Bowling remains Achilles heel

Bowling remains Achilles heel

India's Achilles heel – bowling – flared up in spectacular fashion at the Wankhede Stadium here on Sunday that not just cost them a well-fought series but has once again brought to fore that a complete remedy is yet to be found.

It’s quite normal for one bowler, or sometimes two, to have an off day at work but for an entire bunch to be carted around the park like exhibition bowlers just shows how inadequate our resources are, especially in the death overs.

Agreed the pitch on Sunday was a belter of a track but what the Indian bowlers dished out was inexplicable. They either bowled too short or too full, allowing Quinton de Kock, Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers a free swing of their arms and never once in the game did they have a Plan B to contain the flow of runs.

Barring the World Cup earlier this year where the bowlers shone in unison for the first time in many years to the surprise of many, they have struggled for consistency which has ruffled even the ever-so-calm skipper MS Dhoni at times.

The main problem for India is the lack of a frontline pacer who can instill fear in the opposition and be the go-to man for the captain. Top teams like Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and Pakistan have one or two top pacers who can set the game up but the situation in India is quite dire.

Ever since Zaheer Khan went out of favour, Ishant Sharma has emerged as the lead pacer but the selectors feel his services are best suited for the longer format.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who showed so much of promise early on in his career, has somehow lost the art of swing that made him so potent while Mohit Sharma, a consistent performer in the IPL and domestic circuit, has struggled to make a similar impact in the international arena.

India's decision to blood out-and-out fast bowlers like Varun Aaron and Umesh Yadav too hasn't necessarily borne the intended results. While Aaron is really quick, his lack of direction and control has made him an easy fodder for batsmen and what Yadav will dish out on a particular day is open to imagination. And with Mohd Shami, who had been the standout bowler for India during the World Cup, nursing an injury, there seems to be no solution on the anvil.

“If you see any other nation – Test or ODI – the fast bowlers come and in one or two years, they graduate to the next level,” said Dhoni. “They become their strike bowlers. They know their strength and bowl according to it. We aren’t able to do that. Once you put in a lot of effort in an individual and if he doesn’t come good, then again a vacuum gets created where you have to look for individuals.

“We tried to going for fast bowlers – people who can bowl very quick – but we realised they are actually giving the opposition more runs. We are better off playing with people who bowl line and length. It’s difficult to speculate why fast bowling is our weak link. We have tried a lot of different fast bowlers who have not done really well for us but at the same time when they go play different formats like IPL, Duleep Trophy or Deodhar Trophy, they are the ones who are performing well. It’s a transition. I still feel there is a huge difference between our top first-class bowlers and international bowlers.”

When Zaheer was at the peak of his powers, the Indian captain could summon him anytime in the game to get a wicket and the pacer more often that not delivered. Blending the regular fast ones with yorkers and slower ones, he always had the batsmen guessing and held one end up during the death overs also. But today, none of the Indian fast bowlers is able to counter batsmen.

The length has been predictable and yorkers rarely witnessed. The most disheartening factor being that despite having played reasonable international cricket, the pacers haven't learnt their lessons.

It's common wisdom that to win a Test match, one needs to take 20 wickets. The same may not apply to ODI cricket but what is needed is discipline and direction to at least keep the runs in check. Bowlers after bowlers have come and gone but very few have been able to make the grade at the top level. And the ones who make it, don't to seem to last for long. This has been one largely unsolved puzzle for India.

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