When the Indian squad for the first three Tests was announced on Wednesday, a simple statement at the end caught more attention than even the inclusion of Rishabh Pant. It said that Jasprit Bumrah wouldn’t be available till the second Test at Lord’s, while there is a further question mark over the availability of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who aggravated his back injury during the third ODI at Leeds on Tuesday.
The last sentence didn’t say how long Kumar would be out for. There was no indication that he could possibly join the Test squad after resting for the next six days, or missing the four-day practice game at Chelmsford. It was almost similar to the silence from the team management when he first broke down before the Bristol T20I.
Exactly eight days after Kumar sat out with a reported stiff back, the first update on his fitness came from assistant coach Sanjay Bangar in Leeds. “He is a very important bowler for us. We will assess his fitness in a test before the game (third ODI) and take a call keeping in mind the Test series ahead,” he had said on Monday. Ironically, Kumar did play that series-deciding game and eventually aggravated his injury.
It negated what Bangar had said before the game. Or maybe, it wasn’t his decision at all. It can be understood why the senior team management — Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri — felt the need to play Kumar at Headingley. A series at 1-1, bragging rights, World Cup, et al. That is not the underlying point, however. Instead, it is about what happened additionally, and afterwards in the game.
For this last ODI, India went the extra mile and replaced their entire pace attack. Umesh Yadav and Siddarth Kaul, who have played four white-ball games together on this tour of Ireland and England, were both left out. Shardul Thakur, who last played a dead ODI against South Africa in February, came back into the eleven.
It made little sense. Yes, one of Yadav or Kaul had to make way for Kumar. But dropping them both seemed an excessive over-reaction to their poor death-over bowling at Lord’s. If at all, Yadav deserved to be dropped, for this is his third tour to England. Kaul, on his first trip here, could have used the extra game.
In that respect, his plight is near similar to what Thakur has experienced. Over the past year, he has been a regular feature in the Indian ODI squad. He made his debut in Sri Lanka, and played two matches. Then he played a third game in South Africa, a full five months later. He did feature in the T20 tri-series in Sri Lanka thereafter. Technically, he should have been the first in line when Kumar (and Bumrah) became unavailable for the ODI series. Yet, he had to wait for Yadav and Kaul to be left out.
When asked about this lack of regular opportunities and any word from the team management, Thakur replied, “No, the team management hasn’t explained this to me. It is not easy to play the odd game (after every few months). In South Africa, I played one match, which was also a dead rubber. Here (at least) it was the series’ finale and I tried giving my best.”
His best was a return of 1-51 from 10 overs as England registered a spanking eight-wicket win. His pitch map was laden with short deliveries that the batsmen handled with ease on their backfoot. He didn’t share the new ball either, for this was his first outing in England. Even the team management knew they had to go for an alternate in Hardik Pandya, who failed to identify proper lengths once again and bowled a poor first spell for the sixth consecutive game in this limited-overs’ leg.
The summation of these two instances paints a poor picture on the part of the Indian team management, and underlines just how badly the pace resources have been dealt with in the limited-overs’ arena.
In a previous write-up, it was illustrated how Kumar and Bumrah had been over-burdened in both ODIs and T20Is during the past year. Between the end of 2017 Champions Trophy and the start of this tour of Ireland and England, Kumar played 27 out of 32 ODIs and 10 out of 18 T20Is. Bumrah had featured in 26 ODIs and 9 T20Is. There was a definite need to test other pacers in both formats.
Did it happen? Only to a mixed degree, hampered by fitness issues. The first-choice duo played in the first T20I in Dublin, and Bumrah got injured there. The question needs to be asked is, why did the team management deem it necessary to risk their finest asset in white-ball cricket against Ireland?
Three weeks later, it sits in accordance with another question. If Bangar had outlined that Kumar wouldn’t be risked ahead of the Test series, who took the call of playing him in the final ODI nevertheless? If he aggravated his injury, it is amply clear that he had not sufficiently recovered from it. In the Yo-Yo era, where fitness is the new apparent watchword, how can the team management justify such tactless decisions concerning their prime pace bowlers in limited-overs’ cricket?
Additionally, the buck doesn’t stop here. The fact that Yadav, Kaul and Thakur weren’t ready to face the English line-up further highlights the lack of gametime for each of them. The struggles of Yadav and Kaul at the death – 49 runs in five overs – during the Lord’s ODI highlights this point.
Kaul hasn’t played white-ball international cricket before this tour. For all his experience, Yadav last played ODIs in September, and this was his first outing in T20Is since 2012. He has featured in the IPL, wherein he has proven to be an unreliable death bowler.
During the 2018 IPL, Kohli saw often that Yadav would bowl a good first spell, only to be taken for runs during the death. Yet, the Indian skipper sees it fit to deploy him in the final overs in international cricket? Could it merely be down to lack of options?
If so, whose fault is it that India have only developed two pacers capable of doing so?