India’s Bowling: Investment of 10 Years, Paying Off For Kohli Now

For a country blessed with gifted batsmen, India has had very few bowlers who could have been rated world class.

World Cup
5 min read

The Gen Z may never really understand this.

When you see an Indian bowling attack being rated as one of the best – if not the best – in the World Cup, it is a moment to celebrate for some of the old followers.

India has been through the darkest phases when it comes to our bowling, because it has never been quite good enough through phases in the late 1980s and through much of the 1990s.

For a country blessed with gifted batsmen, sometimes obsessed with their records, India has had very few bowlers who could have been rated world class, unlike their more illustrious neighbour Pakistan.

The famed spinners, Kapil Dev, Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, Javagal Srinath, Zaheer Khan… the list is quite small.

The other disturbing part for India has been the fact that not all of them have come together at the same time in the same generation. Kapil came in at the fag end of the careers of the spinners. Srinath and Kumble when Kapil was fading away. Harbhajan joined in midway. Zaheer joined in when Srinath was on his last legs.

Aged Well

So when you see an Indian attack where almost all of them are in same age group and firing at the same time, it sometimes feels a bit odd.

This is just the result of some sound planning in the background by a group of coaches over the last six years.

For a country blessed with gifted batsmen,  India has had very few bowlers who could have been rated world class.
Bhuvaneshwar Kumar.
(Photo: AP)

The current group of coaches led by Ravi Shastri may have been with the squad for the last five years, but the work actually started some seven years ago. A conscious decision was taken to break from the past. Some of the older players were not considered and that included the previous lot of seam bowlers.

A newer lot was chosen which included the likes of Umesh Yadav, Varun Aaron, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami.

Of the new lot chosen some seven years ago, Umesh, Bhuvaneshwar and Shami are still very much part of the scheme of things. That shows some investment by the then head coach Duncan Fletcher, bowling coach Joe Dawes and captain MS Dhoni, along with the then selection panel led by Sandeep Patil.

Some more young bowlers too were marked out for close consideration but they never quite made the cut. Ishant Sharma remained the only link with the old lot of Irfan Pathan, Sreesanth, Munaf Patel etc.

Even with the spinners, the choice was made to stick with Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin, in a break from the past.

Fresh Start

By the time 2015 World Cup came along, the bowlers gained a bit more experience, but did not deliver the knockout punch. But right after that, the focus on the bowling attack became that much more pronounced.

The change in regime with the take-over by Shastri & Co on a full time basis, put more focus on improving fitness and developing a wicket-taking attack.

The elevation of Virat Kohli, first as Test captain and then as leader in all three formats, just increased the attention paid to the bowling attack.

It was felt that Dhoni never quite had the bowling attack to force the issue and hence preferred to be safe than sorry, especially in Test matches. But with Kohli’s arrival as captain, the focus changed.

For a country blessed with gifted batsmen,  India has had very few bowlers who could have been rated world class.
Captain Virat Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri address the Indian cricket team ahead in a practice session. 
(Photo: AP)

New Dimension

With fitness being the new buzzword, the same lot of fast bowlers who have been in and around for nearly a decade changed their outlook completely. You can see the change in the way India approaches Test matches abroad, especially.

The biggest plus in the attack has been the inclusion of Jasprit Bumrah with his awkward action and pace. He has added extra dimension to an attack.

With regards to the spinners, a decision was taken post the 2017 Champions Trophy failure to break away from the finger spinners like Ashwin and Jadeja. A move towards the wrist spinners like Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav has a clear Shastri imprint on it.

For a country blessed with gifted batsmen,  India has had very few bowlers who could have been rated world class.

As India’s captain for a brief while in 1987-88, Shastri won a Test match in Madras against West Indies and a triangular tournament in Sharjah with leg-spin of Narendra Hirwani. He has always been a big believer in the impact of wrist spinners, especially in limited-overs formats.

The defeat in the 2017 Champions Trophy was a blessing in disguise because it changed the outlook of Indian squad in ODI cricket completely.

Clarity of Roles

The likes of Ashwin, Umesh and Ishant still cannot find a place in the shorter formats, but are one of the first names to be pencilled in for Test matches. The clear definition of roles and the identification of bowlers for various formats is an indication of the sound health of Indian bowling for the first time ever in its history!

So much so that there is enough confidence to even tide over the loss of Bhuvaneshwar midway through a game against Pakistan. An Indian attack in the 1990s or even in the early 2000s would have wilted under pressure, but not this time.

For a country blessed with gifted batsmen,  India has had very few bowlers who could have been rated world class.

Batting Sideshows

For a country blessed with gifted batsmen,  India has had very few bowlers who could have been rated world class.

Despite the struggles in Test cricket, India’s major ODI triumphs – whether the 1983 World Cup, 1985 World Championship of Cricket or the 2013 Champions Trophy – have always been fashioned by the bowlers.

But that does not undermine the efforts of the batsmen, especially the top three in this Indian ODI squad including Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan, along with Kohli.

It is a combination which was first unveiled at the 2013 Champions Trophy and has continued till now.

Hence, the injury to Dhawan is therefore a major blow to India’s chances in the World Cup, though there is an adequate replacement in KL Rahul. Dhawan has been a consistent performer in ICC ODI events for six years and hence his loss at the top of the order will be felt in a big way.

The inclusion of Rishabh Pant is somewhat of a poetic justice for the Delhi boy, but it remains to be seen if he will get an opportunity to play.

But with a bowling attack as well-rounded like the one India has, the batting will always remain a sideshow. Now that is quite a change for Indian cricket, and a change for the better!


(Chandresh Narayanan is a former cricket writer with The Times of India, The Indian Express, ex-Media Officer for ICC and the Delhi Daredevils. He is also the author of World Cup Heroes, Cricket Editorial consultant, professor and cricket TV commentator.)

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