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Thatscricket - News - Bowlers of quality key to overcoming overseas mirage

Published: Thursday, September 12, 2002, 20:45 [IST]
 
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It's the end of the India-England series, a series where batsmen set the stadia alight, while bowlers were left battered, bruised and wishing that the gentlemen who go by the names of Rahul Dravid and Michael Vaughan had never taken the trouble to pick up a willow in their hands. [an error occurred while processing this directive]It was a series where 500s were achieved with consummate ease by the batsmen, while only one bowler, Harbhajan Singh, managed to pick up a 5-fer. It was a series where one captain, Nasser Hussain, was christened brilliant and innovative at the end of the first Test, only to be labelled defensive and lackinginitiative at the end, while the other captain, Saurav Ganguly, blamed for being uninspiring and not leading from the front after the first Test, ended the final Test smelling roses. It was a series which left one captain lamenting, "we need bowlers who can pick up wickets on all kinds of surfaces" while the other captain was left dreaming, "we need bowlers of mystery". Oh, for a Glenn McGrath or a Shane Warne!From an Indian perspective, the Test series could be termed a qualified success. Though a series victory would have been wonderful, realistically, with such aninadequate bowling attack, it was expecting a little too much. In fact, ending the series as a victor might have been counter-productive to Indian cricket, for it would have papered over the obvious cracks. The most shocking indictment of the Indian bowling attack was that Sanjay Bangar ended on top of the bowling averages. This is not to belittle Bangar's outstandingeffort, but surely the Zaheers and Harbhajans should have performed better than a bowler picked to perform the role of a steady, military-medium fifth bowler! Let's take a closer look at India's bowlers:Zaheer Khan: Brilliant in a few spells, especially at Headingley where he touched 90 miles per hour (mph) on the last day, but steady at best otherwise, his tour was a mixed bag. While everyone looks to him to lead India's attack, now that Srinath has retired, one gets the impression that he is not yet quite ready. The spearhead in a team should come out with guns blazing and take out the opponent's top batsmen cheaply, a task which Glenn McGrath and Shaun Pollock perform admirably. Inexplicably though, Zaheer bowled poorly in pretty much every first spell he bowled, allowing the likes of Michael Vaughan to settle in. If he had gotten Vaughan out early in a couple of innings, the story of the series could have been different!Ajit Agarkar: An enigma if ever there was one. A bowler as fickle as India's politicians, his performances swung wildly from the superlative to themundane, and they were mundane for the most part. Headingley was his one standout performance where he bowled good outswingers and sharp off-cutters at will, and got Vaughan out cheaply twice. No wonder Indian won at Headingley! The rest of his bowling performances were atrocious, to put it mildly. There have been very few bowlers in Indian cricket history who have been given as many chances as Agarkar to prove themselves, and surely, this should be his last Test series for a long time to come. One particular over from Agarkar tells the whole story. On a flat, docile Oval pitch which was swinging a little on the first morning, Agarkar banged a ball in, mid-pitch, to Trescothick, hoping that he would miscue to backward square-leg. The ball sat up nicely and Trescothick summarily dispatched it to the boundary. Agarkar, not satisfied, banged in another one short, and was treated with similar disdain. A smarter bowler would have realised that the conditions were against this mode of attack, and changed his length. Not Agarkar. Sure enough, he banged in another ball short and Trescothick, on his heels and waiting, smashed another boundary.Test cricket is not for people with the, "I'll show you who is the boss" attitude. It's for people who realise their strengths and limitations, understand the conditions, and bowl accordingly. There are no hints yet that Agarkar, with 15 Test caps to his name, will ever learn this.Anil Kumble: His strengths and fallacies are well known, and this series just re-emphasised them. He was dominant on the one track with uneven bounce, Headingley, but as flat as a day-old beer on the truer surfaces. Still, his performance was far better than the seamers and he goes back satisfied, havingachieved the one thing he had never been part of before, an overseas win. Even though he picked up the most number of wickets among the Indian bowlers this series, he should by no means be a certainty in Indian 11 when playing abroad. He should be unleashed on the drier tracks prone to disintegrate, while agenuine spinner like Murali Karthik would be a much better bet on the flatter tracks.Harbhajan Singh: Constantly improving in his performances abroad, Harbhajan showed a few glimpses of why he is rated so highly. He bagged the only 5-fer of the series, only his second overseas, and might have performed much better had the seamers provided the initial breakthroughs. The most worrying aspect of his bowling was a tendency to continually drift to middle and leg. He wasn't able to consistently maintain a line outside the off stump that made him so destructive in the Australia series. If he also adds a little more loop and guile in the air, one can visualize Bhajji soon winning matches abroad forIndia.Sanjay Bangar: By every yardstick, Sanjay Bangar performed exceedingly well in the two Tests he played. There is something about the less talented cricketers who have come up the hard way. Aware of their limited abilities and the knowledge that a failure or two might result in their being dropped, they buckle down and persevere. They play well within their abilities and try to wear down opponents, not giving an inch away. His bowling throughout was a lesson in the art of discipline, constantly chipping away outside the off stump, while his batting on the first morning at Headingley was truly courageous. He also showed that he is a bowler capable of out-thinking batsmen, his dismissal of Mark Butcher at Headingley being a case in point. Three inswingers (to the left- hander) on the trot, off the first three deliveries, had Butcher playing for another on the next ball. Bangar craftily bowled an outswinger from the same spot instead, and Butcher was gone, edging to slips.Ashish Nehra: Touted as India's bowler to watch out for before the series began, Nehra was a huge disappointment. He never struck a rhythm, sprayed theball all over the place and was feasted upon by the Englishmen. His fitness was also constantly in question and it came to the point where the team management had to rest him in the tour games so that he did not suffer a breakdown in the Tests. One hopes he works on his fitness and comes out firing in future series, for he has the talent to do well.Tinu Yohannan: A passenger throughout the tour, he did not inspire enough confidence in the team management with his insipid performances in the tour games. He needs to go back to domestic cricket and fight his way back.The sad part is, this was probably the best bowling line-up the Indian selectors could have picked. Barring Murali Karthik and possibly Mohanty, none of the other bowlers could have truly felt aggrieved at being left behind. Maybe it's time to blood the likes of Irfan Pathan and Lakshmipathy Balaji. After all, they cannot perform much worse than Agarkar, can they? A break at the right time maybe just the fillip they need. India needs quality bowlers and needs them fast. Otherwise, overseas series victories will remain a mirage!

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