The question most Indian cricket fans seem to be asking is about India’s lack of bowling teeth. It is a known problem that keeps getting put forth to every Indian cricketer who makes it to a press conference and subsequently leads to a follow-up – does India need to go into matches with five bowlers.
To be fair to the Indian team, there is a reluctant acknowledgement that the bowling resources are running bare. Rohit Sharma pleaded with the media to support Indian bowling, MS Dhoni admitted that the batting is slightly better than bowling while Virat Kohli’s hoped for a better bowling show against a tougher opponent.
Does playing five bowlers instead of four really lie at the core of solution to this issue? India isn’t the most famous side when it comes to playing five bowlers anyway.
Secondly and more pertinently, Colombo pitches are not some of the quickest around. We are only in the first week of the tournament and there are signs that these tracks are only going to tire further, enhancing the efficacy of the slower bowlers.
More often than not, batsmen will find it difficult to face up to the likes of Yuvraj Singh – who picked up three wickets against Afghanistan – and Suresh Raina on these pitches.
The question then is not whether India needs a fifth bowler but whether they need to replace one of their main bowlers. On current form, R Ashwin and Irfan Pathan are India’s best bowlers in the line-up, which leaves us with L Balaji and Zaheer Khan.
Balaji doesn’t come with any past reputation, not any recently for sure. His was a surprise selection, one that went under the radar thanks to an equally surprising recall of Yuvraj Singh. Without looking menacing, Balaji has managed to pick up a couple of them regularly.
Zaheer Khan, on the other hand, seems to be feeding off his past reputation. Never known to be an exceptional bowler in this format, he is quickly turning into an elephant in the room that not too many want to talk about.
It is probably because of his hugely successful career but, one needs to remember is in other formats.
And it isn’t too difficult to realise why. In ODIs and Test matches, Zaheer can work a batsman out over time. With the new ball, he can swing it, with the older one, he can make it go the opposite way and his subtle changes of pace when the ball becomes ragged make him an uncanny bowler to play against.
T20 cricket allows him no such luxuries. Four overs across three spells is not Zaheer’s territory. He is like a patient hunter who needs to wait for his kill for a long time before snaffling it away at the most opportune moment. Not for him to rough up the batsmen with his pace.
To give an analogy, Zaheer is like Glen McGrath, who did not have speed to trouble the batsman but had the guile to get the better of almost everyone he bowled at. And like Zaheer, McGrath’s couple of seasons in the IPL weren’t the most pleasing and he promptly called it quits in 2009.
The selected Indian squad for this World T20 wasn’t Krish Srikkanth and his team’s best. Still, Dhoni has the option of playing Ashok Dinda, Piyush Chawla or Harbhajan Singh in place of Zaheer.
The problem? Neither Dinda, nor Chawla were afforded a chance in the warm-up games and the one bowler who did get a match – Harbhajan – bowled poorly under pressure.
Eventually it leaves Dhoni with no option but to place all his trust in his lieutenant, but for now the elephant isn’t trumpeting much in T20 cricket.
Suneer Chowdhary is a Mumbai-based sports writer and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org