A vital aspect for any team to perform well on foreign shores is an effective bowling attack. If you look at the great sides of the years gone by, every great team has had a few outstanding individuals. Clive Lloyd had his famous roster of fast bowlers, the Chappells had Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thompson, Hansie Cronje had Alan Donald and Shaun Pollock, and as recently as the early 2000’s, Ricky Ponting had Glenn McGrath and the greatest of them all, Shane Keith Warne. Therefore, it is a known secret that a great side needs quality bowlers.
“Tigers at home. Lambs abroad.”
Over the years, the Indian Cricket Team has earned the aforementioned tag with effortless ease. Yes, the country’s cricket team has been winning a fair bit outside their country. But then, their victories have mostly been in One Day Internationals, and the longer form of the game tells a different story altogether. A big reason for India’s not living up to expectations is the fact that they fall short, by a huge margin, in the bowling department.
So, why do Indian bowlers not succeed abroad?
Let’s start with the quick bowlers. Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and England are all countries that are known to assist the quicker bowlers. Yet, the Indian quicks haven’t been able to exploit them. Why? Well, it actually boils down to some very basic factors.
Firstly, it is the diet. As such, Indians do not consume much meat. Beef is not consumed by Hindus and pork is not consumed by Muslims, so the protein consumption of most Indian bowlers is fairly low. The pacemen from Down Under consume a lot of meat products, thereby giving them a lot of muscle power. Players such as Mitchell Johnson and Dale Steyn possess the extra oomph due to this reason. More muscle power= More speed. More speed gives you the extra edge against batsmen, especially sub continental ones.
Pace, rather, a lack of it has been the undoing for the Indian quicks. It was a sad sight to see Bhuvneshwar Kumar, the best ‘fast bowler’ from a country of a billion plus, a country whose 2 largest cities have a combined population greater than that of Australia, bowl those long hops against the Englishmen at the Oval which even my grandmother would’ve been able to hit out of the park.
They don’t possess a good physique either. If you look at many Indian quick bowlers, Javagal Srinath, Venkatesh Prasad, Ajit Agarkar, Ishant Sharma, Mohammad Shami- all of them looked frail, unusually thin for a fast bowler. The outlook of their body was quite the opposite of, say, a Curtly Ambrose or a Dennis Lillee, two people who instilled fear in every batsmen. Their bodies didn’t allow them to bowl at the same speed for a prolonged period of time and they soon became the ones India is famous for: military medium pace bowlers. Sad, no?
Moving on to the next reason: our bowlers hardly think whilst bowling. Wide outside the off stump isn’t going to land you a wicket. They should know that. Sadly, they don’t. They don’t bowl to their field either. Give a 7-2 field to an Indian quick and he will bowl straight on to the pads. Phew. We have seen enough of that, haven’t we? And even if they don’t bowl on the pads, they tend to stray too much away from the stumps. Bowlers such as Sir Richard Hadlee and Glenn McGrath may not have possessed the pace to be frightening, but they did consistently bowl at a line and length which troubled even the best of the lot. Consistent line and length bowling isn’t something that the Indian bowlers can produce. Therefore, they don’t have the pace, nor do they bowl in the proper areas.
Let us move on to the spinners, shall we?
The last year or so has seen India shuffle between the likes of Kuldeep Yadav, Karn Sharma, Ravindra Jadeja, Amit Mishra, and Harbhajan Singh as the bowling partner for regular offie Ravichandran Ashwin. Off the lot, Kuldeep is far too inexperienced to play in the International arena, Harbhajan is way past his prime and so is Mishra, who is reaching the fag end of his career.
That leaves us with Jadeja and Karn Sharma. Karn was selected on the weight of his performances in the IPL- one mistake than the Indian selectors are making too often. I mean, who selects a Test spinner based on four overs he bowls in a totally different format? He struggled, and it wasn’t an impressive sight, seeing Karn being tonked by David Warner. Warner carted him all round the park Down Under and much like what was expected, Karn hasn’t played since. And don’t get me started on Jadeja. He doesn’t turn the ball nor does he flight it. He doesn’t score runs. I don’t know what he does and nor does he. Pfft.
All these factors put together have resulted in too much pressure on Ashwin. He had a tumultuous tour Down Under. Yet, the fact that he made a spectacular recovery in the aftermath of the Test series debacle means that Ashwin is clearly India’s best spinner.
But, here’s the real worry. There’s no real competition for Ashwin’s place and the other spinners aren’t really making a case for themselves.
Half a century ago, India had some of the best spinners in the world. Bedi, Chandra, Prasanna, Venkat and later on, Shivlal Yadav and Dilip Doshi could walk into most teams of their era. Now, we don’t have even a handful of bowlers who actually turn the ball. It’s extremely worrying to see the current state of Indian ‘spinners’.
The game of cricket has seen a number of changes take place since the inception of the limited overs formats. Batsmen have been manhandling the men with the ball and in turn, the bowlers have had to develop newer varieties of deliveries to bamboozle the batsmen. There was the doosra, the teesra the arm ball, the flipper, the carom ball, the slower ball and of course, Pakistan’s dirty little secret, the reverse swing amongst others which, in the years gone by, have troubled the batsmen on more than one occasion.
Yes, these variations have immensely helped the bowlers. The problem is, they use them one time too many. And the Indian bowlers have fallen victim to it. Without a doubt, Mohit Sharma’s slower deliveries are top ring, but he bowls it every other delivery and the batsmen have found him out. A similar case can be made for the likes of Joginder Sharma, Ishant Sharma and every other Indian fast bowler who has disappeared into the realms of nowhere after their 15 minutes of fame.
On a lot of occasions, India’s bowling has let the opposition off the hook during a five-day Test or a series. Even today, Pakistan have a better record than India in Tests overseas as they always had a bowling attack that could take 20 wickets on foreign pitches. India need lively pitches overseas to take 20 wickets, whereas Pakistan have won Test matches over the years on flat pitches through their great bowling, a task currently impossible for India’s bowlers. Get three world class bowlers, at one time in one team, and India will start winning Test matches overseas. Now how do you get that? Well, it’s not easy. In fact, it’s very difficult.
It means a cultural shift in the way our young bowlers think. To get a batsman out while he is defending on a flat pitch is really the singular task for an upcoming Test bowler, like Shane Warne or Glenn McGrath used to do.
Dwayne Bravo was the highest wicket taker in this Pepsi Indian Premier League 2015. Of the 23 wickets he picked, only one was outside the last five overs; essentially, all the wickets that he picked were of batsmen who were trying to hit him out of the ground. But what are Bravo’s chances of becoming the highest wicket-taker in a Test series? Zero. In fact, he is not an option in Tests for West Indies.
As we know, T20 cricket is the new flavour in cricket and commercially viable, unlike Tests.
Unfortunately, T20 cricket, as we have seen from the Bravo example, prepares you poorly for Tests, so if India wants to be a great team overseas, it must focus all its energies on what is essentially a boring, low profile activity.
After the humiliating series defeat to Bangladesh, the BCCI and the selectors must make a serious attempt to groom young bowlers in order to succeed in overseas shores.