Champions of Asia search for pace
Most people I know did not bother watching it, but one good friend of mine was glued to the cricket channel on Thursday when India won the Asia Cup in Sri Lanka. It wasn’t merely because he is keen on cricket – that he is – but because one of his favourite cricketers was on song.
Not too many pick Ashish Nehra, a bowler who seems constantly on the verge of breakdown, as their favourites. In this country, batting is king, and even average performances in good batting conditions catch the eye. It wasn’t particularly surprising that Dinesh Karthik, who managed 66 at the top of the order, won the Man-of-the-Match award, though it was Nehra’s spell that sealed the deal.
When Nehra is in rhythm, he hits just the perfect length, one to which even the best batsmen in the world are unsure whether to play forward or back. He’s down on pace these days, but given the beating his lanky body has taken over the years, that’s hardly surprising. Still, the penetration that Nehra provides when on song is heartwarming to any Indian fan.
But, what Nehra’s performance did was highlight the broader problem Indian cricket is suffering from at the moment. While the quest for the allrounder who can bowl mediumpace has all but been abandoned, the search for partners for Zaheer Khan is still very much on.
The highly temperamental Sreesanth is still in the radar, but this is only because he ask so many questions with his natural pace and outswinger. The Kerala bowler seemed to be just what India needed when he bowled the team to victory in a crucial Test match in South Africa. Far from kicking on after early success, Sreesanth has tailed away, and only a lack of competition sees him returning time and again.
RP Singh, once capable of producing deceptive yorkers and booming inswingers, looks far from being able to recapture that magic. Irfan Pathan’s case is well documented, and the likes of VRV Singh and Pankaj Singh have stayed at the promise stage. What Munaf Patel is upto these days is anyone’s guess.
Crunch all these factors together and what you get is an Indian team with one genuine matchwinning fast bowler in Zaheer. But he too is human, and is bound to have the odd off game or suffer an injury. Just who will lead India’s attack should that come to a pass? Who will take the 20 wickets needed to win a Test match?
Your guess is as good as mine.