'India needs to improve bowling in slog overs'
Former pacer Manoj Prabhakar laments the inability of India's pacers to master the art of reverse swing and yorkers, and predicts a bright future for young batting ace Virat Kohli.
In his prime, Manoj Prabhakar was one of the smartest swing bowlers in world cricket. He was master of the slower delivery, and equally dangerous with the new ball, getting it to move in and out at will on his day.
However, his life has gone through various phases. From being a handy all-rounder to getting booed by Delhi fans during the 1996 World Cup, to being banned for his alleged role in match-fixing, the 47-year-old has seen it all.
But Prabhakar is a fighter; he never gives up. Once his five-year ban was over, he was again back with his first love: cricket. He served a few years as bowling coach of Delhi, then coached Rajasthan last season before returning as coach of Delhi this season.
Not shy of speaking out, the former all-rounder slammed the Indian bowlers' poor showing in the death overs of the second One-Day International against Australia at Visakhapatnam.
"In the second ODI against Australia, in the last five overs we gave away 80-odd runs, and I think that is a shame. We have to work on that department, especially in the slog overs," Prabhakar told rediff.com.
Image: Praveen Kumar
'You should know how to vary your pace'
India's pace trio of Praveen Kumar, Ashish Nehra and Vinay Kumar conceded 84 runs in the last five overs as Australia posted a huge 289 in their 50 overs. Virat Kohli's fluent century (118), and a quickfire 71 from 47 balls from Suresh Raina, though helped India ease to five-wicket victory in the match.
During his playing days, Prabhakar was known for his tight spells in the final few overs, using the slower delivery to good effect, something he feels is missing in the current Indian bowling attack.
"The main thing is that you should know how to vary your pace, especially on these slow pitches. You should master the reverse swing and yorkers. These are the two areas where our Indian bowlers are lacking at the moment."
He lavished praise on pacer Zaheer Khan, who played a crucial role in India's Test series win against Australia. But, the other pacers, he said, struggled to rise up to expectations, which is big worry ahead of next year's World Cup.
"I think, after Zaheer, I can't find anyone who can bowl the yorker at will; that is the big difference between our bowling attack and Pakistani bowling, or that of other top international teams.
"Even though we have good bench strength when it comes to batting, we are struggling with our bowling line-up. If somebody like Zaheer gets injured, we do not have a replacement at all," he added.
Image: Ashish Nehra
Kohli has a bright future
Asked to pick the top five bowlers he feels can make it to the World Cup squad, Prabhakar replied: "That is a very tricky question. After Zaheer Khan I can't find anyone. If you ask me to select I will test them to see what they are capable of and what their standard is; then only I can decide about the other bowlers."
The Delhi coach also believes that Virat Kohli has a bright future in Indian cricket and should also be included in the Test team.
"Virat has some experience and now he is ready for any type of challenge. He has proven it by performing against all odds. I am very happy about his performance. He has done well in the past also, but now he should be ready for the real test, which is Test cricket," he said.
Kohli, 21, played a match-winning knock of 118 to anchor the Indian innings in Visakhapatnam. It was his third century as India chased down a target, the previous being against Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
Image: Virat Kohli
'Kohli plays the short ball well'
Prabhakar pointed out that what makes Kohli stand out from other youngsters in the Indian team is his ability to handle the short deliveries well.
"The main thing is he has got shots which other youngsters can only imagine. I have seen the young Indian cricketers, even the under-22 players, whenever a short ball is bowled to them they really have no idea of how to tackle it.
"But Virat plays the short ball in such a way that he can score off those deliveries without hooking and pulling. So this is a different league altogether -- the way he has been playing and the way he has developed that shot," Prabhakar said.
He was quick to add that Kohli should retain his place in the middle order irrespective of whether the senior players are back or not.
"He deserves to keep his place in the squad even if the senior players are back. He is very young, but ready to perform at the highest level. I hope he will carry on the way he has started."
Image: Virat Kohli
Kohli has a bright future
Prabhakar also threw his weight behind Shikhar Dhawan, who got out for a duck on his ODI debut, saying he deserves another chance to prove his worth.
"It was very unfortunate for Dhawan that he got a very good ball. But you can't judge a performance by taking only one match where he has failed. I know he is a very brilliant batsman and has proved his worth over the years. I can tell you he is ready for the real test."
Delhi has become a regular supplier of players to the Indian team, with the likes of Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Ishant Sharma, Ashish Nehra permanent fixtures in the squad, while youngsters like Kohli and Dhawan are knocking on the door.
"One thing I want to tell you about Delhi cricketers is that they take up the challenge and they perform against all odds. That is why cricketers from Delhi are doing so well in international cricket. They want to succeed at all cost," he said.
Image: Shikhar Dhawan