Wanted genuine fast bowlers

Kapil Dev operated at a lively pace and had exceptional control.-Pic. BEN RADFORD/GETTY IMAGES

INDIA's search now has to be for a genuinely quick bowler.

INDIA's search now has to be for a genuinely quick bowler. I know we have made significant strides in the area of pace bowling, and in the World Cup we did see Javagal Srinath, Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra forming a potent combination.

However, Srinath is in the last phase of what has been a remarkable career, that saw the unassuming young man from Mysore achieving significant success at the international stage, against all odds.

Zaheer and Nehra, both left-armers, can be extremely sharp and if we have a bowler of express pace operating with them after Srinath bids adieu, India will have the cutting edge to its pace attack.

I know this is easier said than done for quick bowlers do not drop from trees. However, there is no harm in trying to discover a bowler of lightning pace.

Fast bowlers can script victories from impossible situations, irrespective of the wickets. Their speed in the air makes them distinct threats even on placid tracks.

If you look at the West Indian fast bowlers of the 70s and 80s, they could cause a turnaround from any position, on any surface. The Caribbeans had a stunning run of victories in that era and along with destructive batsmen such as Gordon Greenidge, Vivian Richards and Clive Lloyd, the West Indians had pacemen who could run through sides.

Michael Holding of that effortless run-up had such a potent yorker and was so fast in the air that he could shatter his way past the defences of most batsmen. Even if the pitch was lifeless, he could always beat them.

Andy Roberts had so many tricks up his sleeve, and he had just about every delivery in his repertoire; the off-cutter, the leg-cutter, the outswinger, the inswinger, two very different kinds of short pitched deliveries. Such a versatile bowler was bound to keep the batsmen guessing on any pitch.

Or take the case of Joel Garner. His height and that high-arm action meant that, even if the wicket was flat, he could still get the ball to climb. And like Holding, he had a fine yorker. Never could the batsmen relax when they were up against `The Big Bird.'

When Malcolm toured India in 1983-84, he turned in some of the most hostile performances by a paceman in the sub-continent. In heartless tracks that would have killed the killer instinct in most pacemen, he sliced through the line-up like a knife would through butter.

Marshall was fearsome in the series, and I remember he was virtually unplayable at Kanpur, on a wicket that was by no means a paceman's paradise. Similarly, in that series, Holding, getting the ball to swing wickedly, was impressive at the Eden Gardens.

The point is genuinely quick bowlers, who have developed on their skills and consistency over the years, can cause havoc on any surface. Like a Marshall or a Holding.

The Australians have produced some legendary fast bowlers and I am sure had Dennis Lillee, whom I consider the most complete paceman ever, bowled more on the sub-continent, his returns would have been as good if not better than Roberts, Marshall or Holding.

It's a pity that Jeff Thomson, probably the quickest bowler ever, never played in India. He would have presented a thrilling sight, especially if he had visited the country before his shoulder injury, after which he was never quite the same force.

Like West Indies and Australia, Pakistan has always churned out a wealth of fast bowlers. I remember how Imran Khan, getting the ball to swing prodigiously without compromising on his speed, destroyed Indian batting in the 1982-83 series in Pakistan.

Especially in one post-tea spell in Lahore, when he turned the contest on its head, achieving unbelievable swing with an old ball. Wasim Akram joined Imran in the mid-80s, and towards the end of the decade, Waqar Younis came in.

This was a period when reverse swing came into prominence too. Akram and Waqar Younis, who could send down toe-crushers at will, were getting the delivery to reverse at blinding speed, which meant that even if the wicket did not offer much and the ball had lost its shine, they could still cause damage.

In fact, there were several instances in the 90s when we saw Pakistan, down and out in a game, before Wasim or Waqar or both, would change the script in a matter of a few deliveries. There were doubts that the ball may have been tampered with, but there wasn't any doubt that the two Ws were both gifted bowlers.

Indian great Kapil Dev operated at a lively pace, had exceptional control, and I can recall one instance straightaway when he opened up a Test that was drifting towards a draw.

The Lord's Test in '86 was moving only one way and I remember we had all resigned ourselves to a draw.

Then Kapil, on a pitch that played true, pulled out a terrific spell out of nowhere, grabbed three quick wickets in the England second innings and India went on to register its first Test victory at Lord's. It was a magical moment for all of us. Kapil was not express, but he was an extremely skilful bowler, who could produce the odd quick delivery.

Now if we look around at the world scene, there are two bowlers of extreme pace — Brett Lee and Shoaib Akhtar — and Shane Bond, who is almost there. I can tell you that Australia, Pakistan and New Zealand, have the advantage of holding an ace up their sleeve, who could transform a game at any point. Lost matches can be won.

Genuine fast bowlers are like the big guns. When they fire they cause a lot of damage. How I wish India unearthed a pure fast bowler, who can instil fear in a batsman. That would make India a bigger force, especially away from home.

For a spinner to strike, the pitch might have to be conducive and some of the Indian victories at home over the last few years have been achieved on pitches that turned from day one.

So when India travels abroad it struggles to produce the same results. It is here that a fast bowler can make plenty of difference.

K. SRIKKANTH