x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Bowling remains a headache for Indian cricket

While India's batting looks good for the future, their seam attack lacks pace and bite.

India seam bowler Irfan Pathan, centre, lacks pace.
India seam bowler Irfan Pathan, centre, lacks pace.

When he announced his retirement earlier this month, Rahul Dravid was asked where he saw Indian cricket heading.

"In the last two years I have felt, there have been exciting talented batsmen waiting in the wings who can definitely step up and take over," he said.

"They have got the talent and skills required to be successful. When I look back at myself as a 23 year old when I played for India, and then look at the present players, I know that I was nowhere near as talented as these kids."

It was obvious that he was referring to one man in particular.

At the turn of the year, there were some querying Virat Kohli's place in the Test side. Since then, he has top-scored in Perth, scored a century in Adelaide and followed up with three one-day hundreds in four innings. He averages 50.56 in the 50-over game and a tally of 11 hundreds and 21 half-centuries from just 82 innings puts him up there in rarefied Sachin Tendulkar-Viv Richards territory.

India's selectors have shirked some tough decisions in recent times, but keeping faith in Kohli after an average start is one that has far-reaching ramifications for the future.

There has been so much focus on Tendulkar and the 100 hundreds that it has almost been forgotten just how well the one-day team managed without him for long spells in 2009 and 2010.

Having him at the top of the order does not hurt – India benefited hugely from his nous last night - but the days of Tendulkar or bust are long gone. Under MS Dhoni's leadership, so many more arrows have been added to the quiver. You cannot say that of the bowling though.

Nearly 12 years ago, India and Pakistan clashed in another Asia Cup game in Dhaka. Pakistan won easily, and Indian supporters who recall that game might still cringe at the ineptitude of the bowlers.

Thiru Kumaran, playing the last of his eight internationals, went for 86, while Amit Bhandari, a two-cap wonder, conceded 75. The underrated Ajit Agarkar aside, it was as popgun a pace attack as you could imagine.

Despite the investment of time and money, and a plethora of foreign coaches and experts, India's pace bowling appears to have lapsed back to that time.

Praveen Kumar and Irfan Pathan lack pace, while Ashok Dinda, highly rated by Sourav Ganguly, is still finding his niche. Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron have the pace, but Joe Dawes, the new bowling coach, will need to work very long hours to impart the skills necessary to thrive in this era of Power Plays and bats with a foot-long sweet spot.

So much has been said about the need to move on from a legendary middle order that the frailties on the bowling front have been almost overlooked. India's batsmen were poor in England and Australia, but the bowlers did not look world-beaters either.

Apart from a couple of sessions at Trent Bridge and Melbourne, they came nowhere close to matching the opposition. Forget about the future after Tendulkar. The batting will sort itself out. India should worry more about unearthing the next Kapil Dev or Anil Kumble.

The quicks that have emerged in recent times have quickly lost pace or intensity or both.

Zaheer Khan, who made his mark soon after that Asia Cup debacle in 2000, is on the way out and without a replacement stepping up, India will leave even a talent like Kohli with too much to do on some days.