Till the 1970s, there was no such thing as an Indian fast bowler. It was a contradiction in terms. Then Kapil Dev burst into the scene and with his fast medium pace and changed Indian cricket forever. The biggest thing about Kapil was that he played from 1978 to 1994 and didn’t miss a single international match due to injury!
Kapil’s regular partners were Chetan Sharma and Manoj Prabhakar, both who were part of Team India for more than 10 years. Thereafter Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad became a regular hunting pair. Zaheer Khan debuted in 2000 and played international cricket for more than a decade too.
Till then India had a very small pool of fast-medium bowlers and used them exceedingly well. But post-2000, dozens of bowlers burst into the Indian domestic scene who all could bowl in the region of 140-150 kmph. Many of them got to play for Team India.
Thanks to that, one would have thought that India’s pace problems would be sorted out permanently. But strangely very few of them have managed to become regulars for India despite having the talent. Why Indian quickies come with great promise and talent and impress with their debuts only to go into oblivion is a great mystery for Indian cricket.
While injury is one of the main reasons, why does it end up retiring them? Indian quickies mysteriously lose their pace and power to swing, going out of the picture altogether.
In 2003, three quicks made their international debut: Irfan Pathan, Lakshmipathy Balaji and Aavishkar Salvi. While Salvi went out as soon as he came, Balaji was a big hit in the tour of Pakistan in 2004.
Balaji took 7 wickets in the Rawalpindi match that won us the series and even had some Pakistani fans cheering for him. In the very next year, he took 14 wickets in 3 matches when Pakistan visited us, pretty decent for a fast-medium bowler on flat Indian pitches.
He never played Test cricket after that!
Irfan is even more curious. He had a sensational debut and rocked the top order regularly both in ODIs and Tests. Who can forget his first over hat-trick in Karachi in 2006 where he despatched Salman Butt, Younis Khan and Mohammed Yousuf to have Pakistan reeling at 0-3? He was our man of the match in the final of the T20 World Cup in 2007.
He was our man of the match again in 2008 in Perth thanks to an all-round performance and we won on one of the fastest pitches in the world in the aftermath of Monkeygate. Did you know that in the very last ODI he has played, he got a 5-wicket haul? But he seems to be totally out of the reckoning despite being just 28.
In 2004 Joginder Sharma made his international debut and he is known for bowling the last overs in both the semi-final and final of the T20 World Cup which we won. He never played international T20s after that!
2006 was another good year. We saw the international debuts of VRV Singh, Munaf Patel, S Sreesanth and RP Singh. VRV was a non-starter. Munaf always showed loads of promise, but somehow never delivered.
RP was also an integral part of the 2007 T20 WC and impressed in the Test scene too. But his career too seems to be finished.
Sreesanth was probably the most talented of the lot. Who can forget his downright brilliant bowling in Johannesburg in 2006? His 5-wicket haul saw the Proteas crash to 45-7 and then 84 all down. He was man of the match as India won its first ever Test on South African soil.
Sreesanth was also part of both teams that won the 2007 T20 WC and 2011 ODI WC finals, but he is known more for his misses than his hits.
When Ishant Sharma debuted in 2007, he seemed to buck the trend. He bowled brilliantly in Australia in 2008 troubling the great Ricky Ponting. When he became man of the Test series in West Indies in 2011, people thought that Zaheer had finally been replaced.
But his decline started after that. He was ineffective in our overseas 0-8 Test drubbing despite playing all those matches and despite the conditions being ideal for him. In Australia, he picked up just 5 wickets in 4 matches.
Recently Ishant went wicketless for four straight Test innings and managed to pick up just one scalp in the fifth. Is he on his way out?
Praveen Kumar also debuted around the same time and was impressive in ODIs in Australia. However he has got into a lot of disciplinary issues and looks effectively retired.
Then we saw the international debuts of Manpreet Gony, Sudeep Tyagi, Pankaj Singh, Ashok Dinda, Vinay Kumar, Varun Aaron and Umesh Yadav.
Again, most of them sank into oblivion. Umesh was by far the impressive of the lot but quickly got injured. Dinda is in the current Test squad against Australia, but hasn’t got the chance to play in the first two Tests.
2013 saw the debut of Shami Ahmed, who looked impressive in the 5 ODIs he played.
The latest to join the huge club of Indian quicks is Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who took a wicket in his very first ball during his ODI debut and took a wicket in his very first over during his T20 debut.
In his very first Test, he was involved in a 140 run stand for the 9th wicket with captain MS Dhoni and hit a very useful 38 runs. In the second Test, he took the first 3 wickets on Day 1 on a spinning track to have Australia reeling at 57-3.
That’s a brilliant beginning, but one hopes he can sustain it!
Kapil once played for India for almost 16 years at a stretch.
Nowadays it’s getting mighty difficult for any bowler like him to have a career even half of that despite nearly 20 quickies making their international debut after Zaheer in 2000!
Will India complete its first 4-0 whitewash?
The author is a Bengaluru-based journalist and blogger.
He blogs at http://sunilrajguru.com/