his moments in the sun most notably against South Africa at Ahmedabad in 1996 when he totally unexpectedly bowled India to a famous victory with a spell of six for 21.
The fact that he is the only Indian paceman to take 13 wickets in a match in India is testimony to Srinath’s big heart as well as his fast bowling skills.
It was never going to be easy to replace giants and once Srinath and Kumble retired within a few years of each other in the new millennium it was obvious that Indian bowling would be up against it. Then Harbhajan Singh was discarded owing to a dip in his bowling skills and since then with the newcomers not up to the mark Indian bowling has more often than not been taken to the cleaners.
To his credit it must be said that Zaheer Khan has carried on in lion hearted fashion for over a decade but lapses of form and various injuries has seen a dip in his average and strike rate and now in his 36th year it is clear that he is on his last legs.
About a decade ago even as Srinath played his last Test Irfan Pathan burst upon the scene and in him and Zaheer it was thought that India had discovered a pair of lethal fast bowlers who would go far.
Irfan’s career however took a nosedive when Greg Chappell as coach promoted him up the batting order. The left hander was more than a handy bat but these qualities should have been utilized lower down the order.
Indian cricket at the time needed Irfan the bowler much more than Irfan the batsman and the result was that his bowling skills took a dip. Then of course he has had more than his share of injuries and is now virtually out of reckoning as far as the national team is concerned.
Ishant Sharma arrived with a bang on the 2007-08 tour of Australia and suddenly Indian cricket followers sat up and took notice of the tall spearhead capable of making even a master batsman like Ricky Ponting jump in ungainly fashion and all hailed the newest fast bowling sensation. But despite bursts of menace Ishant has flattered only to deceive.
The fact that he has the worst bowling average of all specialist bowlers who have taken over 150 wickets in Tests is testimony to his inconsistency, waywardness and profligacy.
Over the last decade there have appeared numerous fast bowling hopefuls who have promised much only to fall by the wayside. The fact that only Ishant and Irfan are the only bowlers to have taken 100 wickets in Tests among those who made their debut since Zaheer is symbolic of the bareness of the Indian fast bowling cupboard as far as quality is concerned. It is the same with spin bowling.
Only Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha have taken 100 wickets in Tests since Harbhajan. But the former’s abysmal away record stands out like a sore thumb and the latter has done little better in his limited opportunities abroad. Here again a few spin bowlers have promised much but have failed to make the grade.
Looking at the present crop of young pacemen one cannot be too optimistic even if the likes of Mohammed Shami, Varun Aaron, Umesh Yadav and Bhuvneshwar Kumar have come up with the odd impressive show.
If they want to prove that are worthy successors to Kapil, Srinath and Zaheer they have a golden opportunity with Test rubbers in England and Australia. These two contests should help separate the men from the boys – and that goes for the spin bowlers too.