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Where have all the bowlers gone?

It hasn't been a pleasant experience watching Harbhajan Singh and then Anil Kumble being taken apart by the Australian batsmen.

india Updated: Dec 16, 2003 06:26 IST

It has not been a very pleasant experience watching first Harbhajan Singh and then Anil Kumble (despite his five-wicket haul) being taken apart by the Australian batsmen. And it has been an embarrassment to watch the Harbhajan injury and the Murali Kartik episodes unfold in front of you.

For an average Australian cricket fan, India means a land dotted with artful dodgers - they cannot forget the craft and skill of a Prasanna or the subtle skills of a Bedi. And yet, twice in the last four years we have come here, we have mostly relied on medium pace (most of it of doubtful variety).

Last time when we toured Australia (1999-2000) we picked five seamers and this time too, we have done the same thing - picked five seamers and only two spinners for the tour.

In the Brisbane Test the most impressive spinner on view was not an Indian but Australia's leg spinner Stuart MacGill, someone who is playing by default as Shane Warne is still serving a one-year ban for using banned drugs during the World Cup.

Our own Harbhajan was struggling to find a decent line and length. He is not the same bowler who took 33 wickets against the Australians at home in that historic 2001-2002 Test series. Gone are his strengths - the away going delivery and control over his flight.

He has become flat and so predictable that the Australian batsmen smacked him, almost at will, to all parts of the ground. It became apparent on the eve of the Adelaide Test that injury to his spinning finger was one of the main reasons why Harbhajan was struggling to showcase the subtle wares of his difficult craft.

Kumble has no such injury problem but in the ongoing second Test he lacked the variety and control to stop the Australian batsmen who treated him with disdain. In Kumble's defence, you can say that he was bowling on a first day's wicket and came back strongly on the second day to take five wickets.

Kumble's bowling on the second day also showed that the Indians may be making a serious mistake by not playing to their strengths here.

In short, this lengthy dissection of the two spinners in Australia only shows that the Indian team has come here not only lacking in a quality spin attack, it has also come here lacking a quality seam attack, the only exception being Zaheer Khan.

That should bring us to a simple question: what is wrong with our bowling attack? Of late we have laid a lot of emphasis on seam bowling, yet we don't seem to produce quality seamers. Spin, which was our main strength, at least in home conditions, is also no longer serving us well.

If you need convincing just look at New Zealand's recent visit to India. Weren't we supposed to decimate them on dusty home tracks? Instead, the New Zealanders survived so well that it left the Indians red-faced and even embarrassed.

All this simply boils down to one fact: We are neither producing quality seamers nor are we producing quality spinners any more. The reasons could be many - from wickets to faulty planning - but the sufferer is Indian cricket.

Without getting into a serious debate on how indifferent and ignorant our cricket administration is to the requirements of modern-day coaching at the grass-root level, one needs only to take one look at the manner in which we selected the team for this tour to realise we lack vision and serious planning.

Just chew this statistical fact and you would know what blunder we may have had committed by not picking Kartik in the original squad. In the last three years, left arm spinners have picked 40 per cent of Australian wickets! New Zealand's Daniel Vettori, England's Ashley Giles and the Zimbabwean Raymond Price have all been success stories against the marauding Australian batting and yet, we chose to ignore Kartik's claims.

Secondly, and from a strategic point of view, why couldn't we test the Australians with spin rather than serve them the kind of pace they are used to playing day in and day out.

In the absence of tearaway pace bowlers who could rattle the Australians or bowlers who could move the ball prodigiously even in unfavourable conditions, our pace attack so far - the exception being one day at Brisbane -- has looked toothless. Shouldn't we have known and realised this even before we left for this tour?

So, what was the second option for us? To lay emphasis on spin and choose at least three spinners in the team so that we could go into each Test with two spinners. At least an effort could have been made - it still can be made - to surprise the Australians with this strategy. The only thing that can be said against employing this strategy is: do we have three quality spinners to do the job?

We probably do not have a large pool of spinners to pick from. Over the past few years there has been so much talk about pace and so much emphasis on it that in the last camp held at the National Cricket Academy at Bangalore, there were 20 seamers and only five spinners among the 40 probables picked. Encouraging sign if one thinks of the pace future of the country but depressing for those who bemoan the lack of quality spinners in India.

At the moment we in India want fast, pacy wickets for our domestic cricket so that we can produce players who can bat well against fast bowlers and also produce bowlers who can bowl fast.

Despite all this talk, we still do not have in place the support system that can change the nature of Indian wickets quickly. In the end, all we are doing is producing wickets that are neither fast nor spin friendly.

And this lack of planning and lack of any kind of vision may cost us very dear. As things stand today, we neither have a quality pool of fast bowlers nor quality pool of spinners to chose from. The whole world says that it is the bowling attack that helps a team win matches and if that is true, India has a grave problem at hand.

Our administrators need to address this issue seriously otherwise we will continue to face a difficult situation, like the one confronting us on this tour.

We may have one odd good result here or there due to exceptional individual performances but that is the time to remember one swallow does not always make a good summer.

First Published: Dec 16, 2003 06:26 IST