India Should stick to four bowlers but play Harbhajan
by Partab Ramchand

Player:Harbhajan Singh
Event:India in West Indies 2006

DateLine: 22nd June 2006


With the third Test between India and West Indies starting on Thursday there is much speculation about the composition of the visiting side. Will they play four bowlers or five? If they play four will the combination be three seamers and one spinner or two seamers and two spinners with Virender Sehwag as the back up? Will the batting be tinkered with Suresh Raina replacing VVS Laxman?


To tackle the last question first. I don’t think that the batting should be tampered with. Successive totals of 521 for six declared and 588 for eight declared underline this. There have been three centuries and a double hundred. And there is such a thing as class and youthful exuberance hovering around Laxman and Yuvraj who have got 60 and 64 runs in three innings. Each of the Indian batsmen seems to be taking turns to come good and at St Kitts it could well be the chance for these two to pile up the runs. Raina is of course a fine prospect but he is young and can wait in the queue a little longer.


But of course the axe could fall on Laxman if the tour management decides to go in with five bowlers – Pathan, Sreesanth, Munaf Patel (or VRV Singh), Kumble and Harbhajan. Playing an extra bowler is always perceived as an attacking move and with the batting being able to take care of itself the temptation will be there for Greg Chappell and Rahul Dravid to opt for the added bowler especially with India having just missed the bus both at Antigua and St Lucia. The Indian captain has been quoted as saying on the eve of the third Test that ``four bowlers did the job for us in the last game.’’ Actually they just failed to finish the job. In my view it could have been over and done with had Harbhajan been playing. Provided that a side has four high quality bowlers they can still win a Test match as has been proved so often in the past. The all-conquering West Indian teams under Clive Lloyd and Vivian Richards repeatedly won matches because they had four high quality fast bowlers. True there was little variety because of the lack of spin but this was barely felt though Richards as a ``half bowler’’ did turn his arm over now and then and was successful in breaking up partnerships. The same was the case with the formidable West Indian squad of the sixties that had Wesley Hall, Charlie Griffith, Lance Gibbs and Gary Sobers. Lot of variety in that line up and there was always someone like David Holford to function as a ``half bowler’’. The present champions Australia too have regularly taken the field with four bowlers – three pacemen and Shane Warne or in slightly different conditions two pacemen and Warne and MacGill. The quality of these bowlers is such that they have frequently won Tests without the assistance of a ``half bowler.’’


Take Indian cricket itself. The country’s most successful international campaigns – in the West Indies and England in 1971 and in England fifteen years later – were also scripted by the presence of four quality bowlers. Thirty-five years ago it was three of the spin quartet of Bedi, Venkat, Chandra and Prasanna along with Abid Ali who were successful in keeping batsmen on a leash with Eknath Solkar functioning as the ``half bowler’’. Abid might not exactly qualify as a quality bowler but his ``shooters’’ on the slower pitches in the Caribbean and the helpful conditions in England made him a force to reckon with. In 1986 Kapil Dev, Roger Binny, Chetan Sharma and Maninder Singh shared the wickets with Ravi Shastri being the ``half bowler’’.


On the present tour we have Sehwag playing the role of ``half bowler’’ admirably with the result that there should be no talk of playing five bowlers. Doing so will underline the tour management’s admission that the line up of the four bowlers is not exactly a quality one. Given the fact that the seam bowling is inexperienced they have done reasonably well while in Kumble and Harbhajan there is little doubt that India have two classy and experienced campaigners who can turn this West Indian batting line up inside out. For the benefit of the tour selection committee that for some reason seems reluctant to play Harbhajan may I point out that four years ago he took 14 wickets in three Tests. Playing him would make it the high quality attack needed to win matches. For my money the line up should be the two spinners plus two of Pathan, Sreesanth and Patel. The batting of course need not be tinkered with.

(Article: Copyright © 2006 CricketArchive)