Coaches at academies are running short of bowlers. Why would anyone want to be at the receiving end in a game built around batting exploits?
“Given a chance, I would love to be a batsman. The game centres around them,” chuckled Murali Kartik, one of the few to accept the hardships of a bowler with a smile.
Pitches, laws and the very concept of a “good contest” are loaded against the bowlers, especially in the limited-over variety. No drifting down the leg, no wayward line outside off too. Not necessarily will a bowler win a leg-before decision when sticking to a wicket-to-wicket line.
Bowling was always a tough job. It has become a tougher vocation now.
Rohit Sharma was only being honest when he remarked he felt little pity for the bowlers.
“They won’t feel sorry if I get out cheaply. It’s a professional game and one has to be ruthless,” he said with a smile at the post-match conference.
He could afford to feel cheery, having smashed the Australian attack to smithereens in the company of Virat Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan.
“Mediocrity was murdered,” said Bishan Singh Bedi at the manner in which bowlers on either side came in for punishment on a placid Sawai Man Singh stadium pitch. The quality of bowling was pitiable, and it cast a shadow on the grooming process of a bowler in modern cricket.
The lack of confidence was strikingly visible on the faces of these hapless bowlers as they repeatedly came to grief. Bowling a dot ball had become a huge achievement in a match that saw 721 runs made at the cost of just six wickets.
A veteran bowler asked: “Why do we have this two new balls rule? It discourages spinners, and leaves no scope for reverse swing. The spinners now are literally bowling with the new ball. It is certainly not an even-field contest anymore. Batsmen are the favoured ones, and it does not augur well for the game. Cricket can’t prosper by reducing the bowlers to mute sufferers of the whims of some officials inclined more towards batsmen.”
With the field restrictions, the bowler becomes a sitting duck. Sweeps and reverse sweeps become part of the batsmen’s tool-kit; even fast bowlers like Dale Steyn are swept.
“Where do the bowlers go? The pitch is flat, the laws favour the batsman, boundaries are short. It is a curse to be a bowler in these times,” remarked a bowler, who has been on the international circuit for more than a decade.
The short boundaries can indeed hurt the bowlers. Compare this with grounds at Melbourne and Adelaide where a ‘four’ would often be an all-run affair. The batsman would think twice before lofting the ball for the fear of falling short of the boundary. The batsman would also refrain from stepping out to fast bowlers, quite a common phenomenon these days.
One remembers Basit Ali clouting Curtly Ambrose by coming down the pitch at Sharjah.
The next ball left him dazed as Ambrose let go furiously and Basit wisely batted from the crease the rest of the innings.
Bowlers invite embarrassment and ridicule when they are hit inside-out but can do little to stop the trend.
“They just try to be different,” noted Kapil Dev. In trying to be different they become mediocre proponents of their work.
The Indian bowlers’ bank is bare. The transition from the Kapil-Manoj Prabhakar-Chetan Sharma era had been smooth.
But, since then, India seems to have hit a wall. The replacements for Zaheer Khan, Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh are nowhere in sight.
Bowlers, insisted a coach, would become extinct if this trend continues. There are not many around, barring Steyn, who can give batsmen anxious moments in the run up to the contest. Some of them are steady but not devastating.
The list of past bowlers who gave batsmen a torrid time is long, and that is the difference. There are few bowlers in modern cricket who give batsmen sleepless nights.
The batsmen are ever eager to get to the middle these days, and call the shots because of the amiable pitches.
And that makes the contest uneven and a bowler a lonely figure even in a crowd.