India can’t escape grooming all-rounders

The Indian squad which had won the Prudential World cup in 1983 had a large share of multi skilled players – Mohinder Amarnath, Sandeep Patil, Kapil Dev, Kirmani, Kirti Azad, Madan Lal, Roger Binny and Ravi Shastri. All the said players could effectively do their prime trade properly and also contribute in another trade. I stayed away from terming them as all-rounders, cause purely by definition, only Kapil Dev fulfilled the could be termed so.

In my books, an all-rounder is one who has ability to score 50 runs in an ODI / 100 runs in a test innings and also take three wickets in an ODI / five wickets in a test innings. A full time wicketkeeper who can bat as per the criterion above should also qualify as an all-rounder as wicket keeping is a specialist activity and not same as fielding.

With time, though, the allrounder term is being used far more loosely to the extent being replaced by the word ‘contributor’- particularly in the subcontinent. So a bowler, who can ‘contribute; with the bat with 20 runs in ODI / 30 runs in Test, is now considered an all-rounder. A batsman who can bowl ‘a bit’ and has ‘golden arm’ and ‘provide breakthroughs’ is considered an all-rounder.

While numerically, New Zealand may have had more such players over the past two decades, it was Sri Lankan captain Arjuna Ranatunga who justified success with this concept. He groomed a team consisting players who were encouraged to perform outside their comfort zone. So a tiny wicketkeeper and one spinner was asked to open and play fearless cricket; Vaas came up the order occasionally to pinch hit; Dharmasena ‘contributed’ with bat and the likes of DeSilva, Gurusinha and the captain himself with the ball. This smattering of ‘bits and pieces players’ won SL their maiden world cup in 1996, enforcing the concept.

That 1996 world cup was the last instance when India had a genuine bowling allrounder playing for her. Kaluwitharana and Jayasuriya, in murderous form, ensured the end of Manoj Prabhakar – a lion hearted cricketer who maximized his limited talent to the extent that he spent half his career opening the batting and possibly one of the first exponents of reverse swing bowling. It’s a shame that a cricketer who should have been a role model, of a fighting all-rounder to many, instead is now remembered for all the wrong reasons.

India’s search for a consistent bowling all-rounder is now entering its 15th year – a period, when we have consistently degraded and loosened the all-rounder term.

It all started with Sourav Ganguly’s selection in 1996 tour to England, after which Sunny Gavaskar wrote a famous column titled “Vinod Kambli should take up bowling now”. The Prince of Kolkata grasped the opportunity with his batting, but his military medium pace bowling ‘contributed’ to the extent that we started searching for more such players.

In walked the ‘all-rounder pretenders’ in domestic cricket – the likes of Sunil Joshi, Robin Singh, Vijay Bharadwaj, Hrishikesh Kanitkar, Retinder Singh Sodhi, Dinesh Mongia and Sanjay Bangar.

Each of them were given enough chances to establish; and when that failed, we got into the process of converting genuine bowlers to ‘contributors’ in the other trade. The prime guinea pigs in this experiment were Jawagal Srinath, Ajit Agarkar and Irfan Pathan. While Srinath was too classy a bowler to let his trade down, the other two ended up being so inconsistent in their primary role that they soon became liability to their teams. However, in both cases, at least they were first allowed to establish their position in the team solely on basis of their bowling.

The flipside scenario was getting the likes of Sehwag and Sachin to bowl more. It’s still a mystery whether their weak shoulders, elbows and backs today, are a direct result of the needless bowling we stretched them into.

Things, though, have turned worse now. The frustration has reached levels where we are now into the act of converting ‘bits and pieces’ players to players who can ‘contribute’ in both trades – this zone is a continent away from the ‘allrounder’ term.

Yusuf Pathan and Ravindra Jadeja have been prime beneficiaries of this scheme; without any of them being able to establish their position in their prime trade. Their career averages, in all forms of the game, have a similar dull look – underlining the fact that unless either of them improvises massively, they are going be there and thereabouts solely out of desperation, not on merit.

Yusuf Pathan’s superior strike rate and India’s love for big hitting ensure his name pops up time and again. On each occasion, people conveniently forget his lack of temperament to build an innings and his one dimensional batting – hugely dependant on type of bowling and surface. India was so desperate to see his six hitting in the WC 2011, that prior to the selection, a dead rubber ODI vs NZ became an event when entire nation prayed and cheered Pathan all the way to a maiden match winning century, thus sealing his WC spot.

Jadeja has the dubious distinction of being the prime culprit in two successive exits from the T20 World Cups. Yet his name still manages to sneak in based on couple of IPL 4 outings. While he has improvised on his batting, his bowling is hugely dependant on the type of surface.

Till the time we have superman MS Dhoni as the wicket keeping all-rounder, the team still has some balance to accommodate bits and pieces players, but its still not too late that BCCI puts a plan within NCA to spot and groom bowling all-rounder.

England reached the pinnacle of test match rankings on back of seasoned, disciplined, all-rounders. If we intend to regain our position at the top and stay there for a longer tenure, we have no other option but to find similar players. In a year or so, we are due to lose our golden generation of batsmen – all the more reason to dig and groom test match cricket level all-rounders. It’s a good time for BCCI to set egos aside, use the services of a Kapil, a Prabhakar, a Binny and give them their due.


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