Spare a thought for India's neglected bowlers

Last Updated: Mon, Jan 23, 2012 09:08 hrs

Now and then the much maligned bowling, seemingly in the shadow of the strongest batting line-up in the contemporary game has hogged the headlines by figuring strongly in a notable triumph, be it in India or abroad.

It is bowling that wins matches but where India is concerned the batting has stolen a march by scoring runs quickly and handsomely and leaving plenty of time for the bowlers to dismiss the opposition twice.

In the current Test series in Australia there is little doubt that bowling has come out better than the batting. Whereas the batting has completely failed Zaheer Khan and Umesh Yadav have seen to it that the bowling has gained for a beaten side a modicum of respectability.

There have been letdowns in the bowling department too but it has not been a total failure as the batting has.

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Actually on closer scrutiny it will be seen that the unheralded bowling has also had its share of triumphs over the last 15 years that the star studded batting has shone around the cricketing world. The strongest batting line-up in the game had its genesis when Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly made their entry and allied to Md Azharuddin and Sachin Tendulkar formed a quartet that over a few years became the bowlers' nightmare.

In the new millennium even as Azharuddin had to leave the scene Virender Sehwag and VVS Laxman came through as strongmen and in fact it was a quintet that made the life of bowlers miserable for the rest of the first decade. With Ganguly retiring and the No 6 slot remaining vulnerable it was left to the remaining four to carry on the remarkable exploits with Gautam Gambhir also shining brightly in patches.

The point to note is that through all these years the bowling too held its own but was overshadowed by the more eye catching exploits of the batsmen. In the late 90s Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad made for a pretty effective new ball attack with Anil Kumble always around at his destructive best.

In the early years of the new millennium even as Srinath and Prasad took their bow there appeared on the scene many young bowlers who held out a lot of promise. Harbhajan Singh joined Kumble to make it a pretty potent spin attack and both at home and away the duo helped shape numerous notable victories.

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In the last couple of years Harbhajan has had to trundle virtually on his own but in the pace bowling department, India seemed to have unearthed an embarrassment of riches. From all over the country there emerged any number of fast bowling hopefuls. In the last decade or so for example among these have emerged Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Ajit Agarkar, Irfan Pathan, Munaf Patel, L Balaji, S Sreesanth, RP Singh, Ishant Sharma and the latest to join the
bandwagon is Yadav. However most of them have flattered only to deceive or perhaps the competition has been too strong for them.

The fact that among the above only Zaheer, Irfan and Ishant have taken more than 100 wickets in Tests underscores this. But while the trio have stayed the course over a longer period - Zaheer has clearly been the best and most durable as his wicket tally approaching 300 will illustrate - the others too have had their moments in the sun.

One recalls Balaji shining in Pakistan, Sreesanth being a bit of a terror in more ways than one in South Africa, RP Singh being a success in England and Agarkar playing a major role in shaping a famous victory in Melbourne.  

So the bowling certified as the weak link have had more than their moments. Zaheer has been the leader of the pack, the most successful Indian pace bowler since Kapil Dev and a skilful purveyor of both the old and new ball. He has been the star of numerous triumphs frequently putting even the lustrous batting in the shade. His showing in England in 2007 saw him picked as one of Wisden's five cricketers of the year. Ishant has come of age and his recent failings 'Down Under' notwithstanding he and Zaheer have probably been the best new ball pairing since Srinath and Prasad.

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As far as Irfan is concerned one cannot but speculate on how much more successful his career would have been had Greg Chappell not interfered with his game when he was the coach. The left-hander was progressing along the right lines to become the all-rounder the country had been asking for since the exit of Manoj Prabhakar in 1996 but Chappell needlessly pushed him up the batting order which meant that his bowling fell off. This was a pity for Indian cricket needed Irfan the bowler much more than Irfan the batsman.

Irfan's crowning glory has to be his hat-trick in the first over of the match in Pakistan in 2006. Fortunately he is still young and could form with Zaheer and Ishant perhaps the most potent pace attack in Indian cricket history with the promise of Yadav set to unfold.   

Overall, then the bowling too has had its share of glory during the last decade or so. It is just that it has been overshadowed by the more remarkable feats of a formidable batting line-up.

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