There are few sights better than a fast bowler steaming in to release thunderbolts. But the big worry is their repeated breakdown. Umesh Yadav being ruled out of the third Test at Kolkata with a lower back injury has only underlined how thin India's fast bowling resources are.
Umesh, replaced by Ashok Dinda in the squad, sat out the Mumbai Test. Instead of picking Ishant Sharma as the second pacer, captain MS Dhoni chose to field three spinners. Maybe Dhoni was not sure of Ishant's fitness for a game of such intensity. After all, the lanky pacer has not played international cricket since undergoing ankle surgery in early 2012.
While Dinda is yet to don the whites for India, a quick glance at the other possible back-up pacers does not inspire confidence.
Varun Aaron, the fastest pacer in the country along with Umesh, missed the Australia tour due to back trouble and a recurrence of that injury after the IPL has kept him out of action. Karnataka's Abhimanyu Mithun missed Ranji Trophy games against Uttar Pradesh and Odisha with a side strain and a hamstring injury sidelined his skipper R Vinay Kumar against UP.
In May, S Sreesanth was ruled out for five months as his toes required two surgeries. Munaf Patel has had a history of fitness concerns; rib injury forced Praveen Kumar to miss the Australia tour.
Former India fast bowler and Delhi Daredevils mentor TA Sekar has seen Umesh closely at the franchise. “The human body is not designed to bowl fast,” he told HT. “Not a single pacer who bowls over 140kmph will go without injury. Umesh had the same stress fracture in 2009. This time, it is more of a precaution.”
Sekar blamed the packed schedule for the injuries. “There is lot of international cricket. Plus they play for the Ranji and IPL teams,” he says. “A bowler needs a two-month break to work on strength conditioning. And the body only recuperates if you rest.” The lack of back-up options worries Sekar, a former long-time head of the MRF Pace Foundation in Chennai. "We are not replacing fast bowlers because we do not have quality back-ups. We should have ten bowlers ready to play in the first team."
The difference between countries like Australia and South Africa and India is they are more organised. "They have good support staff, physio, medical team and technical expertise during rehab and a lot of data about injured players," explains Sekar.
He believes Zaheer Khan’s workload should be balanced. "He is not young and is not bowling as fast as he used to, but he has mastered reverse swing. He knows his body well, but the selectors should understand his position and play him accordingly.”