IN my entire cricketing career, I have not seen the Indian bowlers so badly exposed and mauled as they were in the two-Test series in Sri Lanka. Though the problem is one of bad selection, it was compounded by the inability of the bowlers to display any creativity or fighting spirit whatsoever, which was imperative to escape this quicksand of mediocrity. When in a rut, one has to experiment, often boldly, but our bowlers were content in maintaining their line and length. The Lankans must have enjoyed the batting practice the Indian bowlers gladly gave them.
To check the rot, the selectors must first get rid of their mental block of picking players by reputation. A more pragmatic approach is the need of the hour. For example, teams have to be tailor made for a particular tour. Take the Sri Lanka case. Though it is clear that the pitch and weather conditions on the island are conducive to spin, the selectors showed no inclination to tilt in favour of spinners. What's worse, we keep labelling Kumble as a genuine spinner, which he definitely is not. A spinner is one who uses his wrist or fingers to spin the ball, not just a fastish trundler. I suggest Kumble should do some rethink on his bowling technique and strategy. The irony is that the land of spinners can no longer boast a genuine spinner in their playing eleven.
Also, it's not written in any bible that we cannot play two off-spinners, specially against a team like Sri Lanka which has so many left-handed batsmen in their side. So what's stopping us from embarking on a spin attack?
I remember an incident in a match against Sri Lanka in 1993. The team had been decided but, curiously, there wasn't an off-spinner. At the team meeting, I raised this point as the Lankan team had five left-handers. Later, Wadekar, Azharuddin, Sachin and I held a separate meeting and the selectors finally dropped an all-rounder to include Rajesh Chauhan in the side. The point is if the selectors are intransigent, senior players must intervene and set things on course.
Honestly, do we really need bowlers who solely depend on the wicket and the weather to deliver? The World Champions obviously made hay of our weak attack. And, pray, what was the management doing? Why didn't it guide the team? It was clearly a case of the missing game plan. Indian fans must have hung their heads in shame when they read Sri Lankan captain Arjuna Ranatunga's statement that he refused to treat his one-day century as a good knock as he did not consider the bowling of any standard whatsoever.
A Test match takes a heavy toll on bowlers and to succeed one needs a combination of talent and strength—both physical and mental. One has to persevere, think the batsman out and have the special ability to get the occasional ball to do the trick. Even if I wrack my brains, I am unable to find this wonderful combination in any bowler in the team—though I am sure if we launch a talent search, we will come across just such a bowler in some nook or cranny.
With medium pacers who bowl with total lack of imagination and no spinner worth the name, it's unjustified to expect the captain to perform a miracle. Now it's up to the selectors to mend matters—understand their folly and take corrective steps. Soon. Otherwise, we are in danger of being labelled the team which breaks world records everytime it steps on the field, albeit in favour of the opponent. Selectors and Indian players should take care not to land in such a mess, ever, allowing an opponent to amass a 900-plus total. The danger is: we might just get used to such embarrassments. This does not, however, detract from the excellent performance of the Sri Lankans but we must admit that the Indians made it a lot easier for them. In the end, they were paid handsomely and we got what we deserved. So we better stop whining and wake up.
A thought for the Indians. After the splendid showing in the first innings of the first Test, Sachin's batsmen must have been a demoralised lot. I hear rumblings that domestic cricket needs overhauling. I understand the commercial complications behind such moves but we are missing out on the fact that in cricket, like other games, winning is everything. A winning streak will ensure that the moolah follows. Concentrate on some wins, boys!