New Delhi: The Indian pace attack has been talked up of late and to be fair, they have done a decent job in South Africa. But Shoaib Akhtar sees it only as the beginning and says there is still a long way to go before India becomes a good fast bowling nation.
After a long gap, India have developed a sizeable pool of speedsters and five of them — Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Mohammad Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah — are with the squad in South Africa.
Is it one of the best pace attacks India have ever had?
"I would not say that. I would say they are gradually improving and there is a long way to go before India can call itself a good fast bowling nation," Akhtar told PTI in an interview.
"Five years ago, I had thought that Varun Aaron, Umesh Yadav and Mohammad Shami will be the ones to lead India's pace department on overseas tours.
"But that did not happen with Aaron having fitness issues, Yadav being good in patches and erratic other times, like Wahab Riaz.
But Akhtar said the current performance of the bowlers is a "healthy sign"
"...and the thinking that (Virat) Kohli and the team management seem to have, they will only get better.
"India have always been known for their batting but nowadays you are seeing emergence of fast bowlers too but still I would say long way to go," said the fearsome "Rawalpindi Express", who will be seen in action at St. Moritz Ice Cricket in Switzerland next month.
The bowlers certainly did their job at Newlands and Centurion, dismissing South Africa each time in four innings and out of the 40, 30 wickets were taken by the pacers.
As captain Kohli pointed out, it was the batting that let India down.
To many, India's series loss in South Africa was not entirely surprising but according to Akhtar, the result was unexpected.
"I saw the first two Tests in bits and pieces. It would be wrong to say that it (India's loss) was expected. It is still one of the best Test teams.
"Yes, they did not play well. The batsmen should have applied themselves better. It is, may be, a result of a bad combination. Not taking wickets at the right time, not scoring enough runs.
"Most of the guys in the team are right up there. They need to go back to the drawing board. I am quite impressed with (Hardik) Pandya as well.
It is just the batsmen who did not apply themselves on pitches that were not so tough to bat on."
Like many greats of the game, he too was shocked by the omission of Ajinkya Rahane in the playing eleven. Rohit Sharma was preferred over the vice-captain.
"There is a lot of debate on Rohit. We all know he is a great talent but in the world we are living you have to perform. He is very talented, I see shades of Inzamam-ul-Haq in him.
"Unfortunately, he has not delivered on what was expected of him. And not having Ajinkya Rahane was shocking because he is your most technically correct batsman."
Akhtar concluded his thoughts on India's performance on an optimistic note, saying the defeat in South Africa could be a blessing in disguise.
"They have a chance to turn it all around (in England and Australia later this year). I would look at it like that. To lose a series like that could be the best thing that could happen to them.
"Before England, they have to utilise the time in the right manner, get the practice right. Lot of improvement is required in batting. England is a good team at home but you cannot write off India."
Unlike other former greats, Akhtar has no plans of taking up full-time coaching.
"I am living an easy life, don't have many ambitions. I am always available for advice (for Pakistan team) but getting into a full-time job is not something I am looking at.
"I just want to sit back and and watch my son grow up. I don't think he will become a cricketer, I think he will become an actor," he signed off.
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