The change in trend

THE Indian bowling attack wears a new look with the spinners taking the backstage.

THE Indian bowling attack wears a new look with the spinners taking the backstage. The rapid rise in the membership of the fast bowlers' club is an indication of the trend that has its roots in the phenomenon called Kapil Dev.

Twentyfive years have passed since Kapil made his debut and gave his mates reason to be proud of. When India travelled to Pakistan in 1978, what gladdened the heart of Sunil Gavaskar most was the sight of Sadiq Mohammad seeking the protection of a helmet. An Indian fast bowler had compelled an opponent to wear a helmet. Times had begun to change and Kapil really initiated a revolution in the area of fast bowling.

The dependence on spinners now appears a thing of the past, but only on paper. The success of Anil Kumble on the recent tour to Australia should give the right perspective about the potency of the Indian attack. True, Ajit Agarkar played a dominant role in the sensational victory at Adelaide when Australia lost after scoring 500 plus in its first innings, but there was no doubt that the home batsmen feared Kumble more than any other bowler.

The current emphasis is on bowling fast and there is no dearth of youngsters wanting to join this brigade. The rise of Irfan Pathan as a key member of the Indian attack is the result of the encouragement that fast bowlers have been extended by the team management where skipper Sourav Ganguly is convinced that India's future lies in grooming the quickies. The slow men are low in his priority.

Pathan has begun to emerge from the shadow of Zaheer Khan with support coming from Ashish Nehra, L. Balaji and Agarkar. The race to outclass each other is intense even though the fast bowlers, or should we say medium-fast bowlers, revel in helping each other in the middle. Zaheer spends more time in assisting Pathan understand the intricacies of fast bowing, as does Nehra, who never tires praising the young faces on the circuit.

The list of young cricketers wanting to bowl fast is long. There are some promising bowlers who could be groomed to make it to the elite group in the near future with Haryana's Joginder Sharma and Bengal's Shib Sankar Paul rated high by batsmen in domestic cricket.

And then bowlers like Gagandeep Singh, Munaf Patel, Rakesh Patel, S. Sreesanth have shown enough promise to command a call up to the national side.

In comparison, the horizon is blank when it comes to spotting quality spinners. The firm belief in the cricketing fraternity is that in the coming years the spinners would find survival difficult, what with international captains feeling far more secure with fast bowlers. Most teams, barring Sri Lanka, rely on fast bowlers to deliver and India, its history rich with quality spinners, is no exception.

With due credit to the current fast bowlers, there is none who can match the consistency of Kapil. It is a tribute to the great all-rounder that he served the team for 16 years purely on the strength of his performances and not reputation. It was only during the last couple of seasons of his illustrious career that critics questioned his place in the team. Well, so good was Kapil that he could command a place in the team solely on his batting strength.

The constant injuries to Zaheer, Nehra, Agarkar in the present team and Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad in the past have shown the bowlers in poor physical condition. An injury-prone fast bowler can hardly be seen as an asset, be it Zaheer, Nehra or Agarkar. The case of Zaheer during the Melbourne Test against Australia showed the bowler in poor light as he broke down at a crucial stage and left the team a bowler short.

Indian cricket may have gained from the presence of so many medium-fast bowlers, leading to some healthy competiton, but then the quantity has not led to quality. There is not one genuine fast bowler who could rip through the opposition. Kapil was not a hostile bowler but he imparted enough craft to his bowling to stifle the tail-enders. He was also known to make early dents.

The Indian attack to Pakistan revolves around the fast bowlers with much expected from the three left-armers — Zaheer, Nehra and Pathan. It will obviously not be easy considering the nature of pitches they will encounter and the fact that the Pakistanis are proficient in dealing with the moving and rising ball. It is the ability to reverse swing that will count.

The popular belief that India has a quality fast bowling attack will face a severe test in Pakistan. The bowlers will first have to maintain their fitness level and here let the young men derive motivation from Kapil, who never once left the field in his career on account of injury.