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|April 1, 2000||
Looking for an Amritsar ExpressSujata Prakash
Many of us have been reflecting on a curious post-partition phenomenon. When the British divided India they did more than just draw a line down one side of the country; they unwittingly allotted Pakistan the only part of the land which yields rich crops of pace bowlers of unbeatable quality.
Just a few hundred miles east across the border from where Shoaib Akhtar lives is an area inhabited by people who look like him, are of similar build, share culinary taste buds and dialect but have neither the speed nor inclination to hurl cricket balls at bullet speeds towards nervous batsmen. The fault is not theirs - the difference lies in the bowler-friendly soil of the galli's of Karachi and Lahore which makes it easy to breed a Waqar or Wasim or Shoaib.
Do you buy the above? But that's the only explanation, facile or otherwise, that I can come up with to explain the sorry dearth of pace bowlers in India. It would be easier to accept this than to come to terms with the fact that we too could have had our own Shoaib's if someone had bothered to tap the talent in Punjab, instead of just waiting for a self- honed and self- discovered speedster to walk through the door.
During the match between SA and India, where the Indians struggled to put up a total of 164 and then tried to defend it in vain, Barry Richards remarked that it would become increasingly impossible for India to bowl out the opposition for low scores unless it had extra fast bowlers who could reverse swing and bowl perfect yorkers and fuller lengths for a start. Failing that, a score of 300 would have been better than 164 except that our batsmen are finding it increasingly impossible to tackle the oppositions fast bowling and superlative fielding.
So what do we have here? We have a team which finds itself completely at sea out of India and foreign teams which find themselves quite at home in India.
The situation is not just alarming, it's catastrophic. We have been caught blinking helplessly while countries like Australia, SA and Pakistan rewrite the rules of the game. No longer is it enough to have gents who play shots using their wrists and spinners who can turn the ball. The wristy strokes have given way to defensive play when faced with pace and the spinners are deceiving less and less. If we want to win, then some new objectives and strategies must be conceptualized at least, if not implemented straight away.
I would think the first strategy should be to zero in on places which could have potential pace bowler material in terms of physical strength and stamina. Punjab would be the best place to start with. Sure, they can only think in terms of hockey, but offer them a great career in the limelight with a guarantee of financial returns exceeding their wildest dreams and I for one would put my money on us seeing a few Amritsar Expresses in the pipeline. But it requires talent hunting and training of the highest degree without petty zonal officialdom or apathy.
Indians have never been short of batsmen; the worry has been the lack of class bowlers. Unless we see the board pay attention to this deficiency now, the slide is sure to continue.
We all know that Pakistan has a dozen Shoaib's waiting eagerly for their turn to psych out the competition with reverse swing and speed. From Imran to Wasim to Shoaib, the legacy continues and will never die out because like kebabs and naan it is part of the culture and tradition now.
I hope we too start building our own tradition. The line of divide is on maps, but on the ground, the soil is the same, on both sides of the Punjab.
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