For a nation once overrun with quality spinners, India’s transition to pace bowling has been a big leap of faith. The consequence is an embarrassment of pace-bowling riches, the likes of which have neither been seen before nor experienced. The best indication of this was not those pacers who played the Test at Galle, but the quality of the ones kept out of it: Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohit Sharma and a few others.
Even the next generation of pacemen, Shardul Thakur, Basil Thampi, Siddharth Kaul, Ankit Rajput et al look good and almost ready to be blooded.
Yet, amidst this glut of fast bowling talent, the worrying aspect is the lack of quality left-arm pacemen. Alongside, is the reluctance of selectors to be patient while encouraging such talent.
A left-arm paceman is an important cog in the bowling wheel. He presents a unique challenge to right-hand batsmen. To start with, a majority of the fast bowlers worldwide are right-armers. Thus, batsmen get all too little net practice playing against a left-armer. They have to adapt very quickly if they come across one in matches.
Then there is the matter of angles. A left-arm pacer bowling over the wicket comes from a different angle. When he bowls on that leg stump line and on length he blind sides those batsmen who opt for a perfectly side-on stance and approach. They struggle to handle deliveries pitching on their blind spot. To counter this, most batsmen slightly open up their stance but it often leads to other problems, including squaring them up and getting them into a tangle against the short-pitched delivery sent across the body.
Of course right-arm fast bowlers produce the same sort of problem to left-hand batsmen. One lasting memory is that of Javagal Srinath bowling to Brian Lara and repeatedly turning him inside-out. West Indies’ Courtney Walsh was so impressed by the lesser known Srinath’s bowling to the classy Lara during that 1994 series that he talked his county Gloucestershire into offering him a contract.
Additionally, left-arm pacemen who bowl over the wicket and have the ability to bring the ball back into right-handers are a particularly tough lot. Especially with deliveries that don’t swing. These go towards the slips with the angle even as the batsman plays for one that he expects to come in.
Actually, India were lucky that they had a number of left-arm pacers until recently. Zaheer Khan was, of course, the best. Then there were others — Ashish Nehra, Irfan Pathan and RP Singh — who were effective in patches.
Pakistan, without doubt, have enjoyed an excess talent of late. Mohammed Amir, Wahab Riaz, Rahat Ali, Mohammad Irfan and Junaid Khan are all world class bowlers. They are aggressive, wicket-taking and a menace to right-hand batsmen.
Australia’s Mitchells (Starc and Johnson) and New Zealander Trent Boult are others who posed problems aplenty for batsmen with their angle of deliveries.
Perhaps the greatest left-arm fast bowler in recent times was Wasim Akram. He had pace, guile, great ability to swing the ball both ways and generally made batsmen’s lives miserable with his variations.
Tailenders had no chance against him, especially when he came around the wicket with the old ball and darted it into them with a combination of yorkers, length balls and short-pitched ones.
Indian batsmen are all too aware of the need to play a lot of left-arm pace bowling in the nets. Last season they summoned the tall Rajasthan fast bowler Aniket Chaudhary to bowl to them. He travelled with the team as they sought ways to get used to the challenges that would be posed by Starc.
But India need to go beyond this. They need to develop, nurture and encourage left-arm pacemen at the earliest. This would ensure that the potency of the fast bowling unit could be taken to another notch. Sadly, the selectors have not woken up to this prospect.
The India A team that is currently in South Africa for a series of ODIs and two 4-day Tests has just one left-arm paceman in Chaudhary. This is hardly a forward-thinking move. Surely the team ought to have had Jaydev Unadkat in the mix. There are a couple of others, including Barinder Sran if he has recovered from injury, who need to be groomed.
Ideally, BCCI need to get together a pool of talented young left-arm fast bowlers from across the country and put them under consultant Zaheer. He should be entrusted with the responsibility of unearthing and grooming at least a couple of them for greater honours.
Surely a good left-arm fast bowler would add another bow to the current Indian attack.