Monday, November 25, 2013

Can India do a Gabba? Ever?

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Reading a piece by Ahmer Naqvi in Cricinfo made me chuckle. Some Pakistani critics "insulted" Bilawal Bhatti by saying that looked like an Indian quickie! But there is a deeper story guiding that thought process than meets the eye. Many an Indian fan yearns for a fast bowler with swagger that can send stumps cartwheeling and put fear into the opposition batsmen. When will India win a test match on the backs of a fast bowling performance like Mitchell Johnson delivered at the Gabba or the West Indian quicks did with regularity or Akram and Younis did in the nineties.

India's victories usually happen due to guile, cunning, skill and above all attritional batting. Very rarely has India tamed a fast bowling machine on fast pitches and dished out what it has got. There's not much disrespect in posting small totals in the face of hostile fast bowling. That's the normal outcome. What's annoying to an Indian fan is that India doesn't dish it out in kind. There was much joy when Sreesanth made Kallis hop and had him caught on the last tour to South Africa. But those feats were few and far between. Even the great Kapil Dev never terrorized batsmen. Srinath was India's best fast bowler in my time (and probably all time) and even he managed it only a couple of times.

Opposing teams and journalists only grudingly respect India's victories at home because they only project cunning, not courage. There is something to be said for bravery and courage in a sporting contest. Indians know this too. This is why they celebrate Gavaskar's thirteen hundreds against the pace battery of the West Indies. While modern Indian batsmen have got the aggression down and pretty much bat like the West Indies of the eighties or Aussies of the nineties, India has still not developed a fast bowling culture like our neighbors next door to the west. The old fashioned gladiatorial instincts still stimulate a lot of fan excitement. The experience of watching Mitchell Johnson and the Australian pace pack hunt down England at the Gabba was pulse pounding. Contrast that to Ashwin and Ojha plucking out Aussie wickets at Mohali. While victory is sweet, it's sweeter when it comes in a contest where there is a fierce exchange of blows. And such a contest can only be generated by hostile fast bowling.

Here's to Umesh Yadav. May he simply bowl fast at the rib cages and armpits of South African batsmen and terrorize them. Make them cry and wanna go home like Jonathon Trott. I have sympathy for Jonathon's illness, but it's clear that Mitchell Johnson hastened the advent of those symptoms. And let me point out that they did not show up when facing spin bowlers in India. If Yadav bowls anything like Johnson and Zaheer is truly back to his smartest, then India have a great chance to be exciting in South Africa. With Ishant Sharma to play the containment role, India can keep the pressure on South African batsmen. Accomplished as the South African batsmen are, good fast bowling tames even the best of the best.

This is wishful thinking probably. The reality is that Indian batting is inexperienced, though talented. This will probably be a repeat of the 1999 tour to Australia where India lost 3-0 and only Tendulkar and VVS Laxman emerged with some honors. A couple of daddy hundreds will be needed from Pujara, Sharma or Kohli to make a statement. India's batsmen will also need to be ready for hostile, angry and intimidating fast bowling. They can't whine or complain. They need to stand up, man up and punch back. Only then will they really win respect in the eyes of the opposition. Bring out the hooks and pulls occasionally and put the opposition bowlers on notice that India were not going to duck and weave all the time but were ready to take it on. Michael Clarke put Stuart Broad in his place early in the second innings by doing just that. Ganguly did that in Brisbane in 2003 in the first test by crashing a fantastic century that included some delightful pulls and crisp cuts.

Most of that is day dreaming.  In all honesty I see India losing 2-0.

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