Bowlers most likely to spoil India’s party this time!

Biswajit Jha

Judging by the proceeding of the 2011 World Cup so far, one may think that it’s been a typical sub-continental World Cup with high scoring matches almost every day - the batsmen are having a superb time in the middle at the expense of hapless bowlers.

People have already started saying that it’s the batting which will determine the fortunes of any team in this Cup because there is nothing in it for the poor bowlers. They are there to play only second fiddle to the batsmen and will remain the ultimate whipping boys of the World Cup.

It’s natural that both fans and pundits have picked India as hot favourites to lift the World title as they have the best batting line-up. The argument is - who will stop the famed Indian batsmen on batting friendly surfaces in this part of the world?

But if we dig a little deeper, the ground reality is diametrically opposite to what many people currently believe. Since batting on sub-continental pitches is no more of a mystery to most of the top steams, the team with the best bowling line-up will emerge victorious this time.

It’s not that all bowlers are getting hammered by the batsmen. Pakistan captain Shahid Afridi, Australian fast man Mitchell Johnson, Proteas leg-spinner Imran Tahir, West Indian tearaway paceman Kemar Roach and Sri Lankan slinger Lasith Malinga- have all negated notions that this will be the batsmen’s World Cup.

And herein lies trouble for India. Team India carries with it the worst bowling unit among the top five contenders of the coveted title.

Pakistan, who, despite not having a good batting line-up, are doing well purely on the back of their bowlers’ superb show led by leg-spinner Shahid Afridi and pace duo of Shoaib Akhtar and Umar Gul. And they are looking like a team to watch out for. They also have a very good all-rounder in Abdul Razzak. If inconsistency and infighting do not come to haunt them again, their bowlers can give any team a run for their money.

The same can be said of the bowlers from Australia and South Africa. The pace trio of Mitchell Johnson, Shaun Tait and Brett Lee has already set the slow sub-continent wickets on fire with their fiery pace. It’s not surprising that Johnson is already among the top wicket takers. Medium pacer Shane Watson also adds real value to their side, and if any of their frontline bowlers has an off-day in office, he is there to shield him. A luxury India can’t afford.

South Africa have also started their campaign superbly on the piggyback of their spin bowlers! Pakistan born leg-spinner Imran Tahir has been a surprise package for the Proteas in this World Cup. He, along with offie Johan Botha and left-armer Robin Peterson, can run through any formidable batting line-up. With world’s premier fast bowler Dale Steyn in their ranks, they are desperate to shed the chokers’ tag this time and win their maiden world title.

Even the Lankan bowling unit is stronger than that of India. Malinga has shown his superiority and destructive prowess in the very first match he played for the island nation by picking up 6 wickets. The best bats in the business will have a tough time in facing his toe-crushing yorkers in the later stages of the tournament. In Angelo Mathews they have a genuine all-rounder who has a cool head on his shoulders. And if you add spin legend Muralitharan to their bowling armoury, it looks an exciting bunch.

Unfortunately, India’s bowling looks grim. They don’t have a single all-rounder in their side, if we go by the strict term of an all-round cricketer. India’s much-hyped all-rounder, Yusuf Pathan - found after a fanatical search of over a year- is no more than a batsman who can roll his arm over occasionally like Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina and Virender Sehwag. This predicament could surely haunt India in coming matches, especially in the knock-out stage.

Both their strike bowlers, Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh, are not looking their best at present. The support bowlers-Munaf Patel and Piyush Chawla- haven’t given any reason to feel good about India’s bowling after the first couple of matches.

India have already suffered for not having a genuine all-rounder against England. With a weak bowling line-up, India needed someone who could lend support to their frontline bowlers in crunch situations of a match. But sadly, they don’t have any one in the present team which, many believe, will go on to win the trophy for the second time.

In the first two matches of the tournament, India’s bowlers looked pathetic and out of the action. Despite having batters posting a huge total against England, it was not sufficient for the bowlers to give India a comfortable win. In the inaugural match too, Bangladesh, chasing India’s improbable total of 371 for victory, reached 283/9, which in any way shows the lack of depth in India’s bowling. Even the bowlers failed to bowl out minnows like Ireland and the Netherlands cheaply. The Netherlands batsmen negotiated the Indian new ball bowlers with ease in the first ten overs and did not lose a single wicket.

Too much of space is being wasted by discussing the ideal bowling combination for the Indian team-two spinners and two pacers, or one spinner and three pacers, or three spinners and two pacers. But unless the bowlers get their act together in coming matches, the mathematics and boardroom discussions over bowling combos will prove futile.

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