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DILEEP PREMACHANDRAN
TWELFTH MAN

Dileep Premachandran is editor-in-chief of Wisden India

India’s bowling is still a cause for concern

Umesh Yadav

n cricket, numbers aren't always everything. But there are times when they tell you everything you need to know. A cursory look at the bowling economy rates is enough to reveal just why Australia won 2-0, and why India wouldn't have come within sniffing distance of success but for the Australian declarations in Adelaide and Sydney.

Four players on the two sides bowled more than 100 overs. Of the two spinners, R Ashwin had the better economy rate – 3.4 to 3.58. But Nathan Lyon, who played one more Test, finished with 11 more wickets. He was mostly able to bowl attacking lines with aggressive field settings, while Ashwin had to perform a far more restrictive role.

Mohammed Shami's economy rate was 4.24. The numbers for Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma were 4.62 and 3.47. For Australia, Ryan Harris was the most miserly (2.65) with Josh Hazlewood not far behind (2.8). Mitchell Johnson, rested for the Sydney game, went at 3.77 an over, but took 13 wickets and struck a crucial game-changing 88 in Brisbane. Varun Aaron, who played in the first two Tests, went at 5.64 an over, while a patently unfit Bhuvneshwar Kumar finished with 1-168 from the 42 overs he bowled in Sydney.

Over the four Tests, India's bowlers picked up just 58 wickets, compared to 73 by their Australian counterparts. Worse still, the profligate nature of the bowling made it impossible for either MS Dhoni or Virat Kohli – who led in two Tests apiece – to exert any kind of pressure. Each time Ashwin slowed down the torrent of runs, there would be release at the other end.

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You will seldom see a group of international bowlers with less control. The basics that most teams can take for granted were noticeably absent.

You will seldom see a group of international bowlers with less control. The basics that most teams can take for granted were noticeably absent. The pace bowlers sprayed the ball both sides of the wicket, and were often too full or too short. The Australian batsmen, led by Steve Smith with an astonishing 769 runs, cashed in to the tune of eight centuries and 18 other scores in excess of 50. That the score stayed at 2-0 owed much to the resolve and brilliance shown by a trio of Indian batsmen.

ohli, his lean trot in England firmly behind him, led the way with 692 runs, matching Smith's tally of four hundreds. Murali Vijay made 482 and Ajinkya Rahane 399, easing some of the disappointment felt at the failures of Cheteshwar Pujara and Rohit Sharma. KL Rahul made a doughty century in only his second Test, while Ashwin showed once again that he was more than capable of batting in the top seven.

Apart from Brisbane, each of the pitches was heavily loaded in the batsmen's favour, and the Australian bowling discipline made all the difference. Harris, the warrior with next to no cartilage left in one knee, showed the way, bowling impeccable lines and lengths even in spells when he failed to take wickets. Hazlewood, in his debut series, offered similar control, in addition to the gift of extra bounce.

India's bowling debacle becomes all the more alarming when you consider that these are pretty much the best players available. Plenty of pace bowlers have been taking wickets in the Ranji Trophy, but most of them seem incapable of nudging the speed gun beyond 130 km/hr. On the green-tinged surfaces prepared this season, some of them have looked world-beaters. On the kind of pitches that the Australia-India series was played on, the lack of pace would make them cannon fodder.

The way pitches are prepared these days, almost 80 per cent of the matches will be on placid surfaces. You will seldom run through sides on those. You certainly can't just run in, float the ball through and hope for the surface to do the rest. You have to be like a chisel on rock, chipping away little by little till it breaks. Without mastery of line-and-length basics, you might as well just tickle the rock with a feather.

India got rid of Joe Dawes before this tour, and it was Bharat Arun that did the bowling coach's job. This display from the pace bowlers hasn't exactly enhanced his reputation. Maybe a batting obsessed nation would do well to ponder a head coach who was a reputed bowler in his time. Jason Gillespie was a master in all conditions, and has done a sterling job with Yorkshire. If the terms are right, he may just be interested. It goes without saying that India need someone of that calibre.

 
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