When was the last time we discovered a bowler who was durable?
The other day Brett Lee was in Hyderabad, where India and New Zealand hammered another nail in Test cricket’s coffin with a dreary draw. Lee’s presence there had nothing to do with the match, or with cricket in general; he was there to perform with his band, White Shoe Theory.
When Shoaib Akhtar bowls well these days, reports say he shows the bite and venom of old — that’s what happens to players who are seen to be on the decline; a good performance by them comes as a surprise. Chaminda Vaas is gone. Murali is saying that it is difficult to put enough revolutions on the ball as one grows old. Australia is talking about bringing back Shane Warne. That will put a pause on the former spinner’s promising career as a poker player. And Harbhajan Singh is scoring back-to-back centuries in Test matches where he is unable to run through the batting line up in the second innings.
Get the picture? Bowlers the world over are looking at alternative careers. But the situation is acute in India. Fine, there is Zaheer. He has established himself as one of the world’s premier bowlers, but he never plays too many matches on the trot. He may have reconciled to injuries being a part of life and seems to have given up any aspirations of being, in terms of sheer speed, the fast bowler he once was. Ishant Sharma makes news among commentators, who are paid to hype up matches, if he bowls so much as one good spell of four or five overs.
Ashish Nehra, our best bowler in the 2003 World Cup, seems to have become a one-day specialist. L Balaji, who returned from the 2004 tour to Pakistan a hero and was our best fast bowler on Pakistan’s return tour, seems to be as good as lost to us. Munaf Patel, who was supposed to be the fastest bowler we ever had, now bowls a shade faster than Anil Kumble did at the time of retirement. Irfan Pathan, who was tipped to be the successor to the formidable Wasim Akram in left arm swing, has never been the same ever since Greg Chappell wanted to make him a batsman.
And that is insofar as the faster men are concerned. The spin department has never looked the same since Kumble, the man who won more matches for India than anyone else, retired. His absence is the single biggest reason why we fail to win matches at home against modest sides like New Zealand. While Harbhajan is making news for his batting, Amit Mishra and Pragyan Ojha, who compete for the second spinner’s slot in the Test side, are bigger threats to each other than to the rival batsmen.
Many articles have been written and many more will be written on the batting discoveries. There is no doubt that new talent has mushroomed even as older ones like Suresh Raina mature. Cheteshwar Pujara and Murali Vijay are, rightfully, getting all the attention. As is Virat Kohli. When was the last time we discovered a good bowler who proved durable?