For the next two months, MS Dhoni would be in a comfort zone. Action will return to the subcontinent, that too in T20 where India have the batsmen who have mastered the art of flogging and spinners who know where to land the ball.
Fast bowlers, rather medium pacers, are set to play a limited role during this period. Ashish Nehra is more or less set to be the frontline pacer. And with Jasprit Bumrah making the right noise in Australia, Dhoni may feel he has enough to squeeze out eight overs without conceding much.
Mohit Sharma might also be part of a backup plan. The biggest encouraging factor for Dhoni could be the knowledge that he won’t have to fall back on his frontline pacers, largely inconsistent and injured, any time soon.
But what about the longer run? India’s recent history suggests that Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron have done bulk of sharing the pace workload. Judging on current form though, India are facing a serious crisis in this department. And Australia has played its part in horribly exposing their shortcomings.
Shami’s quiet exit
The first casualty of this tour happened in the form of Shami. It was surprising in the first place because Shami was coming back from an injury lay-off starting just after the World Cup last year. Only Shami can tell whether he rushed his return but his coach Badruddin feels it was more destiny than anything else.
“He had passed the fitness test before the tour so there is no question of rushing his comeback. And moreover he had also played some matches in the Vijay Hazare Trophy before coming for the fitness test,” Badruddin told HT from Moradabad. But those who have seen Shami bowl weren’t quite sure. The run-up wasn’t as smooth. And there was a limp as well.
Badruddin feels the different climate in Australia also played its part in Shami’s case. “The muscles become stiff. No matter how much you train the body doesn’t relax. On such tours you need more energy,” he said.
When will Shami return? Badruddin said Shami is readying himself to play in the Asia Cup but whether the selectors would be ready to straightaway induct him without watching him bowl in a domestic match is anybody’s guess. Shami isn’t named in the Bengal squad announced for their Ranji Trophy quarter-final against Madhya Pradesh, beginning Wednesday. So if it’s match practice he is looking at, Shami’s left with few good options.
Same is the case for Kumar who was flown in as replacement for Shami but is now sidelined due to a left thumb injury that allowed Bumrah make his debut in the fifth ODI. He played only two matches in Australia though. And if a tidy performance in Perth suggested that Kumar was up and running, he shot himself in the foot by being wayward and the most expensive bowler in the fourth ODI in Canberra.
“A big reason behind his slump is that he is trying to be faster in the air. Swinging the ball comes natural to him but what he is doing right now is completely opposite,” said former India pacer Subroto Banerjee.
The other telling factor behind the overall sloppiness of pacers was the pitches in Australia. “We have to remember that this Australia tour has been different from all previous ones,” said Banerjee who also coaches Yadav and Aaron. Having got his coaching degree from Australia, Banerjee knows a thing or two about Australia where he spent almost decade as coach.
“I was surprised to see the pitches this time. Never ever have Australian pitches been so flat. And it wasn’t that only Indian pacers were leaking runs. Australian pacers were equally bad too,” Banerjee told HT from Nagpur.
Statistics show Sharma, Yadav and Kumar had a torrid time. All averaged above six with Yadav being the worst with 7.21. Banerjee agreed the bowling has been ordinary.
“There’s no doubt the pacers have to improve. We have not been able to use more variations. There were hardly any slower deliveries or yorkers,” said Banerjee. “Even the ball isn’t reversing as much because we hardly allow them to get old,” he said.
The way out
Need of the hour, Banerjee feels, is to increase the players pool. Before this tour, five pacers had made their debut since 2013. Among the five, only Shami has been able to play consistently before injury made him unavailable. “We have been trying the same bowlers over the last few years. The situation looks grim. It’s time we increase our bench strength and discover quality pacers,” he said.
More importantly, Banerjee thinks it’s time the frontline pacers take a break. And this two-month phase could be ideal for that. Both Shami and Kumar are pressed with injury. Sharma last played a T20I in 2013 so it looks unlikely that he might be called to bowl in the subcontinent. And while Yadav has played only one T20I so far, Aaron is yet to play for India in the shortest format.
Clearly, both aren’t viewed as T20 potential. Aaron has been in the wilderness for a while after featuring in two Tests against South Africa last November. “I’m trying to alter his action a little bit, without cutting down his pace,” said Banerjee.
Post this World T20, Virat Kohli is expected to take over as ODI and T20 captain as well. In his brief tenure as Test captain, Kohli has insisted on attacking with quality fast bowlers. If that is how he prefers, now is the ideal time for the pacers to get back to the drawing board.