While India have been focusing on finding the ideal No. 4 in the ODI batting order, an important concern has slipped attention – of seam bowlers for the World Cup.
Indian cricket today boasts some exciting talent in the seam department. Never before have they had so many quality seamers to choose from, but this wealth exists only for Test cricket, not ODIs.
Let’s take the top five seam bowlers who regularly make it to the Test playing XI – Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav. Barring Bumrah, none of the others will walk into a one-day side on merit. Yes, Bhuvneshwar until recently would have done, but I am not quite enjoying the Bhuvneshwar we have been seeing of late in 50-overs cricket.
While acknowledging his recent injury and its after-effects, his approach bothers me. We know the white ball does not swing much, but that does not mean Bhuvneshwar should become a “hit the deck” bowler, delivering short of length most of the time. In his recent comeback matches against West Indies, that’s what he did.
There is a tendency in all of us to not appreciate and value what comes as natural gift to us, or what we can easily do, and it seems this has happened to Bhuvneshwar too. He is just not trying to get the ball up there, full and swinging it. This is disappointing, because even when the ball was not swinging for him in Mumbai, the few times he bowled it full, he had the batsman in trouble.
If he gets preoccupied with hit-the-deck kind of bowling, the kind that big, strong South African bowlers bowl, I fear his one-day career might not blossom too much. This would be such a shame, for he is so earnest as a cricketer, whether batting or bowling – the kind of player every captain wants in his side
The thing with Bhuvneshwar is that he is not that versatile a bowler, so I feel he has no choice: to survive and thrive, he has to remain essentially a swing bowler who keeps the ball up.
As for the others, they have been around for a while but none of them has yet been able to cement their places in one-day cricket. As of today, there is just Bumrah who gives you hope and confidence as a seam bowler, especially when under pressure in 50-overs cricket. The good news is, we all know there is a cultural shift happening in Indian cricket, and there are as many seam bowlers coming through the ranks now as batsmen.
In the Mumbai ODI I saw something that got me quite excited. I saw Khaleel Ahmed get three wickets.
That he is a left-arm seamer is in itself an advantage: he brings variation to the Indian attack just by turning up. Until that Mumbai game, I was looking for what Khaleel’s X factor might be. He was generally bowling in the 130s, and apart from the offcutter as a slower ball, there didn’t seem to be anything he had as a weapon to be successful. I thought then that he could become like Mustafizur Rehman of Bangladesh, use that offcutting slower delivery regularly to make an impact in 50-overs cricket. Now I know that can be his plan B.
Because in Mumbai he was a sight for sore eyes: a left-arm seamer running in and swinging the ball both ways, and that too late. Wow!
He got two crucial West Indies wickets in that match, of Marlon Samuels and Shimron Hetmeyer, with two different kinds of swing. It was not natural variation; he actually got the ball to go both ways by releasing it with different seam positions.
Khaleel has plenty of enthusiasm, as we saw, which with maturity, could be channelled in the right direction. For now, even if the umpires might have a problem with it, it’s quite amusing to see how he naively appeals animatedly for lbws when the ball has pitched a foot outside leg stump. I also worry that his thin frame might just dismantle itself when he is celebrating a wicket.
Jokes apart, Khaleel is good news for India. When the World Cup is upon us, if he becomes an automatic pick along with Bumrah and Hardik Pandya in the playing XI, with Bhuvneshwar and Co as options, the concern over the quality of India’s 50-overs seam bowlers will have been somewhat addressed.