So, a wretched tour to England is what we needed to realise the absolute deficiency of fast bowlers in the country.
Ironically, till a few months ago, with Zaheer Khan as the spearhead of the bowling attack, our present looked secure, or so it seemed. In the ideal world, we needed one swing bowler, one hit-the-deck-hard bowler and a couple more options to accompany Zaheer, our redeemer. On the tour to the West Indies, Praveen and Ishant convinced everyone that they were the worthy partners to Zaheer.We still had Sreesanth and Munaf waiting in the wings to provide options.
But the moment Zaheer went down in Lord’s, and even though Praveen and Ishant did their best, our lack of quality in the bowling department got exposed. Next, we sent SOS for replacements. But even the bowlers picked then, seemed inadequate. This bolt from the blue has made us sit up and take notice of the dearth of fast bowlers. The question though is: Where and how do we find effective fast bowlers?
The ability to bowl ‘quick’ can’t be learned. You’re born a fast bowler and it’s not possible for a medium pacer to become a tear-away bowler. Fast bowling is a lot about fast-twitching fibres in the body, and if you don't have them, you must resign to fate. Praveen Kumar is a classic example of someone who’s an effective bowler when the ball is new and swinging, but to expect him to become a fast bowler is unrealistic. Munaf Patel started as a fast bowler but injuries turned him into a line-and-length bowler.
Instead of blaming Munaf, I’d blame the system. As he battled for survival, he gave up pace to smartly fetch wickets. This, he thought, was essential to cement his place in the side. Nobody told him that he didn’t need to sacrifice his art to pick up a few odd wickets. The culture to nurture is nonexistent in Indian cricket.
Our domestic structure does everything to make a fast bowler turn into a medium pacer. Our structure is ensuring that fast bowlers learn the art of bowling at 70 per cent at most times. The conditions force them to avoid hitting the deck hard. We play a first-class match (four-day) every week, which means only three days between two games. It’s impossible for someone to bowl 50 overs of pace bowling every week without breaking down and hence they resort to cutting down on pace.
With time, they realise pace would reap little rewards if they don’t last the distance. Also, the docile tracks reward bowlers who swing the ball in the air. Therefore, bowlers like Umesh Yadav, Varun Aaron and Awana don’t take as many wickets as Praveen or Vinay Kumar.
Here, it is imperative to identify potential fast bowlers and then make a central body to take control of these assets. Whenever these bowlers are not playing competitive cricket, they should report to the NCA and follow a specified training scheduled. They should be made to play domestic cricket, but the central body must monitor their workload.