Thursday, March 3, 2011


I got late with this one. I should have started writing this afternoon but I spent the last three hours picking my way past old lovers piled on top of each other in the basement - A T-shirt with an embarrassing self-painted motif, too old and a size too small to wear but too dear to spare or share; old yellowed dog-eared issues of magazines that I know I’ll never read but would miss dearly once they’re gone; the only cricket bat with which I managed a double digit score…the handle had disappeared or disintegrated but the rest of it was all still there – chipped and moulded, but a proud piece of wood nevertheless – and last but not the least, the treasure I had come to seek – hiding in the corner, caked in a dry crust of mud from a happy day in the sun from many years ago – a pair of size nine spiked fast bowler’s boots.

An assortment of indignant spiders and millipedes and a tailless gecko scurried out of the pair as I picked up the shoes and apologetically shook them free of their lodgers. After lying forgotten for all these years, I’m sure the pair felt that their loyalties lay with the squatters but it was time to remind the boots of the purpose for which they’d been crafted – to pound the earth and coax it into releasing the forces of nature into the feet that wore them and to grip the soil with passion and power as a hand high above hurled a cricket ball towards its logical conclusion – to shatter the wickets at the other end.

We have good memories, my cricket boots and I, for let me tell you once again, if I haven’t told you already, that I’m the fast bowler this country wishes it had. And why, you ask, am I bothering you yet again with this startling insight, except for the fact that a leading news weekly happened to make the mistake of trusting me with a page all to myself? Well, because I spent the day looking at a bunch of dibbly-dobbly Irish bakers and bankers who look about as menacing with a cricket ball as Santa Claus might with a whip, tie into knots the same English batsmen who whacked our boys in blue out of the park in Bengaluru. Finally, the English did break lose and tote up a 300 plus score (which the Irish happened to chase down). But that’s really not the point. The point is that highest score for both England and Bangladesh in the World Cup so far, in spite of playing against minnows like The Netherlands and Ireland, happened in their games against India. And while I still maintain that this is meant to be India’s and Tendulkar’s World Cup, and our batting might might yet be enough to steal the Cup, but our bowling ‘attack’ has been leaking runs like a baby hippo on diuretics and there isn’t a diaper in sight.

So to cut a short story shorter, the sight of Indian bowlers disappearing into the stands faster than you could say “enough Patel” or “whoosh Chawla” on one hand and the welcome spectre of some of my… er… ahem.. peers, fellow 35-year-old pacemen Shoaib Akhtar and Brett Lee, still bowling fast and straight like seasoned snipers on the other, pushed me to believe that there might be a case for reviving retired dreams and pushing the selectors to have another look at yours truly, for really, how much worse could I do than returning figures of 5-0-53-0?

Am I jumping the gun? What about Zaheer? Undeniably, Zaheer Khan is a good wily bowler who nearly won us the match against England. But is he an Akram or even a Lasith Malinga? Can he single-handedly and consistently destroy batting sides irrespective of the surface? Maybe not. And in my opinion, the most potent bowling weapon on these fl at surfaces would not be spin but pace – not medium barely 130 kmph cannon fodder pace but raw red hot 145 kmph plus pace – and reverse swing.

Shaun Tait, Mitchell Johnson, big boy Bennett, Steyn, Akhtar, Kemar Roach and the man I believe would prove to be the bowler of the tournament, Lasith Malinga – they’ve all announced themselves with a big bang on the batter’s helmet at this World Cup and have proved to be the decisive difference between their teams winning or losing. On the glass top ODI wickets of the subcontinent, spinners and conventional medium paced swing and seam bowlers rarely find purchase and are the easiest to scoop, reverse hit or helicopter to the ropes and stands. Indian fans must get used to the sight of our bowlers and fielders shaking their heads, clueless about how to staunch the flow of runs. Our only bet, and it isn’t a bad one, is to hope that we bat true to form and in a batter’s game, since that’s what ODIs are, it is the best batting side rather than the most balanced team that will hopefully win.

But the bigger problem is the way the Indian cricket machinery has consistently managed to discourage and destroy every fast bowling talent the country happened to throw up. In the 90s Javagal Srinath had to sit out his best years because the selectors had too much respect for ageing seniors to give our fastest bowler a chance to inspire fans and wins at home. Another genuine quick, Prashant Vaidya was ground to dust in the dust bowls of Vidarbha and was reduced to a shadow of himself before he got to play for India. In the more recent past, a tall wiry lad from Ikhar suddenly grabbed headlines as a bowler with the potential to become one of the fastest in the world. On his debut, he made the English batsmen hop and hobble and was the toast of the nation. But just a few seasons later Munaf Patel has been reduced to a gentle trundler who is efficient at best. Useful but nothing approaching the greatness he was perhaps marked for. Poorly coached and over worked in his early years, injuries both real and imagined haunted and hounded the desire to bowl fast out of his system.

And pray where did the old Ishant Sharma go? The one who gave Ricky Ponting nightmares and ever so oft en let slip a 150 kmph thunderbolt that stunned batters? All through his tour of South Africa not once do I remember him beating the South Africans with pace. Mahendra Singh Dhoni is a very good captain with brains and bravado to match his brawn but even he’s been instrumental in sending out the wrong signs to the few fast bowlers that remain in the cupboard. Umesh Yadav is perhaps the quickest bowler in the country today and gave even Sachin Tendulkar a hard time in the nets in South Africa. But he didn’t even get a game. Instead it was the gentle medium-paced swing of Jaidev Unadkat that got the nod.

In spite of his terrible outing in the first WC game, the only Indian pacer, other than Zaheer, who has the ability to take and not hope for wickets, is Sreesanth. And yet the team management has done all it can to make him feel like an outcast - rebuked in public and he has been left holding his ears in a lonely corner. I wouldn’t blame him for trying too hard in his next game, if he gets one that is.

Our spinners and batters have taken us to the top of the cricketing pyramid today in most forms of the game but irrespective of what happens during the World Cup, the sad truth is that we will fail to realise our dream of becoming a dominant cricketing power on the field like the Australians yesterday or the West Indians before them. Destiny has given Indian cricket the opportunity to have one of the greatest teams in the history of the game, perhaps the first of the ‘Invincibles’ from the subcontinent, but there’s a vital ingredient missing in the mix – a pair of genuine fast bowlers, ideally one that swings the ball and the other who hits the deck and seams it around. Somewhere amongst our billions, there are two young lads waiting to get noticed. Until then, in case the selectors can’t wait, I have just cleaned my boots…


1 comment:

  1. India has never had a fast bowling attack and they keep blaming on the sub continental conditions and the pitches. If they are to be believed then how come Pakistan had produced the best fast bowlers of all time like Imran khan, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younus and Shoaib Akhtar.I completely agree with you Sir that India's selection process has been very unfavourable towards the fast bowlers.Even though India goes through to win the title they wont be able to become a dominating side like the Australians or the Windies were in there times.