Indian pacemen way off the mark

In Zaheers absence Sree, Ishant fail to impress

Indian pacemen way off the mark

Ishant Sharma

Just about everything went against India, the odds totally stacked against the visitors from the moment Zaheer Khan was ruled out on the eve of the match. Things gradually went downhill, and while Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s men did save some face with a strong second-innings batting effort, they had conceded so much ground on the first day that there simply was no way back.

Dhoni’s extraordinarily poor run with the toss necessitated the batsmen to square up against the most favourable bowling conditions of the match. Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel made capital of pace, bounce and a little bit of lateral movement the surface, under cover for several hours leading up to the start, offered.

By the time it was India’s turn to bowl, notwithstanding the fact that their batting lasted less than 40 overs, most of the life had oozed out of the SuperSport Park strip. That, however, is no excuse for India conceding 620 runs for just four wickets in 130 overs.
Without a doubt, Zaheer’s absence impacted India’s striking power adversely, but in the past, both S Sreesanth and Ishant Sharma have played lead roles in fashioning Test victories. To therefore watch them go through the motions was extremely disappointing in a further indication of the lack of consistency of the Indians as a bowling unit.

The advantage of possessing ‘local knowledge’ through their South African support staff was casually frittered away by the India medium-pacers, reluctant to learn from the industry and enterprise of their Protean counterparts. Admittedly, neither Sreesanth nor Ishant – or indeed Jaidev Unadkat, clearly suffering from being fast-tracked in to international cricket – is anywhere near as quick as Steyn or Morkel, but the duo has repeatedly shown that there is more to taking wickets than sheer pace.

Bowling coach Eric Simons, who has been with the team for 11 months now, will be hard pressed to explain the lack of intent and purpose from India’s new-ball pair. From a distance, it was obvious that this was a surface where the bowlers needed to bend their backs and hit the deck; even on days two and three, when South Africa’s batsmen ran riot, there was something to be procured if the effort was commensurate.

Occasionally, Ishant did follow that tack, but not consistently enough to pose serious questions on a regular basis. Sreesanth, by contrast, was extremely out of sorts, oftentimes just floating the ball up and being put away with disdainful arrogance, his energies directed more towards verbal warfare than plotting the downfall of the batsmen.

India have a history of allowing potentially match-winning bowlers to slip under the radar. From Irfan Pathan to Munaf Patel to Rudra Pratap Singh, they have unearthed stars in the making and watched in exasperation as the bowlers have self-destructed. Weapons that were their great strengths – not inconsiderable pace and prodigious swing – quickly disappeared, leaving these young men looking like pale shadows of their destructive selves. Where is the system, one might ask, that has been put in place seemingly to prevent just this eventuality?

Even Sreesanth and Ishant showed alarming signs of fading away before pulling up their socks and getting their act together. Clearly, they missed the guiding arm of Zaheer at SuperSport Park; does that, however, condone their lacklustre approach, or indeed the inability of the backroom staff to get them to operate at their optimum levels?

Four years back, it was Sreesanth’s wondrous swing that lured the Proteas to their doom at the Wanderers. Since then, he has blown hot and blown cold, playing himself out of the side, returning with a bang in Kanpur against Sri Lanka last year, and alternating between the sublime and the ridiculous. Ishant has dipped considerably from the exhilarating heights of Perth in 2008, when he made Ricky Ponting appear like a novice, but his recent form has been heartening, even if some way short of consistent.

Not all is lost for the young tandem, which hasn’t always relished the responsibility of leading the attack. In Durban, they will have bowling captain Zaheer back. Additionally, there will be no little encouragement throughout the Test in the coastal city, on a Kingsmead deck famous for its pace-friendly character. Mildly castigated by Dhoni for both their inability to staunch the run flow and to maintain an acceptable over rate, this is as good a time as any for the slighted duo to walk the talk.

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