Even after a series of permutations and combinations on the India Test team in the last couple of years, a deserving contender slot of the allrounder still eludes us all. From Ajit Agarkar to Irfan Pathan to Harbhajan Singh to Ravichandran Ashwin to Stuart Binny – the Test side has seen a number of promising players come and go in the last two decades. And yet, nobody has been able to hold on to that slot for long. The absence of a long term solution to this problem has hurt India time and again in the longer format of the game. Besides it has made our Test arsenal look weak in comparison to teams like South Africa, Australia, England and New Zealand all of whom have all rounders in their line-ups.
Recurring problem, never solved
From the way Indian cricket has evolved in the last two decades, one can conclude that the perennial absence of an allrounder in Tests is not because of paucity of talent, but because of inappropriate team management. The culture of using allrounders to good effect has never been quite well developed in the Indian cricket team.
After Kapil Dev, it was only Sourav Ganguly who emphasized on using a 5-bowler attack in Tests – a strategy that frequently necessitated the inclusion of an all rounder. Irfan Pathan and Ajit Agarkar were half-baked products of the experiments of that era. Under MS Dhoni’s captaincy, the question of using allrounders in Tests got pretty much buried with time. Only after Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri’s talk of ‘aggressive tactics’ and ‘5-bowler-theory’ has this concept been reinvigorated once again.The practice of using five bowlers can be self-destructive, as was evident from India’s loss in the 1st Test at Galle in the ongoing series against Sri Lanka. Stuart Binny was thus hastily drafted into the line up in the next Test, and India is all up once again to decide whether or not the an allrounder can indeed be sustained in our Test ranks.
Who ‘can’ be the next all rounder?
Attempts to use Harbhajan Singh and then Ravichandran Ashwin for some time, as allrounders in Tests, have taught us how futile our efforts were. Both, being bowlers by trade, were moderately successful with the bat on placid sub continental tracks, but were doomed to failure under difficult circumstances. Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Stuart Binny have recently emerged as likely alternatives for this enigmatic slot. While Bhuvi is still not an allrounder in eyes of the selectors, his Test career has so far revealed that he is no mug with the bat. Stuart Binny, on the other hand, is an allrounder, and has groomed himself as one. A comparative statistical analysis of the two players follows.
M – 12, Runs – 393, Highest Score – 63*, Bat. Avg. 26.20, 100/50 – 0/3, Wickets – 29, BBI – 6/82, Bowl. Avg. 35.20
Following his Test debut against Australia in Chennai in 2013, Bhuvi rose to the highest echelons of fame in Indian cricket pretty quickly. That, however, was primarily by virtue of being quite a prodigy with swing bowling at the start of the innings. Even though he kept pocketing useful 10s and 20s lower down the order in the first few Tests the world could never call him a batsman right then. It was in Nottingham, in a Test against England in 2014, that Bhuvi’s batting skills made a remarkable impression on us all. He scored 58 and 63* in the drawn Test match, very much being the saving grace for India in the 2nd innings. He followed this up with a brilliant 52 in the next Test at Lords, which turned out to be a match-winning one for his team. However, a lean patch during the rest of the series with the bat and the ball, and then an unfortunate injury, quickly made a meal of Bhuvi’s chances of cementing his place in the Test side. He was last seen in the white jersey against Australia at Sydney in January this year against Australia.
M – 4, Runs – 145, Highest Score – 78, Bat. Avg. 20.71, 100/50 – 0/1, Wickets – 1, BBI – 1/44, Bowl. Avg. 184.00
Nottingham Test against England in 2014 was very much the watershed moment for Stuart Binny too. It was his debut Test and he performed exceedingly well with the bat in the 2nd innings (78) to save the match for India. However, besides failing to make much use of his swing bowling in England, he could not hold on to his good batting form thereafter. Following the completion of that series, in which he played 3 Tests, Binny had to wait for more than a year to get his next game. The last Test against Sri Lanka at Colombo was just his 4th Test.
(In the next part, we shall highlight the credentials of some more probable contenders and then try to come up with a suitable solution to the problem)