India and the case of the missing part-timers | Crickit
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India and the case of the missing part-timers

By, Mumbai
Aug 13, 2023 06:16 PM IST

None of the top-order batters in the Indian team bowl and that could hurt the team in the ODI World Cup

Less than two months before the 2023 ICC Men’s ODI World Cup begins, the Indian team is left with a number of unanswered questions. The middle-order composition, lack of off-spinners and a long tail are some of the pressing concerns, but there’s another one that could potentially trouble them at the marquee event – the absence of part-time bowlers.

Hardik Pandya celebrates with Suryakumar Yadav after picking a wicket(AP)
Hardik Pandya celebrates with Suryakumar Yadav after picking a wicket(AP)

In 50-over cricket, proper batters who can chip in with a few overs have always lent great balance to their respective teams. These players could walk into playing XIs based on their ability with the bat alone, and one wouldn’t necessarily term them all-rounders, but they had enough quality to make crucial contributions with the ball as well.

For India, the 2000s and 2010s formed a golden period in this regard as there were several high-class batters who also bowled consistently in matches. While Sachin Tendulkar’s leg-spin, along with all his other variations, helped him claim 154 ODI wickets, Sourav Ganguly was a handy medium-pacer. While Yuvraj Singh troubled batters with his left-arm spin, Virender Sehwag and Suresh Raina’s off-spin was used regularly in the 50-over format.

In India’s triumphant 2011 World Cup campaign, Yuvraj’s performance with the ball, which saw him claim 15 wickets in nine matches, including a five-for, went a long way in him winning the Player of the Tournament award.

As far as the benefits of having part-time bowlers in a team is concerned, it isn’t simply about the wickets they pick. Their presence allows captains to rotate bowlers more freely, they test the opposition batters’ concentration and can induce false shots, and they also help in lengthening their own team’s batting lineup.

Coming back to India’s current ODI team, there is still no clarity on what the top six will look like at the upcoming World Cup. But as things stand, the ones who seem to be in the running are: Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Virat Kohli, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Shreyas Iyer, KL Rahul, Suryakumar Yadav, Ishan Kishan, Hardik Pandya and Sanju Samson.

While Pandya is a proper all-rounder and Rahul, Kishan and Samson are wicketkeepers, none of these other batters, who are likely to make India’s top six at the World Cup, can be counted on with the ball. Sharma and Kohli have taken eight and four wickets respectively, but it’s been six years since either of them bowled in ODIs. And while the likes of Gill, Gaikwad and Yadav have never bowled in this format in international cricket, Iyer has sent down a total of 37 deliveries in the 42 ODIs he has played.

Ahead of the fourth match in the ongoing T20I series against the West Indies, India’s bowling coach Paras Mhambrey touched upon the importance of having part-time bowlers in a team.

“I’ve seen Yashasvi (Jaiswal) and Tilak (Varma) since their under-19 days and feel they are capable of being good bowlers,” said Mhambrey. “It’s something they can work on at this level. If you have the option of two such bowlers in a match, you might have to use one of them for an over at least. Once the captain also sees and you have the confidence in them that they can deliver, it’s always nice to have that option. So, we can use them and we’re working on it but it could take some time. Hopefully, soon you will see them bowling an over each at least in a game. That will be nice.”

The Impact Player rule, which was used in this year’s Indian Premier League, could possibly lead to part-time bowlers becoming a thing of the past. With teams having the option to stack their sides with proper batters and bowlers, one imagines only high-quality all-rounders having a chance to make it.

But for now, this rule isn’t a part of international cricket and in ODIs especially, the room for part-time bowlers remains. Unless they manage to somehow develop an option or two in the weeks that are left before the World Cup starts, India could be held back by their one-dimensional batting lineup.

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