At last, India’s ODI outfit is looking good outside the sub-continent. It’s been a while and it’s high time Mahendra Singh Dhoni leads a victorious team far away from flat tracks and slow turners.
Their task today at Cardiff in the Champions Trophy semi-finals is a stiff one considering Sri Lanka are known to do well at ICC events.
India’s team composition is an exciting one and the fact that they have managed to stay unbeaten in a tournament that is only one level below the 50-50 World Cup, is commendable. More creditable is the side’s ability to knock over opponents without the likes of Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Gautam Gambhir and Zaheer Khan. These are players not easy to replace. Sehwag, Tendulkar and Gambhir account for 31,937 ODI runs — 18,426 belonging to the Mumbai master.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Umesh Yadav would be akin to kids in a candy shop considering the conditions in England, but they would know that bigger challenges lie ahead when the conditions won’t always assist swing bowling. As of now, it bodes well for India.
Meanwhile, Ishant Sharma doesn’t play tormentor as much as his ability suggests. He is probably the best example of a young fast bowler showing so much promise (on the tour of Australia in 2008) and then not living up to expectations. He has played 51 Tests and has managed to grab five or more wickets in an innings only thrice. For a bowler of that kind of ability, this is a pity.
The Indian selectors and administrators should learn from Ishant’s case. He has been injured often too.
A bowler cannot help playing limited overs cricket, but when you have to play ODI cricket, Twenty20 internationals as well as the Indian Premier League, even the greatest of fast bowlers would lose their edge.
India cannot be drunk on limited overs cricket and allow their fast bowlers to fall by the wayside. There’s an opportunity to help Bhuvneshwar and Yadav extend their careers and don’t expect them to ask for rest. The selectors, with the Board’s blessings should do it — not as nonsensical as the Australian selectors do (not picking players in the fear of them getting injured) — but by maintaining a fine balance between keeping them busy and protecting them away from needless games. The current bunch of selectors lay a lot of emphasis on fitness and they won’t negate this aspect even when it comes to the biggest of names and the best of performers.
One does not know what sort of contribution comes from bowling coach Joe Dawes, but fast bowling pundits are hoping he is putting a lot of emphasis on bowlers perfecting their skills rather than have them spending hours in the gymnasium.
Andy Roberts, the great West Indian fast bowler recently told me how he trained — at times — all by himself, bowling to one stump for several hours.
Self-developed Roberts speaks a lot more now than when he bowled at express pace for the West Indies or when he was their coach in the mid-1990s.
One hopes the likes of Bhuvneshwar, Yadav, Ishant and Vinay Kumar get a chance to meet Roberts when they visit the Caribbean soon for a one-day series although no game is scheduled in Antigua where Roberts hails from. Apart from talking technique, he’ll throw in some gems as well which will come in handy in T20 cricket. Here’s what he told me recently: “There is no difference between bowling in a T20 game and in a Test match. If you know what you are doing, you will not have a problem. Go to the nets and work hard. Train hard… you are being paid a lot. You shouldn’t be making a mistake of bowling a no-ball. Nobody should be bowling a front foot no-ball in T20 cricket.”
As much as India need to improve their outside-the-subcontinent ODI record, they also must impress on the fast bowling front. What better way to do that than in today’s massive game at Sofia Gardens.
Clayton Murzello is MiD DAY’s Group Sports Editor