Fast bowlers are a rare breed in India. India haven’t had many world class fast men and have only 3 bowlers in their entire cricketing history who have gone past 200 test wickets. Zaheer Khan is the last fast bowler who has gotten anywhere close to being world class. In the 90’s India struggled to find a decent third seamer to consolidate the good first spells of Srinath and Prasad but at the end of the decade there were some promising additions. Zaheer was the first to emerge in 2000, followed by a plethora of young fast men who promised a lot but faltered to deceive in the long run.
The problem with the Indian pace men over the years has been their fitness. Ashish Nehra, Munaf Patel, Irfan Pathan, RP Singh, Sreesanth etc. All began their career with lots of promise bowling quick and swinging the ball. But none of them were able to convert their earlier promise into performance over a sustained period of time. The trend is extremely disturbing. The emphasis on fitness is something which seems to be lacking in these fast men. Within just a year in international cricket, these bowlers have lost their fitness, pace and ability to swing the ball.
The number seems to be increasing over the years. In 2007 India possessed one of the best pace attack for a long time. Zaheer, Sreesanth and RP Singh bowling in the excess of 135 KMPH and swinging the ball both ways was a great sight for an Indian fan. The joy just lasted for a year before RP Singh lost his way and pace. Sreesanth has been plagued by injuries throughout his career. Ishant Sharma who bowled India’s fastest delivery in Australia and troubled the best batsmen in business with his length and bounce has lost the attributes which made him an instant success in his first year of international cricket.
It is hard to understand how a cricketing board can turn deaf to the problems causing this decline of the fast bowlers. Fitness is an important aspect for a bowler in International cricket. It is also important for the bowlers to keep evolving and learn new tricks as they advance their careers. The Indian pace men have faltered on both counts. The reason can be many and one of the most important reasons in the recent times has been the excessive cricket the bowlers have been subjected to. The IPL/CLT20 followed by countless international games can only break a bowler.
Varun Aaron and Umesh Yadav spend more time recouping from an injury than to play for their country. Playing excessive T20 games also gives no option for the bowlers to work on their bowling. The Indian board has to realize that Zaheer’s stint in county cricket in England was the reason for his evolution as one of the best bowler in the world for about 4 years. The BCCI has blocked that avenue too. The county cricket can be a great learning ground for these bowlers and will be much more beneficial than playing in meaningless T20 games in India.
Now we again have talented new crop of bowlers like B Kumar and Shami Ahmed and it will be interesting to see how the board handle these bowlers. The BCCI have the finances and resources to keep the promising Indian bowlers away from the T20 leagues and keep them fresh for International cricket. It will be great to have Umesh Yadav, Varun Aaron, B Kumar, Sreesanth, Ishant Sharma, Praveen Kumar and Shami Ahmed fit and available for an international series. Constant cricket can only be detrimental to Indian cricket future. If India needs to become a force to reckon with at the international level we need a pool of good pace bowlers and this is the time to preserve the resources we have.
When Rohit Sharma walked into bat in the 2008 Commonwealth Bank Series final in Australia, India were in a bit of strife. Chasing 240 to win India were 87/3 in the 20th over. Rohit Sharma joined a set Sachin Tendulkar in the middle and played one of the most mature innings you would see a youngster play. Rohit was only 20 then and the kind of composure and confidence he showed at the crease made everyone think that here is a guy for the future.
Unfortunately for the Indian cricket team and fans Rohit was never able to consistently replicate that performance in the 5 years he has been part of the Indian set up. The 2007/08 season was probably the best time in Rohit’s career as a player. Rohit Sharma has received unanimous support from the selectors and the team management over the years but he hasn’t been able to fulfill the early promise he had shown. In the last few years he has been able to sparingly remind the Indian cricket fans what he is capable of but has lacked consistency.
Performances of Indian batsmen since Rohit’s debut:
The above table further emphasizes Rohit’s struggle with the bat. He features near bottom of the table just ahead of Rahul Dravid and R Jadeja. Rohit’s struggle with the bat can be attributed to his lack of temperament. His constant swipes across the line to straight deliveries and playing ridiculous shots to get out after a decent start shows that he does not have the temperament to play at this level.
Rohit needs a break from International cricket and needs to play couple of seasons in domestic cricket. There are lots of players in domestic cricket who haven’t received the kind of chances Rohit has in the past few years and they would be feeling hard done by the selectors. Robin Uthappa, Ambati Rayudu and Manoj Tiwary need long run in the ODI team and it is time we look past Rohit Sharma in the ODI squad.
Rohit is a great talent but talent alone isn’t sufficient to succeed at the highest level. The Mumbai batsman needs to work on the mental aspect of his game to be successful at the highest level. The only way he can do that is to play lot of games away from international cricket. If possible Rohit should consider playing county cricket for a season if he is offered an opportunity. Rohit can still be India’s future middle order batsman in all formats but at this point he is not the answer to our batting woes.
5 years and 86 games is a long time to judge a player and I feel Rohit has been given enough time to succeed and now is the time to reprise the same faith on other youngsters to see how they do.
The first time I watched VVS Laxman was in the home series against South Africa in 1996. It was in the Ahmadabad test where both the teams were even after the first innings and India needed a decent enough lead on a crumbling pitch. Laxman batting at number 6 scored an important fifty on debut which helped India to an unlikely victory. That innings showed Laxman’s fantastic temperament which he displayed throughout his career. In spite of the great talent he possessed Laxman struggled to establish himself in the Indian middle order. Part of the issue was the position in the lineup Laxman was batting. Since India struggled for consistent opening combinations through the 90’s Laxman was pushed to open which proved to be his undoing.
Laxman’s talent was evident as he kept piling on the runs at the domestic level. He truly arrived at the international scene with a blistering 167 which he scored against a fantastic Australian attack. An attack which boasted of McGrath, Warne and Lee in their ranks and the fact that the runs came in just 190 odd deliveries showed what Laxman was capable of. Even though that innings should have been a turning point in his career, he struggled at the opening spot which he was clearly not comfortable batting in.
In 2001 when Australia toured India and Laxman finally returned to the middle order and only then did the real legend of VVS Laxman emerged. His innings in Kolkata of 281 while following on is considered as one of the best test innings of all time. The partnership with Rahul Dravid was truly special and for sure paved way for many more such match winning partnerships between the two legends. VVS was an incredible player. A player with magic wrists could play both pace and spin with equal ease. A soft spoken individual and a true team man, Laxman became an integral part of the Indian middle order for a decade.
Laxman’s biggest trait was how he always came to party when his team was in trouble. Most of his best performances in test cricket where when India was in trouble. His 73 n.o chasing 200 odd against Australia in 2010 was one of the best innings played in recent times. He did better that innings in the same year with an unbeaten hundred in the fourth innings against Sri Lanka chasing a 250+ total. He has shared some of his fantastic partnerships with Rahul Dravid who announced his retirement just few months back. It isn’t hard to imagine why these two shared such special rapport as both of them are similar individuals and extremely humble human beings.
VVS Laxman was always fantastic against the Aussies and it was ironic that his last tour to Australia was a disaster. Laxman had many memorable innings against the men from down under. He scored 2434 runs at an incredible average of 49.67 against Australia.
Laxman wasn’t a bad ODI player either, even though his ODI record pales in front of his test achievements. His biggest disappointment was not making it to the 2003 world cup squad. He did come back to the ODI team later the same year and had his best year in the shorter format where he again dominated Australia in the CB series.
It is sad to see both Laxman and Dravid retire within the span of few months. Laxman was one of the main pillars of Indian middle order and one of the chief architects of many of India’s overseas wins. He along with Dravid, Sachin and Sehwag were instrumental in taking India to the top of the test rankings. Laxman will for sure be missed and it will be hard to imagine the Indian test team without him walking in to bat at number 6. Laxman would end his career with 134 test caps, scoring 8781 runs at an average of 45.97 with 16 test hundreds. He played 86 ODI’s scoring 2338 runs at a modest average of 30.71 with 6 hundreds.
Laxman was a special player and was an important cog in the Indian batting wheel. He will for sure be missed and I hope that he continues to succeed in whatever career he decides to take over after his retirement. Laxman will still continue to play first class cricket and I hope that he gets involved in Indian setup in some vicinity.
The year 2011 could be split into two parts, before the world cup and after the world cup. Before the world cup the Indian team was world number 1 test team, top 3 in the ODI and was doing very well on tours. After the memorable world cup win the team completely fell flat, the batting struggled, the captain lost his plot and the team became extremely inconsistent. After a very sluggish series win against West Indies, India were trashed by England 4-0 and lost the number 1 rankings. Late the same year India travelled to Australia, only to suffer yet another whitewash.
In 2011 though the ODI team did pretty okay, except for the rain marred 3-0 loss to England the team did quite well. In 2012 though the ODI team has been extremely inconsistent too, the team failed to make the CB series final and also lost an opportunity to reach the Asia cup finals. Overall the last year and a half has been pretty poor for the Indian team and when India begins their season against SL tomorrow they would want to make a fresh and confident start. The season is only going to get tougher.
Rahul Dravid’s retirement from the test team means that India need to quickly find a replacement for the legend. Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman aren’t going to be there for long, so identifying replacements for them will also be in the agenda. The bowling combination also needs some working out. Umesh Yadav showed lots of promise in his first year of International cricket, not it is time for him to translate that to results. Zaheer Khan is on his last legs and needs to be preserved for important games and it is time for the young bowlers to step up. It will also be nice to see Ishant Sharma rise to the occasion leading the Indian attack over the next year or so.
The team has a pretty hectic schedule following the Sri Lankan series and would hope to have their prime players fit for most of it. Sri Lanka is no alien to the Indian team as they have played there quite often in the recent years. The Sri Lankan team though has just come off a series win against Pakistan and will be in high spirits. The Indian team though will be rusty as they are coming off a long but deserved break. This will be an important year for the Indian team as identifying the right combination will be of paramount importance. The Indian team will not be touring till mid of next year and this will give them ample time to test young players in the home series.
The series itself will be a close one. Sri Lanka is always a strong outfit at home and will be a tough opposition to deal with. The series can go either way but I will put my neck out and predict a 3-2 win for the Indian team. The Indian team has had a wood over Sri Lanka over the past couple of years and have won lost an ODI series there in the last couple of visits. Dhoni and Fletcher will know that this series marks the beginning of a grueling and tough season and they would want to begin this with a good win.
The IPL is finally over and the concentration has now shifted to the Indian A tour to West Indies. The India A team comprises of possible middle order options for the Indian test team and it will be interesting to see how the team performs in West Indies. It will be interesting to see how the players go about on this tour as a lot rests on their performance on this tour. Let us look at the main contenders for the Indian test squad.
Ajinkya Rahane (Top order):
There is no doubt that Ajinkya Rahane is probably the most talented on the Indian youngsters in the domestic arena. He had a brilliant IPL V for Rajasthan Royals but his career is much more than just a T20 tournament. Rahane has been a consistent performer in the Indian domestic scene and on India A tours. He has an impressive tally of 4862 runs at an amazing average of 68.47 in first class cricket. He has already broken into the Indian set up in the shorter format and would like to cement his place in the test side as well. He has an impressive technique against the new ball and impressed one and all with his composure during the English tour last year. He will be looking to impress the selectors with good performance in the A tour to West Indies.
Rohit Sharma (Middle Order):
It seems like Rohit Sharma has been around Indian cricket for ages. For a batsman as talented as him, he should have already been a regular in the Indian test team. Rohit Sharma has been a brilliant performer in the domestic cricket for Mumbai over the years. He has scored an impressive 3748 at a healthy average of 63.52 in first class cricket. There is no denying the talent of Rohit but his temperament has often been questioned. For a player who has a triple hundred in first class cricket he has been rather impatient in the Indian colors in the shorter format. In spite of playing 80 ODI’s for India he is still to cement his spot in the ODI team. This will give Rohit a great chance to prove that he belongs in the test team. He has begun the tour brilliantly with a fighting 94 in the first unofficial test against West Indies A. He would like to continue performing to make a case for a test debut later this year.
C Pujara (Top order):
He is one player who has already debuted for Indian in the test arena and has been acknowledged as the player most likely to replace Rahul Dravid at number 3. Pujara impressed one and all with his technique against the new ball and has been noticed by his sheer weight of runs in domestic cricket. He was singled out by Rahul Dravid himself as one for the future and had a great debut game against the Australians with a match winning fifty. Pujara has been injured for a long time over the last year or so but he for sure will be in line to get the number 3 spot just vacated by Dravid when India don whites again later this year. Pujara averages a brilliant 53.50 in the domestic arena and has been one of the consistent performers in the away tours with the India A team. He also has begun the tour with a fifty in the first test against the West Indies A team and would like to keep scoring to seal his place in the Indian top order.
A Mukund (Opener):
A Mukund impressed one and all with his technique against the new ball in West Indies and England in 2011. Even though he did not score lots of runs he did occupy the crease for long time in few games. A Mukund is an opener with great technique and with sheer weight of runs in domestic cricket broke into the Indian squad last year in the absence of Sehwag and Gambhir. He has overtaken his team mate from Tamil Nadu Murali Vijay as the third opener in the Indian test squad and would like to perform well on the A tour to get back in the reckoning. With more than 4700 runs in domestic cricket at and impressive average for 57, Mukund is yet another youngster knocking at the door of Indian test team.
W Saha (Wicket keeper):
Wriddhiman Saha has overtaken Kartik and Parthiv to become India’s second choice keeper in all form of cricket. He is one of the best wicket Keepers in domestic cricket at the moment and with excellent technique with the bat he becomes India’s number 1 choice in the absence of Mahindra Singh Dhoni. He has a wonderful record with the bat in domestic cricket and will look forward to seal the backup keeper’s spot in the Indian test team with consistent performance in the Caribbean over the next couple of months.
The other players who have an outside chance of making it to the Indian squad are Manoj Tiwary and Shikar Dhawan. Both these players have been consistent performers in the domestic arena for their respective sides over the years. M Tiwary’s last ODI innings was a hundred against West Indies and would be hoping that this tour would make him a regular in the ODI team. Dhawan too had few ODI’s last year against West Indies but failed to cement his place in the one-day squad. He will be hoping to make an impression too. The interesting aspect is the bowling attack where apart from Dinda the rest of the attack is very inexperienced.
The likes of Shami Ahmed and B Kumar are rather unknown quantities and would be interesting to see how they perform. One would have hoped to see Varun Aaron on this tour as he is probably knocking at the door of the Indian test squad at the moment. Also another interesting miss is Piyush Chawla who was once India’s leading candidate to take over from Anil Kumble once he hung up his boots. The selection of Rahul Sharma was rather surprising as he was never considered as a test bowler for India. There were some calls for Harbajan Singh being a part of the India A squad to regain his form. Overall the India A squad has some interesting names and it will be great to see some good performance from the youngsters. This tour will for sure give a fair indication of the future of Indian batting and bowling.
The colored clothing and the white ball seem to bring out the fighting spirit in the men in blue. The team playing in the CB series does not look anywhere close to the clueless test team earlier in the series. Dhoni seems at ease leading this young team and the young team is responding brilliantly. Dhoni himself has looked in brilliant touch and the performance of the team has improved considerably.
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There is a famous saying in cricket “Wicket keeping is a thankless job”. For 6 years in the Indian team Dhoni has donned the keeping gloves and he should be pretty aware of the saying. The Indian cricket team has for sure hit a road block, all the good work done by Kirsten and Dhoni seems to have been undone but Dhoni alone is not to be blamed for this fiasco. When a team is doing well, whatever the captain does is appreciated. The captain makes a change and the ball goes there and people say that he is an astute captain; he has a great cricketing brain etc. But as soon as the team starts to lose he becomes a villain.
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The disastrous test series is finally over and with yet another overseas whitewash there have been calls for sweeping changes in the team. The fact is that this time it is kind of justified. The Indian middle order which has been the pillar of strength for the team over the years has started to crumble. Changes are meant to happen and this is the right time to do it.
The final test in Adelaide could have been used to blood Rohit Sharma in the middle order an opportunity which I felt was wasted.
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As Dhoni said after India’s loss at Perth, the seniors need to be phased out. The Indian selectors during the golden Dhoni-Kirsten period did not try too many middle order candidates and sudden influx of young players isn’t going to help the situation. India needs to start by giving Rahane and Rohit Sharma a chance in the final test. The series is already lost and this will be a great chance to try out these youngsters.
The phasing out should be carefully planned. There are reports that VVS Laxman might retire after this series so this will be ideal time to test out Rohit Sharma at number 5
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