Bowlers need to be nurtured, can BCCI step up?

Injury to Mohd Shami is a blessing in disguise as the Indian spearhead gets a well deserved rest after a grueling world cup.

Injury to Mohd Shami is a blessing in disguise as the Indian spearhead gets a well deserved rest after a grueling world cup.

Since 2000, India has had embarrassment of riches as far as fast bowling talent is concerned. From no good fast bowling option in the previous two decades, India ended up with too many in the last 15 years or so. Even though we had lots of bowlers except for Javagal Srinath and Zaheer khan, none of the Indian fast bowlers managed to go past 200 test wickets in the last 20 years. India has always found it difficult to manage fast men, in spite of the overseas bowling coaches, the ability of the bowlers after a promising starts dwindles away after a year or so.

The fitness is an issue, they drop pace and in some cases they lose their swing too. The list is endless, Irfan Pathan, Sreesanth, Munaf Patel, Nehra, RP Singh, Ishant Sharma etc. all fall under the same category. The recent interview of former Indian bowling coach Joe Dawes was interesting. He mentioned that the Indian bowlers bowl too much. The format they bowl in is also pertinent information. The 2 months of grueling IPL season followed by endless ODI games and then the CLT20 at the end of this year saps whatever energy the bowlers might have to be available for test cricket. Till the 90’s fast men used county cricket as their learning ground and were fairly successful at that.

India’s best two fast bowlers of the last 20 years Srinath and Zaheer owe their turnaround to county cricket. Srinath who was a one dimensional bowler until mid-90’s played a full season for Gloucestershire in 1995 and came back as a different bowler. Zaheer Khan who had lots of fitness and consistency issues came back a changed bowler after a full season of county cricket with Worcestershire in 2006. That trend has come to a halt now. Except for couple of short stints by Sreesanth and Agarkar, Indian players haven’t been allowed to play in county cricket by BCCI.

The Indian fast bowlers play in IPL instead which doesn’t help their development as test bowlers in any way. The jam packed international calendar means that the Indian bowlers don’t get to play in domestic first class games either. No wonder the Indian pacemen find it difficult to make an impact in the longer format as they have no experience bowling for that long. India’s current spearhead Mohd Shami who made his first class debut in 2010 has played a grand total of 30 first class games out of which 12 are tests for India. Varun Aaron whose first class debut was way back in 2008 has played a grand total of 30 first class games out of which 5 are tests. Mohit Sharma has 24 first class games to his credit, Ishant Sharma has 88 (61 of them are tests for India), Bhuvneshwar Kumar has 58 (First Class debut in 2007, 12 of 58 are tests) and Umesh Yadav has 40 (First class debut in 2008 and 12 of them are tests). So we see a pattern here.

Indian bowlers are over bowled in meaningless T20 games and ODI games which leave them no time to work on their chinks. The bowlers get paid hefty sum to get hit around the park in IPL, so they hardly have any motivation to work on their bowling at the test level. If India has any hopes of unearthing at least one good fast bowler, they need to keep these bowlers from playing in too many meaningless tournaments. After a long time India has finally found 3 bowlers who can bowl in upwards of 140 KMPH regularly with Aaron able to touch 150 KMPH. This is the right time for BCCI to invest in these bowlers and make sure they don’t fall by the wayside. India also has some young exciting fast bowlers like Sandeep Sharma and Anureet Singh who need to be nurtured.

It will be helpful for these bowlers to play in county cricket on helpful pitches to learn their trade rather than getting hammered around in the meaningless T20 leagues on flat pitches. These are exciting times for an Indian fan as for the first time we have bowlers who can bowl really fast but unless they are taken care properly we might lose them quicker than we realize. India’s international season starts right after the IPL and hopefully we will have the fast bowlers fit and available to be picked for India. The board and the coaches need to step up and work on keeping these bowlers fresh for international games. IPL is a good launch pad for young and upcoming players from domestic arena and it should stay that way. BCCI has enough finances to keep these young bowlers away from the T20 leagues and allow them to play more first class games which is the only way these bowlers are going to improve their skills. Let’s hope that things will change and the current crop can actually achieve what they set out to do and don’t become another Irfan or RP Singh.

CW2015 – India get their combination right

Mohit Sharma has been the key to bring the much needed discipline to the Indian pace bowling in the middle overs.

Mohit Sharma has been the key to bring the much needed discipline to the Indian pace bowling in the middle overs.

After a crushing win against South Africa in their second game of 2015 world cup, India have strengthened their hold at the top spot of Pool B. India now has won two important games and would be harboring thoughts of finishing at the top of Pool B. India now take on UAE in their next game at Perth and would be hoping for another clinical win against the team from the middle east.

India once again got their basics right against South Africa. Dhoni won the toss and elected to bat once again. The Indian batsmen once again obliged and batted sensibly to post their second 300+ score in the world cup. A chase of over 300 was always going to be difficult at MCG. The bowling and fielding rose to the occasion and delivered a massive 130 runs win, their first win against South Africa in world cups. The South African team on the other hand looked pretty rusty and after a not so impressive win against Zimbabwe this loss should sound as a wakeup call to the pre-tournament favorites.

For India though things seem to be falling into place. All the tinkering Dhoni & co did in the tri-series preceding the world cup seems to be bearing fruit finally. The Indian team seems to have identified their core group. The team has the right combination and baring few changes here and there this should be the team which will play most of the games.

The Bowling:

The Indian bowling has finally found it’s mojo in the shorter format with excellent help from the fielders. Shami and Umesh have been great with the new ball and Mohit Sharma has brought the much needed control as the first change. The spinners too have done very well in the middle overs and have been able to take wickets at crucial times in both the games. The Indian bowling still needs to be flexible and I think that the games in Perth might see Binny replacing Ashwin in the X1. Also when India plays in New Zealand we might see Bhuvneshwar Kumar replacing Yadav as he is more suited to those conditions. I think Dhoni trying out all the bowlers in Australia prior to the world cup has very clear idea about the ability of the bowlers. Dhoni himself would be pleasantly surprised with the control the pacers have shown in the first couple of games and would want it to continue for the rest of the tournament.

The Batting:

The batting order seems to have a settled look and most of the top order batters have had a decent knock in the middle. It seems like India are using Rahane and Raina as the floaters in the order and it seems to have worked perfectly for them in the first couple of games. Virat Kohli is playing the anchor role to perfection and we all know what he is capable of with the bat. Shikhar Dhawan has been brilliant with the bat and so have Rahane and Raina. The only concern for India would be Rohit’s form and they would be hoping that he will be back to form in the game against UAE. The other concern for India would be the batting in the final 5 overs. In both games they have batted, India were at least 20-30 runs short of what they could have achieved. Jadeja has struggled with the bat and so has Dhoni. India would probably want to have them bat up the order against UAE to give them much needed time in the middle.

Overall the team looks good and it seems like they would put up a decent attempt at defending their crown. The biggest plus for India has been their fielding and that is something which will be very important for them on the huge grounds of Australia. The Indian team now has some important games coming up and couple more wins would almost secure the top spot for them in the Pool B. A top spot finish would give them a relatively easy quarter final game. There is still a long way to go but the Indian team would feel quietly confident and would not want to drop their intensity no matter which team they play.

CW2015 – Bowlers the key for India

Shikhar Dhawan

The return to form of Shikhar Dhawan will be a huge sigh of relief for the Indian camp.

The one thing that the India-Pakistan game showed us was that if the bowlers bowl with pace and accuracy, you can cause lots of trouble to the batsmen on these wickets. The Indian bowling led by Mohammed Shami bowled with pace and aggression to dismiss the Pakistani batting line up for 224 runs thereby defending their total of 300 at the Adelaide oval last weekend.

The Indian bowlers need to maintain that intensity throughout the tournament if they harbor any thoughts of getting close to defending their title. MS Dhoni though will be extremely pleased with the efforts of the top order batting. The batsmen except for Rohit showed excellent application and developed partnerships to get India to a good total. The one thing he would disappointed is the collapse in the final 5 overs which rendered India 25-30 runs short of what they could have achieved.

Coming back to the Indian bowling, the combination India used against Pakistan might form the crux of the Indian attack for the world cup. Mohammed Shami will expected by Dhoni to lead the pace attack in the absence of Ishant Sharma. Dhoni will be hoping that he does what Zaheer did for India in 2011 world cup. Umesh Yadav, even though wayward, still bowled with lot of pace. He needs to work on his accuracy with the new ball. The other positive for India was the bowling of Mohit Sharma. Mohit bowled at the right pace and kept a good line throughout his spell. He was difficult to get away and was rewarded with two wickets for his efforts.

The spin bowlers also came to party. Ravi Ashwin bowled really well and was clearly the best spinner on view in the first game. Ravi Jadeja looked rusty but his batting and fielding along with his accurate bowling almost makes him a certainty in the X1. The Indian X1 currently looks much more settled than the one which played the tri-series and the warm up games preceding the world cup.

MS Dhoni and Duncan Fletcher will know that for India to progress in the world cup the bowling needs to click. The pace bowlers need to bowl well and keep the pressure on with the new ball. It is very important for India to stick to a combination and back their bowlers to deliver. The other heartening thing in the first game was Dhoni’s captaincy, which was brilliant and he was attacking throughout. The fielding also was fantastic and the Indians for sure looked much more ready for the world cup than the Pakistan team.

The team combination looks settled and I don’t think that there is going to be many changes for the upcoming games. Ravi Ashwin and Stuart Binny might be playing musical chairs for the second all-rounder spot in the X1 based on the conditions. The batsmen coming back to form and the timely runs by Shikhar Dhawan means that India will breathe a sigh of relief as they don’t have to tinker with the batting order at the start of the world cup.

India will now travel to MCG where they will take on South Africa who is one of the favorites like always. South Africa has explosive batting and great bowling attack. They are also one of the best fielding sides in the tournament. India would need to be at the top of their game to compete against a strong South African outfit. India would be hoping that their bowlers keep their good work going. The batting which is looking in good touch needs to fire and keep putting up good totals for the bowlers to defend. It will be an interesting game and India would be hoping to keep their winning form going. A win here against South Africa would be a huge confidence booster for a team who has had a nightmare series down under preceding the world cup.

Cricket World Cup 2015 – Selections, Controversies and omissions

India announced their squad of 15 for 2015 cricket world cup to begin in Australia/New Zealand next month. While everyone agrees that 13 out of the 15 pick themselves there are few questions raised about couple of spots in the squad. Let us first look at the 15 member squad picked.

Squad: MS Dhoni (capt & wk), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu, Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Akshar Patel, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Stuart Binny

Let us look at the controversial picks and the questions raised about a few who were not picked in the squad.

The controversial pick:

Stuart Binny (ODI – 6, Runs – 40, Ave – 13.33, wickets – 9, Ave – 13.0, Best – 6/4):

Stuart Binny’s selection has been the most controversial and most discussed one in the squad of 15. Even though the theory is that the Indian team is looking for a medium pace all-rounder, the argument against it is that India already have 3 bowling all-rounders in the team and would have done well to go with an extra pacer. Binny has played 6 ODI’s for India and to be frank except for the Bangladesh ODI series he hardly bowled in the other ODI’s he played for India. MS Dhoni seemed to lack any confidence in the bowler and did not bowl him enough in New Zealand earlier this year in the ODI series. MS Dhoni used him sparingly in the test series in England too when he was picked as a bowling all-rounder. But Stuart Binny does provide an interesting choice for India on the hard wickets of Australia and New Zealand where India are likely to play only one spinner.

The controversy obviously is stemmed from the fact that Stuart’s father is part of the selection committee and also due to his underwhelming performance in the little chances he got but again all is not lost as he can still prove his detractors wrong.

The Non-Selection:

There were lots of eyebrows raised when the following players did not make the Squad.

Yuvraj Singh:

Yuvraj Singh was the most high profile omission from the World Cup squad. Yuvraj Singh was India’s player of the tournament in the successful 2011 campaign, so most questioning his exclusion are pointing to his ability as a match winner. Yuvraj being in brilliant form for his state in Ranji Trophy is also a reason for the uproar. The reality though is that Yuvraj Singh hasn’t been part of the Indian ODI plans for some time now. Yuvraj’s last ODI for India was about a year ago and has not been part of the ODI set up since then. Yuvraj had a nightmare ODI series at home against the Aussies and has been in indifferent form since his comeback to the team after he was diagnosed of Cancer after the world cup 2011. Yuvraj Singh has played 18 ODI’s since world cup 2011. He has scored 278 runs in those games at an average of 18.93 with just 2 fifties. So to be frank the questions over Yuvraj’s exclusion have been mostly emotional rather than based on performances.

Murali Vijay:

Vijay has been the toast of the nation over the last year or so. His brilliant performance in test cricket overseas has made the fans and experts question his exclusion as the possible 3rd opener in the ODI squad. Murali Vijay has played few ODI’s for India and has not done particularly well. I don’t think his performance in test cricket automatically warrants a spot in the CW2015 squad. Murali Vijay was never in the radar for the ODI team and he hasn’t played too many games for India in recent times to demand a selection in a high profile tournament like the world cup. His non-selection is less controversial when compared to few others.

Bowling (Pacers: Mohit Sharma and Varun Aaron, Spinners: Karn Sharma and Amit Mishra):

The world cup this year is going to be held in Australia and New Zealand. The Indian squad contains three spinning all-rounders in the team. Ravichandran Ashwin will be leading the spin attack and we have Akshar Patel and Ravindra Jadeja as other two spin options. Question needs to be raised at the selection of both Ravi Jadeja and Akshar in the squad as both of them are similar type bowlers. Both of them are left-Arm spinners and left-Handed bats. The both are similar bowlers and don’t provide any variation from each other. The selection of 3 spinners is not an issue as the big Australian grounds could provide a great opportunity for the spinners to be effective but selecting two spinners so similar to each other is the problem. If India wanted 3 spinners, they could have gone with Amit Mishra or Karn Sharma who would have provided a variation to Ashwin and Jadeja.

The selection of an extra pacer would have been a better call rather than similar spin option. Varun Aaron who impressed one and all with his pace in Australia could have been a good addition to the squad even though he has been found to be little bit of a spray gun. Mohit Sharma who has done a good job for India in little opportunities he has received could have provided the much needed control to the pace attack which can leak a lots of runs on the hard surfaces in Australia.

Apart from the above few selections the rest of the squad ended up on expected lines. The Indian ODI team over the last couple of years has been stable and the squad which won the ODI series in England has been retained. The final X1 for the first game will be really interesting. Will India play Binny and Ashwin in the squad? Or will they go with Jadeja and Ashwin in the X1 will be an interesting predicament for the Indian think tank. Akshar Patel who has been brilliant in the home games could get a look in ahead of Jadeja in the squad too. The tri-series in Australia could provide the Indian think tank with all the answers, since they will be playing in Australia where the 2015 world cup is going to be held. India should use this series to test out various combinations to arrive at a possible X1 for their first game for the world cup.