India and the case of missing part-time workers

Less than two months before the start of the ICC Men’s ODI World Cup 2023, the Indian team is left with a number of unanswered questions. The middle-order line-up, lack of off-spinners and long tail are some of the pressing concerns, but there is another that could potentially trouble them in the marquee event – ​​the absence of part-time bowlers.

Hardik Pandya celebrates with Suryakumar Yadav after picking a wicket (AP)

In 50 over cricket, the right bowlers who can chip in a few overs have always given great balance to their respective teams. These players could play XI based on their ability with the bat alone, and you wouldn’t necessarily call them all-rounders, but they had enough quality to make critical contributions with the ball as well.

For India, the 2000s and 2010s were a golden period in this regard as there were several top bowlers who also bowled consistently in matches. While Sachin Tendulkar’s leg-spin, along with all his other variations, helped him claim 154 ODI wickets, Sourav Ganguly was a handy medium-pacer. While Yuvraj Singh troubled the batsmen with his left-arm spin, the off-spin of Virender Sehwag and Suresh Raina was used regularly in the 50-over format.

In India’s triumphant 2011 World Cup campaign, Yuvraj’s performance with the ball, which saw him claim 15 wickets in nine matches, including a five-for, went a long way in winning him the player of the tournament award.

When it comes to the advantages of having part-time bowlers in a team, it’s not just about the wickets they pick. Their presence allows captains to rotate bowlers more freely, they test the concentration of opposition batsmen and can cause false shots, and also help to lengthen their team’s batting line-up.

Coming back to India’s current ODI squad, there is still no clarity on what the top six will look like in the upcoming World Cup. But as things stand, those who look to be in the tournament are: Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Virat Kohli, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Shreyas Iyer, KL Rahul, Suryakumar Yadav, Ishan Kishan, Hardik Pandya and Sanju Samson.

While Pandya is a proper fielder and Rahul, Kishan and Samson are wicketkeepers, none of these other batters, who are likely to make India’s top six at the World Cup, can be counted on with the ball. Sharma and Kohli have taken eight and four wickets respectively, but it has been six years since either bowled in an ODI. And while the likes of Gill, Gaikwad and Yadav have never played in this format in international cricket, Iyer has bowled a total of 37 deliveries in the 42 ODIs he has played.

Ahead of the fourth match of the ongoing T20I series against the West Indies, India bowling coach Paras Mhambrey spoke about the importance of having part-timers in a team.

“I have seen Yashasvi (Jaiswal) and Tilak (Varma) since their under-19 days and I feel they are capable of being good bowlers,” Mhambrey said. “It’s something they can work on at this level. If you have the option of two such bowlers in a match, you may need to use one of them for at least one over. Once the captain has seen it too and you have the confidence that they can deliver, it’s always nice to have that option. So we can use them and we are working on it, but it might take some time. Hopefully you will soon see them bowling over everyone in at least one game. That will be nice.”

The Impact Player rule, which was used in this year’s Indian Premier League, could potentially make part-time bowlers a thing of the past. With teams having the option of stacking their sides with the right batsmen and bowlers, one imagines that only high-quality all-rounders have a chance of making it.

But for now, this rule is not a part of international cricket and especially in ODIs, the space for part-time bowlers remains. Unless they somehow manage to develop a pick or two in the weeks remaining before the start of the World Cup, India could be held back by their one-dimensional line-up.

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