As the score in the series against England stands at an embarrassing 3-0, many in India are falling back on that old card, ‘Let them come to India and we’ll show them.’
Back in its headquarters at the Wankhede stadium, the BCCI was deviously making a mental note to itself: The pitches for the England series will be spin-friendly; we’ll pay them back in kind. They’ve promised to probe the unimpressive showing but instead the thing that they should be worried about is the propensity to produce one flat-track bully after another.
When coach Duncan Fletcher put the blame of the debacle on the excessive swing that the England bowlers were able to get, he was basically saying that India’s batsmen are just not good enough. The bowling has been decent but then decent will not equal winners in any book.
The only solace is that there is at least some sort of pool for both bowlers and batsmen. If the oldies fail, then there are several youngsters waiting in line.
The real worry, however, should be the complete and utter lack of fast-bowling all-rounders -- without them, the team has no balance when it tours abroad. One injury and we have Mahendra Singh Dhoni coming up to bowl. One injury and we are down to three bowlers. Without an all-rounder, we have no one to fall back on in batting as well as bowling.
India’s ODI team during the World Cup had batsmen who could bowl spin and that gave them the edge. But when they go abroad, these bowlers become pretty useless.
The Test team, on the other hand, is a team of specialists, one dimensional players, who though very good, can’t really do anything else. England, in contrast, has a policy of two-dimensional players. And given how their tail is wagging in almost every match, it’s paying off.
But ask around in the domestic scene, for the next upcoming fast-bowling all-rounder and not a single name comes up; not a single one. The only conclusion that one can come up with is that no one in India wants to be an all-rounder.
But why is that really the case? Is it because if you are good enough in either discipline then it’s easier to get a job or a place in any team? Why does everyone want to be Sachin Tendulkar but there's no waiting list for Kapil Dev?
A look down the years at India’s squad that toured England in 1986 shows that they had as many as five players – Mohinder Amarnath, Ravi Shastri, Roger Binny, Kapil Dev and Chetan Sharma – who could bat and bowl. And do both with a fair degree of expertise.
The last proper all-rounder, who could bowl pace, that India had was probably Manoj Prabhakar – he opened the bowling and the batting but since then we’ve seen glimpses of talent but rarely ever the real thing. The last glimpse of any such talent was Irfan Pathan.
Roger Binny, who was part of that 1986 team, believes that the biggest problem is that there’s no out there looking for all-rounders.
“The thing with an all-rounder is that you are born not made,” said Binny. “You have to such talent early and explain to them why being all all-rounder is worth it. Is anyone is the BCCI doing that?”
“I played for my school as an all-rounder, I played for my college as an all-rounder, I played for my state as all-rounder and I played for my country as an all-rounder. There was no question of doing things in any other way,” Binny further added.
Being an all-rounder isn’t easy. It’s tough. You have to bat and you have to bowl. And you have to do that in every net session, lest rust sets in. And on the batting friendly wickets in India, one can often breakdown
“The system has to encourage them but in my opinion, it’s not doing that at all,” Binny said. “Batsmen and bowlers hog the limelight. But an all-rounder is rarely ever mentioned. He is not appreciated. He may get a vital 30 or 2-3 wickets but no one pays any attention to that. It’s a thankless job and somehow you are required to enjoy it.”
That can’t be easy. Being an all-rounder can break you but given that a good all-rounder is worth two players, shouldn’t India be searching harder for such a player?
Former chairman of the selection committee Kiran More believes that it is the National Cricket Academy (NCA) and the current selection committee headed by Krishnamachari Srikkanth that is at fault.
“If I were you ask you what the job of the NCA is, you’d probably say that it is give finishing touches to the players and prepare them for international cricket. But look at the current team and tell me how many of these players have come through the NCA? Not a single one,” said More. “They need to get out and look for all-rounder. It’s a rare species. Unless you search, it’s unlikely you will ever find one.”
The other bit that troubles More is the way all-rounders are used in domestic cricket.
“An all-rounder should be your star. You don’t want him to bowl 40-50 overs in every match. You want to protect him too. You want to use him wisely but I don’t think that the captains in Ranji Trophy, with a few exceptions like Hrishikesh Kanitkar (Rajasthan) or Wasim Jaffer (Mumbai), are good enough to do that,” More added.
Praveen Amre, the coach under whom Mumbai won three of the last five Ranji Trophies, believes that the all-rounder is a special breed that needs to be nurtured and protected too.
“The thing is you have to recognise is that you can’t push them too hard either. Most people with enough talent to become an all-rounder can make it to the team as either batsmen or bowlers. Most of the time, they just give up one of the aspects by the time they become senior cricketers because their bodies can’t take the load,” said Amre. “So you have to encourage them and at the same time, protect them. Because they are special players and they need that.”
Special players that the Indian team needs and wishes for but at the moment it’s just an empty dream and given the current scenario, it likely to remain that way. So when the BCCI sits down to review the series, one hopes that they not only look at reasons for defeat but also set a plan for a stronger, better India; a plan that hopefully has a place for all-rounders as well.
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