New Delhi: Over the last few days the Indian psyche has turned fretful. It has been biting its nails over Rahul Dravid's retirement and almost chewed its finger off when VVS Laxman followed suit. But, with no disrespect meant towards the two legends, we are barking up the wrong tree. If anything, Indian cricket's men who matter need to train their focus on the team's bowling, not batting.
A sense of ease prevails when India play at home. Prepare a snake pit and the job is done. On top of that, if India bat first, chances are they won't be required to bat again. Score like Peter Pan, bury the opponents under a pile of runs, and when the series is done, advocate for sporting wickets. Home sweet home!
Batting is clockwork for India at home. But in that rat race to reach the top of the ICC table, India have not played with a full deck and missed the plot.
Batting is clockwork for India at home, but in the rat race to reach the top of the ICC table, India have often ignored their fast bowlers.
Indian pitches monger runs, which takes care of producing batsmen. Dravids and Laxmans may be few and far in between, but so are Pontings and Gowers. If they coped with it, India can do even better. But it’s the Kapil Devs that India keep missing and have failed to reproduce.
Zaheer Khan will turn 34 this season. He has already taken the Chaminda Vaas route. Shortened run-up, compromised speed and focus on control are salient features of an ageing fast bowler. Since the England tour, which lasted just one day for Zaheer, he's not been the same bowler and has an exhausted air about him. A jaded walk back to his mark almost symbolises Zaheer now. And he's not far from admitting that he spent himself in winning the World Cup for India. It was a deal he entered into with his conscious mind, and it's becoming evident now.
Considered to be India's spearhead on the tour of Australia, Ishant Sharma returned home on one leg. His ankle, which had been avoiding the scalpel for a while, had no choice left than to go under the knife - which shut the IPL 5 door for Ishant. After a long recuperation layoff, he is now back in the India whites but with two F's followed by a question mark – fitness and form.
At 23, age is totally on Ishant's side but he needs to focus on what isn't, and that's his frail frame and fitness. Fast bowling is a slog in the subcontinent, and Ishant's fitness will be tested to the hilt with India playing at home for the next 12 months or so. If the Delhi lad can last the length even with average success, it will be considered a major victory.
If anyone, it's Umesh Yadav who promises the most among the Indian pacers – with his intent to crack open the batsman's bulwark. Well built and with ability to move the ball both ways at over 140kmph consistently, he is rarity in India's non-existent fast-bowling culture – where tear-away fast bowlers compromise on speed fearing injuries and shortened career.
Yadav signaled his willingness to buy wickets on unhelpful Indian tracks with nine wickets in two Tests against West Indies last year. And though the Australia trip didn't prove life-changing for Yadav, it was good learning curve for a bowler who is just 24, six Tests old and can serve India for long if used judiciously.
But when we talk of India's fast bowling prowess on a whole, it's a leopard that can't change its spots. Yes, spin bowling has been India's strength and won most matches, but when it comes to travelling out of the subcontinent, it's the fast bowlers who get you the most wickets, unless you are Tiger Pataudi with a spin quartet in your pocket.
India need to realise that, and there's no better time to do it with Zaheer still around to guide Ishant, Umesh and the other upcoming crop, or it will be back to square one at the end of this home season.