Monday, June 19, 2006

Four or five?

Michael Holding holds forth on the five-bowler theory. Much as I respect Holding as an all-time great fast bowler, I think he is wrong in this particular diagnosis. India's problem is not that they do not have five bowlers. Its that they do not have even four bowlers who can take 20 wickets between them. Descending into cliche for a second, its not the quantity but the quality. But to be fair to the four-man attack (Patel, Pathan, Singh and Kumble) that took the field for India in the second test (I'm discounting Sehwag deliberately for now), the problem also lies in the management of bowlers that Indian captains indulge in. Frankly, India's bowling is held hostage to the same problem that has often afflicted the batting - the over-reliance on one person.

Cast your mind back to Sydney 2004. Look at the scorecard. Australia chasing 443 on the last day (plus 3 overs on the previous day), finished at 357 off 94 overs. A certain Mr. Kumble bowled 42 of those. That is, other than for five overs, Kumble pretty much bowled straight through the innings. A certain Irfan Pathan only bowled 8 overs. This was a colossal failure on India's part - they failed to exert pressure most of the day and simply did not exert much pressure by making interesting bowling changes, giving Kumble enough rest, or with field placings. But most of all, India's strategy simply underutilized what it had at its disposal. In the second test at St. Lucia, India did the same. Out of a total of 119 overs, Sehwag (not picked as a bowler), bowled 30 overs, and Kumble bowled 42. I suppose Holding thinks that Powar should have been picked and he should have bowled those 30 overs? But whats the point of picking three quicks for extended duties in just one innings. Why not place trust in who you pick? Why not give them attacking fields (which bizarrely, we saw very little of in the second innings!)? Dravid seems hostage to the same old Indian affliction when confronted with stubborn partnerships: static field settings, going through the motions, giving up singles to established bats paired with lower-order batsmen, and desperately hoping that some superstar will come to the rescue. Give it up. Five isn't the answer - better usage of the four at hand will do. How tremendously dispiriting must it be to be a young bowler in India - you just don't get trusted.

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