When we roam around in India and watch youngsters play cricket, one thing remains common across India is that in team of 11 players, there are 5 such players who bat, bowl and also field well. They perform day in and day out as allrounder for their team. As they get little older, few from those 5 players get selected for their school/college/U16/U19 team. They come under a trainer/coach and first thing a coach does to them is to feed their young mind with singular vision i.e either pick up bat or pick up a ball to be successful in long term and if they are talented enough they go on to become future batsmen or bowler of their State team and get selected in National team. These coaches can’t be blamed alone because in India every budding cricketer aspires to become either Sachin Tendulkar, Dravid or Kohli, there is no fast bowling allrounder in vicinity to look up to or to be their role model.
All these training years under professional coaches, prematurely kill their allrounder skill, and incidentally those who survive and make it to regular playing XI of team India are spinning all-rounders. Last fast bowling allrounder that India had was Kapil Dev who retired 22 years back. It’s not that India didn’t have fast bowling all-rounder in these 22 years but they were bits & pieces allrounder and utility player at best, they never reached class of Kapil Dev.
Modern day cricket is very demanding, it demands skill sets to survive and allrounders, especially in ODIs, have become essential for any team that aspires to be top ODI team of the world and wants to win ICC tournaments,sadly, India lacks one such all-rounder. India had allrounders who were either more a bowler or a batsmen than allrounders who are equally good at both.
India have flirted with many fast bowling allrounder option, one such option was Robin Singh. He gave his heart & soul on field and even won few matches for India. His commitment for team was admirable. He dived all around in field when he fielded, he bowled his heart out, he ran between wickets like he was running for his life but he never looked like a player who could be a top all-rounder and his stats of 69 wickets and 2336 runs in 136 ODI matches proves the same.
At one point of time in mid 90s, there was a fad to use lower order batsmen as pinch-hitter. In India, Srinath was given role of pinch- hitter in few matches. He scored a fifty too but it was an experiment that was destined to fail and no wonder it doomed.
Ganguly proved a better seam-bowling all-rounder than others who played for India in all these 22 years. He had few five-wicket haul under his belt, he took 100 wickets in ODIs. His ball swung in the air and off the pitch as well, but his top class batting and captaincy over-burdened him and after a while he stopped bowling. Had he continued his bowling and concentrated on his fitness, he could have been answer to India’s woes of fast-bowling allrounder.
India have always had spin-bowling allrounder but never had one allrounder who is able to score century on a day and take a five-wicket haul on another. One allrounder who fits in the above criteria is Yuvraj Singh, although he justified the tag for a short duration. He won India ICC World Cup 2011 with his all around performance. He excelled, both with bat as well as ball, in the tournament and was allrounder in true sense for team India in 2011 world cup. He ended tournament with 362 runs and 15 wickets to his name and was adjudged man of the series.
Another man who filled allrounder void for few years was Sachin Tendulkar. His excellence with bat is well known but he was also called “man with golden arm” due to his knack of picking wickets at right moment. He won matches for India with ball; with his seam up bowling, with his leg spins as well as with off spins. He had 154 ODI wickets to his credit but he also stopped bowling in second half of his cricketing career.
Recently India experimented with Stuart Binny who made his name in IPL but couldn’t carry his IPL form in national team. He could neither convince with bat nor with ball in few chances that he got.
Other recent additions to India’s allrounder list are Ravindra Jadeja, Axar Patel, Hardik Pandya and Gurkeerat Singh Mann. Barring Hardik Pandya, all other are spin bowling allrounder. Ravindra Jadeja has almost cemented his place in team as spin bowling allrounder and his place is sometimes challenged by similar styled Axar patel but both look their own pale shadow in overseas condition. They struggle with bat and their bowling also doesn’t raise any confidence about them serving as allrounder in overseas condition.
Hardik Pandya is latest addition in India’s search for allrounders. This selection reflects desperation on part of BCCI. He hardly has any domestic cricket experience. His few sparkling inning for Mumbai Indians have made him eligible to be in Indian team as allrounder. It tells you dearth of fast bowling allrounder India has that it requires only few performances with bat and ball to make any player eligible for a place as allrounder in team India.
This move of selecting Hardik Pandya is more of a gamble than a sound decision backed by stats. Hardik may still surprise his detractors with his bat for team India but expecting him to perform with ball as well, will be asking far too much from him. This kind of selection is quick-fix of a long term problem.
One notable man who could have answered India’s search for allrounder was Irfan Pathan. He made sensational debut for India with ball. His swing bowling made batsmen dance to his tunes, he was a sensation until Greg Chappell tried to convert him to an allrounder. He started well with bat but pressure of becoming allrounder took a toll on his bowling which was his USP. No wonder he could not cement his place as allrounder in team India and in search of allrounder, India lost a fast bowler who could have taken forward legacy of Zaheer Khan, Srinath and Kapil dev. However, now, Irfan Pathan is making his name in domestic circuit, recently in Syed Mustaq Ali trophy he did well with both bat and ball and shown fighting spirit to make a comeback in team India.
But none of these Indian allrounders, in these 22 years, could match excellence of Kallis or good performances of Shane Watson. India didn’t have their own Dwayne Bravo, Abdul Razzaq, Shaun Pollock or Chris Cairns in all these years . India will never need of a fast bowling allrounder in sub-continent, spin bowling allrounders like Jadeja, Patel fits in perfectly in sub-continent but if India has to win big tournaments in overseas condition, they need to restore balance of the team with fast bowling allrounders.
World class batsmen come one after another in India because of concerted effort at grass-root level and thanks to infrastructure improvement by BCCI through state cricket boards. BCCI also needs to wake up to requirement of fast bowling allrounders and make sure that fast bowling allrounders at junior level are picked at right time and provided support, training and skills to resolve India’s woe of fast bowling allrounder else India’s search would continue till eternity and will forever haunt India in overseas conditions.
This article has also been published here at sportskeeda.