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Is it time for India to import its bowlers?

by Avinash Subramaniam  Dec 26, 2012 13:58 IST

#fast bowlers   #India   #India vs Pakistan   #OnOurMind  

People immigrate all the time. Immigrants are welcome if they bring with them talents that make them employable. Canada, for instance, needs people. So does Australia. And so do many other countries in different parts of the world. Happily for India, most of its requirements can be met using home grown talent. But there is one area in which India suffers from a serious resource crunch: Bowlers.

India has no bowlers - at least not bowlers who can take wickets. Or keep the runs down. Or win them games without the cushion of a mountainous score to fall back on … untidily. There’s a very good reason for this. Indians prefer the easiest part of cricket. In fact, they love it … to bits. The ‘it,’ in this case, is batting.

Most of India’s sporting heroes are batsmen. Sunil Gavaskar. Sachin Tendulkar. Rahul Dravid. Virender Sehwag. Sourav Ganguly. VVS Laxman - all very good batsmen. Kapil Dev and Anil Kumble are the only two bowlers young Indians want to be like. Okay, maybe even Harbhajan Singh. But even the few who want to be like Kapil or Anil or Harbhajan want to be like Sachin or Dravid, or Sehwag. In fact, Kapil was a damn good bat. And many remember him most fondly for his daredevilry as a batsman. Harbhajan, too, has turned himself into a reasonably good biffer of the cricket ball. Even Ravichandran Ashwin is working hard to become a classy batsman who can bowl, a bit. This after Ashwin found his way into the Indian team as a bowler. India is batting country.

Can you imagine Dale Steyn in an India jersey? AFP

And that explains why so many sons are named ‘Sachin’ or ‘Rahul’ or ‘Sunil.’ And not so many are called ‘Kapil’ or ‘Anil.’ So where to find more bowlers Indian parents can name their sons after?

When a country needs something it doesn’t possess, what does it do? What can it do? It can try to manufacture it on its own. Or it can import it. Manufacturing without any examples to learn from is hard. The first step is usually importing. Once you have imported what you need, you can take it apart, understand how it is built, and try to make it on your own. Japan did it with cars, electronics, and all sorts of things before they started doing it their way. South Korea did it. Other countries do it too. After the importers figure out how it’s done elsewhere, they try to do it themselves at home. This is the tried and tested way to go about doing things. Question is, can India import bowlers … fast bowlers, in particular?

Actually, India has begun importing fast bowlers for the Indian Premier League (IPL). But the IPL is not made for bowlers. It’s made-to-order for batsmen, even not very good ones. As a consequence, the IPL will give India lots of new batsmen. Not all of them will be very good. But they will certainly be all over the place. Problem is, India already has too many batsmen. Just ask Ajinkya Rahane. The poor chaps would be a permanent fixture in most other teams. But he’s still struggling to establish himself in the Indian side. If only Rahane were a fast bowler.

India’s bowlers will not pick up anything substantial from their foreign counterparts in the IPL. The time spent with them is too short. The format is not serious enough. The influence is too fleeting. Foreign bowlers who come down for the IPL are like visiting faculty at a university. They don’t make a lasting impression. If India is to benefit from a ‘technology-transfer’ in the bowling department it needs to have top class bowlers over for a much longer duration. It needs their help to set up manufacturing plants in India. It needs to plant them in India and grow roots. It needs to offer them citizenship or a permanent residency or a ration card or something like that. Something that will entice them, allow them to play domestic cricket in India, and perhaps even represent the country.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) certainly has the big bucks to ‘buy’ good bowlers and give them a damn good life here. India’s cricketers are very well paid; even the domestic ones; even Ravindra Jadeja. It’s one of the best jobs going in the country. And there are lots of unfilled vacancies for good bowlers; imported ones. We Indians love imported stuff. These bowlers can be wooed and invited to spend a few years in India. Play domestic cricket. And go on to be part of BCCI’s Team India. And become heroes. If that happens, Indian children will have bowlers they can look up to. And emulate. And that’s when the local bowler manufacturing industry will get going.

This whole business of importing athletic prowess is not unprecedented. Qatar does it. England does it. Denmark does it. Norway does it. The United States of America does it. Australia does it. Any country that supports immigration is in a position to do it. And does it. Indian cricket can afford to do it. But will the government of India allow it? The Indian fans will certainly not object to it. If you doubt it, have a look at the way Indians cheer Morne Morkel, Dale Steyn, Doug Bollinger, and the other fast bowlers when they represent their IPL teams.

The writer tweets @Armchairexpert. You can follow him if you’re into that sort of thing.