In the ongoing ODI series against Australia, a deficiency of Team India has clearly come out and that is the lack of a sixth bowler. The loss of bowlers’ option was a major reason for India’s defeat in the first two matches of the series.
When Hardik Pandya appeared for the first time in the year 2016, it felt that India’s wait was over. India became the first fast bowler all-rounder after Kapil Dev. Pandya’s arrival also brought relief to the top order batsmen. He too did not have to constantly maintain his bowling skills.
Then Pandya got injured. His injury made it clear that India does not have a sixth bowling option. If any of the five regular bowlers have a bad day, the team has no one to make up for it. The Indian team no longer has batsmen like Sehwag, Yuvraj, Tendulkar, Ganguly and Raina who can also bowl if needed.
Top-order batsmen not to bowl is a concern. In recent times, batsmen also avoid bowling in the nets. Team India’s former wicketkeeper Vijay Dahiya, who is also a talent scout for the Delhi Capitals, also believes that the increasing support staff in the teams is a big reason for this.
Dahiya, an assistant coach of Delhi’s state team and KKR, told our affiliate Times of India, “Nowadays, state and IPL teams have three or four coaches and throw-down specialists. So top order batsmen do not need to bowl to get the lower order batsmen to practice, as it was 10-20 years ago.
Dahiya said, ‘When I was the coach of Delhi, I used to assure that these top order batsmen should bowl to the tailors for at least 20 minutes. But it is becoming an old thing now. Now when the players see an opportunity here, they will start taking bowling more seriously.
It is not that the Indian team management was not aware of this problem. Rohit Sharma bowled off-spin but left because of a shoulder and finger injury. Shreyer Iyer was seen as an alternative to the leg-spin bowler last year but did not work on it much. It is believed that Shubman Gill also does fine bowling but in recent times he is not even training.
MSK Prasad, former chief selector of Team India, said, “This was the reason that the previous selection committee wanted to produce Vijay Shankar and Shivam Dubey, who can bat in the top 5 and throw some overs too.” He was asked to work on his bowling. But Dubey did not improve his bowling much and Shankar is struggling with fitness problems because of bowling.
Like Dahiya, Prasad also believes that after this series more batsmen will start working on their bowling and India will soon have more options.
This is the same type of era when many wicketkeeper batsmen were busy making a place in the team. Like, Robin Uthappa, Ambati Rayudu and even Kedar Jadhav. Former wicketkeeper Deep Dasgupta asks, ‘Did any of them really succeed and reach the next level. Only KL Rahul who was serious and kept up with wicketkeeping reached there. So, whether it is the sixth or the seventh bolar, you have to show seriousness for it.
Dasgupta said, “The solution is to encourage these top order batsmen to bowl more and more. Just like it used to be in the team of states before. Then you select a player on the basis of his talent but you also have to be careful here that you do not take any decision just by watching the bowling and ignore his main work ie batting.
The Indian team management is fortunate that the T20 World Cup has been pushed forward by a year. Former national selector Devang Gandhi believes that this is the right time to put more responsibility on Hardik Pandya as a batsman and search for another backup all-rounder.
Gandhi said, ‘The idea of sending Hardik Pandya up the batting order and making room for another backup all-rounder at number six is not bad either. Kedar Jadhav was preferred over Ambati Rayudu because he can bowl some overs as well. You may have to lose a regular top order batsman but this will make it easier for you to carve Hardik’s option in future.
White ball cricket continues to have troubles for Team India. A year ago, Team India was looking for number four. And now it is a new problem.