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Quick or slow, in the line and length of fire

The bowlers will have to carry their heartening performance into the Tests, to give India a chance of winning, writes Kadambari Murali.

india Updated: Dec 14, 2006 14:59 IST

A lot of focus on this tour has been on the consistent Indian batting failures. Consequently the bowlers, who have bowled outstandingly for the most, have seemingly not got their due.

During the one-dayers, there were some niggles to be sorted out — for instance, when they had SA six wickets down for 70-odd at Newlands and couldn't go for the kill. Still, their performance has been heartening and they will have to carry that into the Tests, if India have to have a chance of even trying to hold their own.

Harbhajan Singh

He’s had a great year in international cricket, proving a point or two to his critics including, reportedly, some within the team, with some class comeback performances in the shorter version. He's India's first choice in the ODIs but in the longer version, he’s played second fiddle to Kumble. In this series as well, logically, he'll probably get to play only if something goes terribly wrong with Kumble or the South Africans prepare a rank turner, which is unlikely.

Last 5 Tests: 19 wkts at 34.10; Best — 5 for 13 vs West Indies at Kingston.

Zaheer Khan

Life has come a full circle for Zaheer — from a genuine quick bowler in Nairobi to spearheading the Indian bowling attack, being down and out to being back as India's pace spearhead — he's seen it all. He has battled persistent injury and fitness problems and seems more focussed and far fitter than he has been, and the county stint seems to have done him a world of good. He's been the South African top order’s nemesis, especially Graeme Smith, and will probably bowl the first over at the Wanderers. Outstanding in the ODIs, he will have to continue the good work.

Last 5 Tests: 20 wkts at 36.05; Best — 4 for 58 vs Zimbabwe at Harare.

Irfan Pathan

Once upon a time, he was outstanding, becoming the only bowler to take a hat-trick in the first over of a Test. Now, he's the only Indian batsman to have scored a century on this tour so far. His role seems to have markedly changed but he's in the team as a bowler and he hasn't justified that for a long time. Even in the last tour game he bowled an expensive eight overs in two innings. Speed was never his strength but swing was and off late, he seems to have lost that too. There's been a lot of criticism over his prolonged run in the team. He might not make it to the playing XI at the Wanderers but if he does, he will have to perform with the ball.

Last 5 Tests: 16 wkts at 35.93; Best — 5 for 61 vs Pakistan at Karachi.

VRV Singh

Despite having played a bit, VRV is really the great unknown and can probably be India's ace in the first Test. He is raw and unadulterated and pace has been his strength but he has often being criticised for his lack of discipline and wayward bowling. Injuries have also been cause for concern for this speedster from Punjab. He bowled well in the tour game but how he graduates to the next level remains to be seen. It's not always easy to bowl on helpful tracks and can be a handful if he can add discipline to pace.

Has played two Tests so far, taking 2 wkts at 79.00; Best — 2 for 61 vs WI at St John’s.

Munaf Patel

Made an impressive debut against England earlier this year and was bowling consistently in the 140s. His immaculate line and length, along with his pace, was a deadly combination and, to some extent, still is. But he's admittedly sacrificed pace for accuracy and what prompted him to do that is a mystery — because bowling fast is a gift and should be used to become a main strike force rather than a defensive bowler. His operated shoulder has troubled him and has also perhaps forced him on the backfoot mentally.

Last 5 Tests: 17 wkts at 34.29; Best — 3 for 51 vs WI at Gros Islet.

S Sreesanth

Aggressive, optimistic and a genuine trier, he's got the ability to swing the ball both ways and more than decent pace. Apart from the hammering in the last ODI, he has done well whenever he's got the opportunity and with experience, will probably wise up both about bowling at the death and not giving lip to the batsmen unnecessarily. He was the find of the series in the Windies but since then has been out of favour due to dodgy selection policies. Like other fast bowlers, he must be looking forward to making use of the favourable conditions here.

Last 5 Tests: 19 wkts at 29.78; Best — 4 for 70 vs England at Mumbai.

Anil Kumble

What can you say about this man that hasn't been said before? He's one of the legends of the game, with performances often based on sheer grit more than anything else and equally often, underestimated. He's been there, done that and done it more often than not. Has been India's most successful bowler at home and during the tour of Australia, became the same outside too. He can bowl long, miserly spells and that can frustrate batsmen. It will not be surprising if he emerges the Indian bowler of the series, yet again.

Last 5 Tests: 28 wkts at 28.25; Best — 6 for 78 vs WI at Kingston.