“The added bowling option started to disappear by the 2015 World Cup, with Kohli and Rohit bowling less and less and both Yuvraj and Raina making fleeting appearances”

Ambati Rayudu bowled the sixth ball of the unfinished over after Hardik Pandya hobbled out of the ground with a back injury in the Asia Cup match against Pakistan. Thankfully, Rohit Sharma had Kedar Jadhav in the side, who did a magnificent job.

But what if this had happened during the ODIs India played against Australia at Adelaide? Let us skim through India’s back-up bowling options in the two matches:

  • Rayudu and Shikhar Dhawan, banned from bowling and nowhere close to being options anyway
  • Virat Kohli, 7.1-0-35-0 in 2017, never bowled after that
  • Rohit and MS Dhoni, never bowled after 2016
  • Dinesh Karthik, has never bowled at all

In other words, India would have been left with a battalion of non-bowlers. As we have seen, the Indian ODI middle-order was among the worst in the world in 2018. Their terrific top three, miles ahead of any other in contemporary cricket, has made up for that – but what about bowling?

What if a bowler breaks down? What if a bowler had a terrible day where he bleeds wides and no-balls and boundaries? The other teams have answers to that from their top six – but not India.

India managed to extract a mere 37.1 overs out of their top six in their 18 matches involving the top nine (the others being Australia, Bangladesh, England, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka, and West Indies) in 2018. Of these, 24 were bowled by Pandya when he batted up the order. Let us pit this against other countries.

Before doing this, let us note down our assumptions:

  • Bowling figures of only those batting in the top six have been counted. If a specialist batsman did not bat (Joe Root, for example), he is left out despite having bowled.
  • This includes instances when someone like Hardik, Shadab Khan, or Mashrafe Mortaza has batted in the top six.

Let us now look at the bowlers (batting at 1 to 6) to have bowled more than 10 overs in 2018:

Team Bowlers with 10+ overs Also
Australia Stoinis 60.5 M Marsh 18 Head 9.5
Bangladesh Shakib 73.4 Mehidy 14 Mahmudullah 13.4 Mortaza 10
England Stokes 51 Root 42.4 Moeen 13
India Hardik 24
New Zealand Munro 43 de Grandhomme 12 Williamson 11
Pakistan Hafeez 16 Malik 14.3 Shadab 10 Fakhar 9.3
South Africa Duminy 46
Sri Lanka Dhananjaya 27 Thisara 20
West Indies Powell 15.3 Samuels 13.4 Holder 10

As is evident, every side had at least one man in the top six who has bowled to a reasonable extent. India’s only representative, Pandya, was a promoted all-rounder.

South Africa also has a solitary representative, but Duminy is a batsman who bowls, which is exactly what India need at this point. Kedar, India’s only option, has had his trysts with injuries – which was why India had to include Suresh Raina on the England tour.

Of course, there is a possibility of a flaw in these numbers. This may also mean that the five Indian specialist bowlers have been fantastic with ball and they had not needed a sixth bowler.

At first glance, India’s 2018 numbers (28.15 a wicket, 4.99 an over) seem impressive. However, against the top nine, India played two low-scoring contests – in South Africa and the Asia Cup in UAE. In the others, they conceded 5.88 (in England) and 5.42 (at home against West Indies).

But that is not the most relevant point here. There has been an instance of an Indian bowler breaking down midway in 2018. There have been several instances of a bowler having an off day.

Against Johannesburg against South Africa, Yuzvendra Chahal went for 5.3-0-68-1 and Kuldeep Yadav 6-0-51-2 during a 28-over chase when they had problems while bowling with a wet ball after rain.

Against West Indies, Umesh Yadav went for 10-0-78-1 at Visakhapatnam (Kuldeep gave away 67, Chahal 63, and Mohammed Shami 59). There was no sixth bowler to relieve them. West Indies tied the match.

At Guwahati, Shami had 10-0-81-2. Three others gave away over 60 each. Once again there was no sixth bowler to slip in three or four overs. West Indies put up 322 for 8.

On the other hand, Kedar did a wonderful job of making up when Shardul Thakur (4-0-41-0) or Deepak Chahar (4-0-37-1) were off-colour in the Asia Cup.

This was never a problem for India in the 2000s or in the first half of the 2010s.

India played four bowlers in the 2003 World Cup, for they could use Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Yuvraj Singh, and Virender Sehwag, and even Dinesh Mongia, if it came to that.

Tendulkar and Sehwag had almost stopped bowling by the 2011 World Cup, but Yuvraj had emerged as a fifth bowler, taking 15 from 9 matches. India played Yusuf Pathan for 6 of their matches before replacing him with Raina, who bowled as well.

The added bowling option started to disappear by the 2015 World Cup, with Kohli and Rohit bowling less and less and both Yuvraj and Raina making fleeting appearances. India’s outstanding five-bowler show had pulled them through in the last World Cup, but can they do the same this time?

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