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Javagal Srinath

Cushion the bowling, not the batting

March 28, 2004

Put together, four Indian batsmen -- Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and V V S Laxman -- have hammered more than 25,000 runs in 300 or so Test matches. Their overall batting average is more than 50 and their average age is 31.

These are cold statistics, but they speak volume of the wealth of experience and class in the Indian top order. And with all four at the peak of their careers, the Indian batting graph will only show an upward movement in the next few years.

A team with four such batsmen should seldom fail. The Indian batting, without a doubt, should be the biggest threat to the Pakistani bowling. At the same time, I feel that the bowling attack of the hosts is more suited to Test matches than one-dayers. To me, Mohammed Sami looks the more potent threat to India than Shoaib Akhtar. Sami appears to be a far more organised bowler.

Though sheer pace is always a good ingredient for Test cricket, my experience says that controlled pace while conserving energy fetches more wickets. Sami's inherent ability to move the new ball and his equally effective old ball bowling will lend tenacity to the Pakistani attack.

Shoaib, on the other hand, will always look for intimidation. He is one bowler who is always in search of reverse swing. No doubt he is devastating when the ball starts reversing, but how often can one do that successfully?

As one who has been in the business for many years, I know that the ability to bowl with deadly reverse swing is an extremely addictive thing. It makes a bowler engrossed in its pursuit. In the bargain, the bowler sometimes forgets or ignores the use of the new ball completely. This is a common problems with bowlers from the subcontinent.

Despite the wickets being slow and low, a good line and length always has a productive role to play in any form of cricket. Wasim Akram was one bowler who used the new ball and the old ball effectively in all conditions.

The Indian attack is reinforced with the inclusion of ace spinner Anil Kumble and pace bowler Ajit Agarkar. Both have come out of injuries and have not played a single game since the Australian tour. Anil being a seasoned campaigner certainly knows how to get back into the groove quickly. But the same cannot be said about Agarkar.

The Indian team's policy of going into a Test with only four bowlers will come unstuck if one of them does not hit the right line and length. The attack, in all likelihood, will comprise of Irfan Pathan, Zaheer Khan, Ajit Agarkar and Anil Kumble. Since the rehabilitated two are automatic choices, the chances of a couple of bowlers failing to find their rhythm are high.

If India is truly a team of batsmen, then they should accommodate a fifth bowler to bring the right balance between the ball and the bat. Batting long and deep might take the match to winning positions, but getting those 20 wickets is important in winning it actually.

I can completely understand the necessity of the sixth batsman while playing in Australia and South Africa, but on subcontinental wickets a team needs more cushion in the bowling department. One needs to understand that the Indian bowling attack is weakened by injuries and will face a tough time under such hot and harsh conditions.

So far, I haven't seen any Indian team taking a bold decision to field five bowlers despite a lot of debate. If India has to make history in Pakistan, it will have to be innovative and accommodative.

Previous column: Irfan is truly India's spearhead now
Ramiz Raja's column: Kumble will be the man to watch

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