Indias bowlers are going down a bad road

Written by Boria Majumdar | Updated: Mar 25 2012, 07:39am hrs
As the 2011-2012 cricket season is ending, it is time for some serious stock taking. After the high of the World Cup in April 2011, it has been a year of correction, with humiliating losses in England and Australia, followed by early elimination in the tri-series Down Under and the Asia Cup. While it was batting that let the Indians down in the Test matches in England and Australia, it was the bowling which was responsible for India losing out in the Asia Cup.

Many, however, have argued that had the Indians scored a few more runs against Bangladesh they may well have won the game. Such arguments make little sense. If we werent able to defend 290, there is nothing to suggest we could have defended 300 or more. Rather, theres no doubt that all through Asia Cup the batsmen did their job to perfection. Scores of 304, 290 and 330 are testimony that theres little to worry with batting in sub-continental conditions. It was the bowling, which was considerably below par, conceding 329 to Pakistan and 290- plus to Bangladesh.

With a huge year of cricket coming up, India will host the English and the Australians on home soil within a matter of six months between October 2012 and March 2013, we need bowlers who can pick 20 opposition wickets and put good batting line ups under pressure. If only the bowlers step up to complement the batsmen in home conditions we can expect a decent season ahead.

And this is what gets me worried. Zaheer Khan continues to have fitness issues and Umesh Yadav isnt a finished product yet. While it was good to see Khan pull through the Australia Test series, he missed half of the one day tri-series with niggling injuries. Yadav, too, had to be rested for the Asia Cup despite being in good form Down Under. Varun Aaron, despite a good start to his international career against England in the one day series in India, is out injured and Praveen Kumar isnt the same bowler we had seen, who shouldered the burden in English conditions last summer. Irfan Pathan, good only in patches, can at best be the support cast and Ashok Dinda still has some distance to go in international cricket to become an impact bowler.

The spin department doesnt look great either. Firstly it was disappointing to see Rahul Sharma not get a game in the Asia Cup. With India barely losing a sweat to score 300-plus in the first game, Sharma could surely have been played in place of Ravi Jadeja in the second match and Yusuf Pathan in the third. You do not need a seventh batsman in the sub-continent in good batting conditions, especially when the top order is firing and neither Jadeja nor Yusuf are good enough to bowl their full quota in the sub-continent.

Sharma could have added variety to the attack against Bangladesh and Pakistan. In his absence, much depended on Ashwin who looked pale in comparison to the controversial Ajmal or the mercurial Sakib. Ashwin, who started well in Australia, gradually faded away as the season moved on. Except for one match against Sri Lanka in the tri-series Down Under, there wasnt another occasion when Ashwin single handedly put the opposition under pressure. Rather, he conceded far too many extras and wasnt the same performer who had mesmerised the West Indians in his debut series in November. Ashwin needs to rediscover form quickly to spearhead the Indian spin challenge in the coming season.

And we also need to look at Pragyan Ojha and the tried-and-tested Harbhajan Singh. Just like Rahul Sharma, Ojha wasnt given an opportunity in Australia and is surely one bowler who deserves a place in the line up come October. Singh, a proven big match player, also needs to be brought back to the big stage to inject character into bowling if not anything else. We need passion on the field and Singh, more than anyone else, is capable of charging the team when the chips are down.

With the IPL coming up in two weeks and a one day series in Sri Lanka in July-August, it will be of interest to see if any new talent emerges on the horizon and takes us all by surprise. We continue to pray for such a surprise for season 2011-2012 has left behind some alarming legacies.

The writer is a sport historian