Cricket has been a Batsmen’s game by tradition. There are tales of legendary batsmen on how they astutely dealt with the most intimidating bowling. Even after drastic changes in cricketing formats, triumphs of the batsmen against vicious bowling, make more cricketing headlines, than genuine bowling performances.
Yet, pace bowling has its place in cricket. It is difficult to erase memories of Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson, Wasim Akram, Malcolm Marshall and Kapil Dev. In recent times, pace has been held aloft by the likes of Brett Lee Dale Steyn, Lasith Malinga and Shane Bond, to name just few of them. Some of them have retired from their national teams, but thanks to Indian Premier League, their phenomenal bowling abilities are still on display.
Unfortunately, India is yet to produce an express speedster, capable of generating fear. There are stories of odd bowlers showing promise for a few seasons, only to fade away later. Cases of Irfan Pathan, Ishant Sharma or Sreesanth easily come to mind. They started with great promises, but couldn’t sustain the momentum for long.
Pathan burst into cricketing scene, as a fast-medium left-arm swinger. His bowling style evoked comparison with the legendary Wasim Akram. Since he was just 19, everyone expected him to fill the vacuum left by Kapil Dev and Javagal Srinath. His exploits with swing, cemented his position in the team. ICC named him as the Emerging Player of the Year in 2004, after he took 18 wickets in two Tests against Bangladesh. But just as fans were still rejoicing, Pathan lost his rhythm. Some people believe that Pathan’s initiation as batsman is attributable to the sharp decline of his bowling skills. They blame Greg Chappell, under whose tutelage; Pathan was transformed into a batsman and all-rounder. With Pathan opening the batting in ODIs and also in tests, his bowling suffered. Playing as Shehwag’s replacement in a test match, Pathan scored 93. In four closely-spaced test innings, Pathan had three scores of 80 plus. In ICC’s ranking of all-rounders, Pathan raced to the no. 2 spot. Besides, he figured among the top 5 batsmen. In early 2006, Pathan took a first-over Test hat-trick, the lone bowler in history to do so. But Pathan steadily lost his pace and swing. By 2007, he was no longer in the squad.
Ishant Sharma debuted by replacing Munaf Patel for 2007 Bangladesh tour. He couldn’t do much there. But in the third test, during Pakistan’s 2007 India tour, Sharma bagged 5 wickets to ensure his inclusion for the Australian tour. He finished the series with figures of 6/358. Afterwards, he claimed 4 wickets in fourth ODI to emerge as man-of- the-match. When Australia toured India in 2008, Sharma was named man-of-the-series after taking 16 wickets. India won that series 2–0, but as 2009 dawned, his bowling lost edge. He was dropped for second Test against Sri Lanka. Since then, he has only made odd appearances in the national team.
Sreesanth replaced injured Zaheer Khan to make test debut, against England in March 2006 and claimed 4/95 in the first Test at Nagpur. He missed the second test but came back strongly to take 5 wickets in Mumbai’s third test. Since Pathan was dropped from Indian team, Sreesanth led India’s pace attack on the West Indies tour. In Kingston’s fourth test, Sreesanth had match figures of 5/72. He bowled even better in the first test against South Africa by playing a key role in the host’s dismissal for 84 in December 2006. His match figures of 5/40 earned him the man-of-the-match award. Just as his career was showing promise, Sreesanth found himself among several controversies in South Africa and also when India toured England. After being dropped for a while, he regained his place, when Sri Lanka toured India in 2009. In Kanpur test, Sreesanth helped India win and his 6 wickets earned him the Man-of-the-match. By this time, inconsistency crept in his form. He last played against England in August 2011. With BCCI banning him for life recently, Sreesanth’s career has come to an end.
Other entrants in the last decade have had nearly similar fate and now we have Umesh Yadav, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and Shami Ahmed. We genuinely hope they serve the country longer.