India’s build-up to the Australia Test series is no longer about the bowlers being able to take 20 wickets — they can — but whether the batsmen can stand up to Australia’s pacers thirsting to make amends for the defeat in 2018, cricket legend Kapil Dev said on Friday.
“Let me put it differently. Looking at our pace attack, it will be about the batsmen. We’re not sure our batsmen will score 400 runs (in an innings). If our batsmen don’t struggle, we won’t have any problem,” the 1983 World Cup-winning skipper said during an interaction at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit 2020, where he was in conversation with senior journalist Ayaz Memon.
India’s build-up to the tour has been about how skipper Virat Kohli’s plan to fly home after the first Test for the birth of his first child will impact the team. Kohli was instrumental as captain and with the bat in India’s historic 2-1 series win in 2018-19.
The other talking point is the return of Steve Smith and David Warner, who missed the last series, as well as the rise of Australia’s newest batting star, Marnus Labuschagne.
The rise of Jasprit Bumrah in 2018 led to the formation of one of the world’s finest pace attacks, along with Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami and Dev, a pioneer as a genuine quick bowler for India on his debut in 1978, praised IPL’s role in the development of fast bowlers.
“When Brian Lara recently said ‘I don’t mind facing Kapil, Srinath or Zaheer but I won’t like to play Bumrah… as a bowler, I will say, I have no word to express my happiness.”
“Fast bowlers will go for higher value than batsmen. We have batsmen but we have bowlers who can take 20 wickets. We can produce spinners but they can’t do well unless they have fast bowlers.”
Dev had no leadership concerns—Ajinkya Rahane will take over when Kohli heads home—and said the skipper’s decision was a welcome change.
“I don’t think we could afford (leaving a tour midway)… Sunil Gavaskar didn’t see his newborn son for months. Kohli came back the day after his father died to play a Ranji game. Now he can afford (to return home). I feel happy today’s sportsmen can do that… The biggest passion is having a baby.”
Dev though said that split captaincy was not something suited to the Indian temperament, as a debate goes on about whether Rohit Sharma should be handed the T20 and ODI captaincy.
“I’d like to see the culture. In our culture, one company, two CEOs? No. If Virat plays T20, keep him as captain. England, Australia, South Africa… the mindset, culture is different. Here, it’s going to bring out differences over which captain players should follow,” he said.
“If Virat can’t play T20, I can understand. I’m so happy today we have another person who can do as good a job as captain.”
The former Test bowling world record holder expressed concerns for players competing in a bio-bubble and before empty stadiums. “It is very difficult for the players. I understand today it (career) is a 10-year package, most maximum will play for that long. It is not like Sachin Tendulkar (who played 24 years for India).
“It is not fair,” he said.
While the IPL has made fast bowling rewarding for youngsters, Dev was concerned that some bowlers focus more on variations like cross-seam and slow bouncers before mastering the basics—bowling with a straight wrist and getting the ball to swing.
“This IPL, they realised swing is more important than pace. Even Sandeep Sharma (Sunrisers Hyderabad), he bowled 120 kph, but was more difficult to face because he was swinging,” he said.
“They are running away from the art. That is why Natarajan (SRH left-arm seamer) was my hero. Yorker. That is the best ball, you can say not today, tomorrow, even in 100 years. And the outgoing ball.”
Thangarasu Natarajan established himself as a yorker specialist and has been selected for the T20s in Australia.
Referring to the challenge of playing the pink-ball Test in Adelaide, Dev, who was renowned for his out-swingers, said: “Whenever the ball moves, it becomes interesting. The learning of swing bowling should come back. Basic, as they say a batsman should play in the “V” first, then he can play cross-bat. Similarly, if you can swing the ball, then you can bowl the knuckle ball.”
The 131-Test veteran said IPL should make sure the longest format survives.
“In tennis, we still have Wimbledon on grass… Let’s keep up the momentum for Tests also, (acknowledge) how a Dravid, Gavaskar built their innings.”
Dev picked Virat Kohli and New Zealand’s Kane Williamson among the batsmen he most loves to watch. However, he said both Kohli and Steve Smith must take their gradual dip in eyesight into consideration.
“Smith and Virat, they are on the same boat… at an age where eyesight starts to drop. Both like to play on the legside, and both can be lbw candidates. We used to say from 28 to 34 (age) is the best period, but you have to adjust (for) eyesight. What happened to Sehwag, Dravid, so many great players?
“Joe Root and Williamson look more compact in that because they don’t play so much across. If Kohli can handle himself for six months, only playing straight — ‘I don’t have to flick the ball from off-side — which is his favourite shot also, then he looks a much more dangerous than anybody else. Eyesight, he is not 18, he must adjust.”
As for his pick of bowlers, the choice was easy: Bumrah.
“Bumrah, he is not an Indian bowler, I say. But when he has to bowl 20 overs a day for 3-4-5 Tests, he puts so much pressure on his body, bowling from such a short run-up, so I hope he survives.”
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