India is a batting obsessed country and the bowlers have never got equal amount of attention or respect. Most people credit India's experienced batsmen for their number one status in tests. The batting line-up is superb and deserves credit for some fantastic performances, but we must not forget the role of our bowlers who toil for twenty wickets on tracks that hardly had anything for them.
As the greats of Indian batting crossed the age of 35, the media started writing and talking about the next generation of players. Media behaviour does not surprise me, but what they forget to look into, certainly does. Tons of times, Suresh Raina has been compared to Sachin Tendulkar or Pujara is the said to be the next Dravid. Have they ever thought about India's bowling reserves?? I don't think so. Many tests victories on flat batting pitches at Chennai in '08, Adelaide in '04 and in Colombo recently show that the bowlers have been doing their job without much notice.
Since 2004, India has tried around 15 different fast bowlers. Yet, we don't have two definite fast bowlers who would make the team every time in the next 6 months in tests. Hence, it wouldn't be harsh to say that we are struggling. India's spearhead seamer Zaheer Khan has bowled well in his comeback series against Australia. He seems to be at the top of his game with good control particularly with the old ball. However, we must not forget his age is 32. At best, we can hope that he continues to play for another four years. Zaheer has hardly any support from the other end with various bowlers going through rough patches.
Ishant Sharma and Sreesanth who are in the squad for the NZ series are not in great form to say the least. Ishant deserves a lot of credit for the temperament and effort he had put up in Mohali, yet he hasn't been doing justice to his main job as a frontline seamer. Sreesanth on the other hand, might have a precise seam position but his bowling is far too inconsistent. I believe Ishant is the best bowler to share the new ball with Zaheer provided, of course, that he recovers from the recent slump in form.
If that doesn't happen, other choices that India has includes Ashish Nehra and Praveen Kumar along with youngsters Jaidev Unadkat and Abhimanyu Mithun. Nehra being the most experienced of this lot could get the nod for the next test series in South Africa if both Ishant and Sreesanth fail to impress in NZ series. Praveen Kumar has played a lot of LOI cricket for India, but never got the chance to wear the whites. He has been neglected constantly for tests probably because he is just a gentle medium pacer. He is known to bowl wicket to wicket with ability to move the ball both ways. He might not be India's best option, but surely is a better option than a semi-fit Ishant or any other inexperienced youngster. Both Ishant and Praveen have time at their disposal since they have come into reckoning at a young age, so ruling them out of the future would be rather stupid.
Saurashtra bowler Jaidev Unadkat has shown great promise in U-19 World Cup in New Zealand and also in the few chances he's got for India A. He picked up 13 wickets against West Indies A in his debut list A game and even caught the attention of Wasim Akram. Mithun on the other hand, was a surprise selection for the Sri Lanka tour, but after he bowled his heart out on absolutely flat wickets, he probably should have been kept in the squad against Australia. The medium pacer from Karnataka has impressed everyone in the domestic circuit. Both Mithun and Unadkat are prospects of the future, whom India will need, particularly when Zaheer decides to hang his boots up. Another lad to look-out for is Mumbai's Dhawal Kulkarni who got noticed due to decent performances in IPL and list A cricket. He went onto be picked for India's New Zealand tour back in '09, only to warm the bench though.
Orissa's Basanth Mohanty and J&K skipper Abid Nabi are some more talents whose domestic record seems extraordinary. Both have strike rates below 50 balls per wicket, which only rare greats have managed in test cricket. Playing for sides which aren't exactly renowned in Ranji Trophy might help these two in becoming more refined cricketers, since they would have to handle more responsibilities from a young age. It is essential to give good exposure to newcomers like these by sending them on tours in junior teams to various countries. Selecting them right now isn't the best option since they do not have enough experience of first class cricket. Grooming of such talents is extremely important, because often misled youngsters don't turn out to be half as good as they were expected to be. Munaf Patel is one such case, who came in as "India's next genuine quick bowler" but later turned his focus to accuracy and quite frankly has disappointed. With the right guidance, Unadkat and Mithun along with Ishant would find themselves in India's first 16 on more occasions than not, 5-7 years down the line.
Of course, there are many other players that haven't been mentioned here. We also have Ashok Dinda, Umesh Yadav and others, though they all were unimpressive in their short stints with the national side. Couple of left armers who have played for India deserve a mention. They are Irfan Pathan and RP Singh who had once, won the hearts of the Indian fans and selectors, but now seem out of form and luck. Both RP and Irfan are young swing bowlers with relatively good experience of international cricket. Unfortunately though, nature of Indian pitches doesn't quite help talents like these. RP Singh is the overall highest wicket-taker in the IPL and made a memorable test debut against Pakistan winning the MOM award. He was impressive in the inaugural T20 WC and played a crucial role in helping India win it. The problem for RP Singh is on flat pitches in India, he hardly has any weapons to roll batsmen over in tests, though he is effective in T20s.
Irfan Pathan was said to be next Kapil Dev when he came onto the scene initially. He was quick and used to swing the ball into the righties sharply and got early wickets even on Indian pitches. He is no mug with the bat either and has to his a name a test century against Pakistan along with a much remembered 83 in an ODI batting at number 3. After a slight change in his action, Irfan has lost both his main weapon of swing. His pace also dropped significantly. Even now, many believe Irfan is the right man for India's number 7 slot in the upcoming WC, because he certainly can let loose some big shots under pressure. But, the bigger question is on his ability to bowl ten overs without being too expensive. If the southpaw can do well in some domestic tournaments and knock over some wickets, I would back him as India's number seven ahead of Ravindra Jadeja and his brother Yusuf. But, the current group of selectors hasn’t given him or RP any chances and both will need an extraordinary season of domestic cricket if they are to make a comeback to national team.