Time for Indian bowlers to smell the coffee

January 4, 2015
India's Ishant Sharma bowls during the first cricket test match against England at Trent Bridge cricket ground in Nottingham, England July 11, 2014.   REUTERS/Philip Brown

India’s Ishant Sharma bowls during the first cricket test match against England at Trent Bridge cricket ground in Nottingham, England July 11, 2014. REUTERS/Philip Brown

(This essay is commentary. Opinions expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Thomson Reuters Corp.)

“Zara ek line pakadke ball daal!” (bowl in just one line!) was what Mahendra Singh Dhoni screamed at speedster Umesh Yadav during the recently-concluded Boxing Day test at Melbourne. Dhoni, a 60-test veteran captain, was almost pleading with Yadav out of frustration.

It was out in the open. The captain had no control over his bowlers and the bowlers had no control over their bowling.

The remark was symptomatic of the malaise that afflicts the Indian bowling attack, especially overseas. And it’s not without reason that India since April 2011 has lost 13 out of 18 tests abroad and won only one.

In the ongoing India-Australia test series, India has bowled out the opposition only twice in six innings. On both occasions they conceded more than 500 runs. What’s even more disappointing: in each of the two innings the top four bowlers conceded more than 100 runs.

In his recent interview with cricket writer Ayaz Memon published in the Asian Age, Ravi Shastri, the Indian cricket team director, said, “they (Australia) have a far more experienced bowling attack.” Let’s examine Shastri’s claim.

In the Melbourne test, Australia’s fast bowling attack was led by Mitchell Johnson, Ryan Harris and Josh Hazlewood who had total experience of 92 tests between them, with Johnson at 64 tests and Harris with 26. In comparison, the Indian pace attack was led by Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami. The number of test matches played between them is 83, with Ishant being the most experienced with 61 tests under his belt and Yadav and Shami have played 11 tests each. In short, the Australian bowling attack had played only nine tests more than the Indian bowlers.

In the Brisbane test, the difference comes down to three tests in favour of Australia when the top three medium pacers were compared.

Only in the Adelaide match, the difference rises to 28 tests, again in the favour of Australia.

Moreover, there’s very little to choose between Mitchell Johnson, aged 33 (64 tests), and Ishant Sharma, aged 26 (61 tests), in terms of the number of tests played. Incidentally, both Johnson and Ishant made their test debut in 2007. And at 33, the Aussie fast bowler is clearly not getting younger. And yet, as a quality fast bowler, he is light years ahead of Ishant, who bowls well only in patches and often lets the team down when it needs him the most.

In this series, Johnson has picked up 13 wickets in three tests at an average of 35.53 which is not impressive by his standards but it’s better than Ishant’s figure of nine wickets at an average of 48.22.

And if we pit Australia’s off spinner Nathan Lyon against India’s Ravichandran Ashwin, the Aussie bowler has a slight advantage of having played in 38 tests, as compared to Ashwin’s 23. Interestingly, both the finger spinners made their test debut in 2011.

Being the team director and a former spinner with 80 tests under his belt, Shastri should have countered Lyon’s advantage with his input to Ashwin. On the contrary, Lyon has completely outclassed Ashwin in this series. Lyon has tormented Indian batsmen with his nagging off-stump line and used the rough marks on the pitch remarkably well. Ashwin, on the other hand, has often been guilty of bowling both wrong line, mostly middle and leg-stump, and length. One wonders how Shastri’s presence in the team has helped Ashwin.

In three tests, Lyon has taken 19 wickets at an average of 29.89, including a match-winning feat of 12 for 286 runs at Adelaide Oval. On the other hand, Ashwin has managed only seven in two tests at an average of 48.14.

We are discounting the role of Shane Watson, Peter Siddle and Mitchell Marsh as their impact as a bowler in the three tests played so far hasn’t been noteworthy.

Moreover, India’s bowling performance should be seen in the light of the fact that the Australian team doesn’t have a single batsman who can qualify as “great.” So clearly Shastri’s claim of Australia having a “far more experienced” bowling attack doesn’t hold much water and is rather misleading. Though he does concede – “we have to get or develop bowlers who can get 20 wickets regularly.”

Before going into what India needs, we need to ask what India has, especially in terms of its coaching staff: Duncan Fletcher as its head coach and Bharat Arun as a bowling coach. Both have been guilty of not being able to improve India’s dismal bowling performance.

How does Arun compare with South Africa’s bowling coach Allan Donald, or Australia’s Craig McDermott and Pakistan’s Waqar Younis? It’s time India invests in top class coaches, especially a bowling coach, who has an impressive body of work behind him, both as a bowler and a coach.

What India also needs to do is make the bowlers bowl intelligently and with a plan. And this needs to start at the net sessions, only then it can be replicated in a match situation. Bowling well in a couple of sessions in a test is not enough. Bowlers need to have enough skill and discipline to bowl a probing line and length throughout the match, which Indian bowlers lack at the moment.

There have been occasions where Ishant, Shami and Yadav have bowled superbly but not long enough to trouble the Aussies. All of them have mostly strayed down the leg side and bowled short.

Indian bowlers need to take the net sessions far more seriously and work on the plan against opposition’s top batsmen. And they need to outthink the batsmen rather than wait for them to make a mistake.

If despite the 0-2 scoreline in three tests, Shastri feels “this young team has acquitted itself very creditably,” he needs to wake up and smell the coffee.

2 comments

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Great write! Great Observation and analysis!Hope the Indian think tank does a introspection!!

Posted by drskumar | Report as abusive

Team India Selection for the world cup is crucial..
http://www.manipalworldnews.com/2015/01/ 06/icc-world-cup-robin-uthappa-reckoning -india-squad/

Posted by harish_suvarna | Report as abusive