In a country obsessed with cricket, the game garners huge attention from the media and the general public. This has resulted in every aspect of the game being hugely debated and scrutinised, and as a result, over the years, the Indian cricket team has only gone from strength to strength, evolving itself from being a team with spin-dominated bowling attacks to creating an equally potent fast-bowling battery. But one bone of contention that has haunted the Indian team for a long has been the absence of a quality fast-bowling allrounder and every major series loss, especially outside Asia, is followed by debates around the lack of such cricketers in the country.
Over the years, many cricketers have been tried for that specific role after the retirement of Kapil Dev, but much to the frustration of fans and other people involved in the game, a quality fast-bowling genuine allrounder continues to elude team India.
The arrival of Hardik Pandya created a buzz all around the Indian cricketing circles that India has finally found a fast-bowling allrounder who can consistently bowl at 135 kmph along with being a good batter. His exploits in the white-ball game saw him fast-tracked into Test cricket and the allrounder responded with decent performances both with bat and ball, including a match-winning spell with the ball in England. But injuries in the last few years have raised questions over Pandya’s sustainability as a bowler and though he may eventually start bowling in the shorter formats consistently, the question mark over his fitness for Test cricket remains and India may need to look at other option.
This brings us to the two most important questions in Indian cricket right now. Firstly what are the options available currently? And secondly and most importantly, why is Indian cricket, well known for its rich pool of talent, been unable to create genuine fast-bowling allrounder options?
Let’s try to find out the answer.
The name of Shardul Thakur is doing the rounds, mainly because of his performance at the Gabba. Shardul’s first-class batting average is only around 16, but over the last few years he has shown that he is better than those numbers suggest. The idea of grooming him can be quite fruitful as Shardul can swing and seam the ball at a decent pace and has shown the ability to bat in pressure situations. He can also hit big shots which can be handy down the order batting with the tail.
While many people know Shivam Dube for his ability to clear boundaries at will, the allrounder has a pretty good record in first-class cricket with an average of 48 with the bat along with some handy performances with the ball as he emerged as the highest wicket-taker for Mumbai in the 2018 Ranji Trophy. Dube can hit a long ball if he gets into his groove, and along with his useful medium-pace bowling he is another option. Though his bowling is not as good as Shardul, Dube can provide more stability with the bat.
Tamil Nadu’s Vijay Shankar has a lot more experience and a better technique than Dube and can provide a good stable option if he gets more game time. He has blown hot and cold so far in his short India career with injuries providing him constant company at crucial junctures, but Shankar has shown the temperament and his utility with the ball in the domestic circuit along with glimpses of the same in international cricket.
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A consistent performer for Himachal Pradesh over the years, both with bat and ball, Rishi Dhawan has not been on the national selectors’ radar for some time now after making his international debut in 2016. But his consistent all-round performances on the domestic circuit have provided enough evidence that Dhawan can be a good utility player for India especially in seaming conditions with more than 300 wickets and an average of 41 with the bat to his name.
Now let’s move to the most important question: what are the problems in producing genuine fast-bowling allrounders in the country?
Pitches in India
This is the most common reason given by cricket pundits for India not been able to produce fast-bowling allrounders as the pitches in India are not conducive for fast bowling and bowling long spells can take a toll on the body, increasing the risk of injuries and ultimately impact batting too. Thus, more cricketers in India are said to prefer bowling spin along with batting which can give them better results both with bat and ball. Though in the last few years the pitches have been made more conducive in the domestic circuit for fast bowlers, the pitches and conditions in India are bound to continue to assist spin more than fast bowling.
Branding of players
Former chief selector of India MSK Prasad raised a valid point that the problem in India is the “branding of players” as either batsmen or bowlers from a young age. The creation of fast bowling all-rounder is a long term process and cannot happen overnight and for this to happen, young players need to be given more opportunities at the grassroots level to work on both the skills which can create a sustainable line of all-rounders and will also make their bodies accustomed to the role of an all-rounder reducing injuries in future.
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Obsession with purity
This point is related to an earlier point of branding of players, where as soon as a child comes to professional cricket, he or she is more often than not made to concentrate on a specific skill, either batting or bowling mainly, because the whole structure is such that a purist or a specialist gets more chances. Or, the first chance to show their skills during trials as compared to an allrounder, which makes coaches tell their students to concentrate on one skill to improve their chances of selection.
Lack of grooming or opportunities
This has also been a major problem for Indian cricket, where due to the constant pressure of positive results, the team management and selectors have not been able to give more opportunities to a fast-bowling allrounder as matches in India do not necessarily require fast-bowling allrounders. When the team goes overseas, the management, sometimes due to lack of confidence in a player, decides to play safe and go with extra batting or spin-bowling allrounder option. Moreover, when the fast-bowling allrounders are given opportunities, they are very few and far for a player to gain confidence at the international level.
Thus, the problem of fast-bowling allrounders in the country requires a multi-pronged approach where the BCCI, along with state associations, need to take initiatives to develop a culture where allrounders are encouraged and promoted at the grassroots level which will ultimately lead to a more sustainable pool of fast-bowling allrounders in the country. Until then, the search continues.