The pacemen of India

KAPIL DEV was the monarch of all he surveyed in the Indian pace bowling scene. He was a supreme craftsman who could get the ball to do just about everything. Yet, along with Kapil there were several others of his breed who made their contribution as India stopped depending completely on the spinners. Pace was there to stay in Indian cricket.

Kapil was the pathfinder. He bowled at a brisk fast medium pace, but could have been really quick had he wanted to. He forsake speed for movement, and that was a wise move.

In the 70s, the role of Karsan Ghavri, who could be sharp on his day, has to be acknowledged. The left-arm paceman did have his moments for India, and could send down a vicious short-pitched ball. He reached a 100 Test wickets, which is a creditable achievement, even if some of his victims were snared by his left-arm spin. However, given his versatility, Ghavri remained an under-rated cricketer.

Chetan Sharma, also from Haryana like Kapil Dev, has his place as an effective paceman who could make the batsmen hurry their strokes with his whippy action and surprise them with a deceptive bouncer. He was a very enthusiastic performer, who could provide crucial breakthroughs.

He had a 10-wicket Test haul during India's victorious campaign in England '86, and possessed a pacy off-cutter that fetched him plenty of wickets. It is a pity that a lot of people remember Chetan only for the last ball six he conceded to Javed Miandad in that dramatic Sharjah final in '86.

He was among the most whole-hearted players I have seen for India, and he did give it his all. Had it not been for the whims of the selectors, and some injury troubles, Chetan could have contributed a lot more to Indian cricket.

Roger Binny was a genuine swing bowler who could change the course of matches when his opponents least expected him to strike. I remember the Calcutta Test of the 1986-87 season, when in conditions where even Kapil Dev could not get the ball to move, Binny achieved prodigious swing, especially away from the right-hander, and ran through the Pakistani line-up in the first innings.

It was quite an unbelievable spell of bowling, and put India on the path to victory. The Pakistanis eventually managed to save the Test, but Binny's bowling will stay in my mind. When the conditions suited him, he could be extremely dangerous, and in the '86 tour of England, it was Binny and Chetan, who, more than Kapil, were instrumental for the Indian series win.

There might have been occasions, when Binny might not have looked more than ordinary, yet, when he got into a good rhythm and found the right line, he could be a handful, especially in Australia and England.

In the ODI competitions in Australia during the mid-80s, he extracted surprising nip off the pitch, and provided crucial early breakthroughs. Madan Lal did not quite have the striking ability of Binny and never swung the ball as much, but he was a honest trier.

Manoj Prabhakar was a natural swing bowler. An intelligent customer, he could strike both with the new and the old ball, and was the kind who was always working on a batsman. Manoj would seldom get intimidated by big names, and, in fact, when he was bowling at notable adversaries, he would be at his best.

I remember the 1989-90 tour of Pakistan, where he operated quite brilliantly, swinging the ball both ways. Javed Miandad, in particular, had plenty of problems handling Prabhakar's well-directed bowling. In fact each time, Miandad walked into the middle, Prabhakar would come running to me saying, "Cheeka bhai, Cheeka bhai, give me the ball, I will get him."

He probably was the first Indian paceman, who mastered the art of reverse swing. This made him dangerous with the old ball as well and he could send down an incisive yorker, too. Given his ability, he could have achieved a lot, lot more.

I was fortunate to be Javagal Srinath's room-mate during his first overseas tour, to Australia in 1991-92. Even though he was young, his commitment and that will to perform was there for all to see. With a high-arm action, he could bring the ball into the right-hander sharply; when India met West Indies in the early 90s, he did open up the left-handed Brian Lara with his natural inswinger.

He has lived up to that early promise. He is the quickest paceman I have seen bowling for India, and over the years, he has matured well, being able to add more variety to his bowling. He can move the ball away from the right-hander, can straighten the odd one, and has developed a well disguised slower one.

Srinath also formed a wonderful partnership with another tall Karnataka paceman, Venkatesh Prasad, who could extract bounce, apart from seaming the ball away at will. And now we have a rather healthy scenario, with Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra and Ajit Agarkar joining Srinath in the Indian pace pack. There are several others waiting in the wings too.

I would also like to dwell on those who missed out. In the 80s, Raju Kulkarni of Mumbai, who could generate a fair amount of pace, could have played a lot more for India. He did not get the right breaks, and was also bothered by injuries.

Tamil Nadu's T.A. Sekar was also unlucky that he did not have a longer Test career. He could bowl at impressive speeds, and was desperately unlucky in his debut series - in Pakistan during the 1982-83 season - not to have scalped big names like Zaheer Abbas. Had the Indian slip cordon been more alert, he might have ended up with four or five wickets on his Test debut, and his career could have taken a wholly different course.

Bihar's Randhir Singh, who too figured in the 80s, was a fine paceman, who had the ability to move the ball late, and send down long spells, tirelessly. But then, he was from an unglamorous state and hardly received the right breaks.

And Subrato Banerjee, also from East Zone, went on the tours of Australia and South Africa in the early 90s, and appeared to possess plenty of potential. He was a brilliant mover of the ball, had a good action, but for some inexplicable reason, drifted away from the scene.

Men like Vivek Razdan and Atul Wassan, despite raising hopes amongst the Indian supporters, could not really go on to enjoy a fruitful career. Wassan, when he burst on to the scene, could hustle the batsmen with his pace, but subsequently changed his action, and was never quite the same bowler.

The Indian pace bowling scene, especially over the last 20 years, has been quite healthy. Some have made it, some others haven't. However, the pacemen of this country, several of them inspired by Kapil, have managed to make a statement - that they too have a place in the Indian cricketing map.