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Existence of an Indian all-rounder - a myth?

Kapil Dev - the last 'true' Indian all-rounder

Kapil Dev – the last ‘true’ Indian all-rounder

March 23rd, 1994. Beyond a shadow of doubt, that was the last day an Indian eleven boasted of a genuine all-rounder. Nineteen years have passed since the retirement of Kapil Dev, and Indian Cricket is still staring into darkness. Where is India’s next all-rounder?

After the exit of Kapil Dev and Manoj Prabhakar, a number of “all-rounders” came into the team and left without much fanfare. Robin Singh, Sanjay Bangar, Ajit Agarkar and Ravindra Jadeja are all classic examples of ‘bits and pieces’ players. Players who were hailed as “all-rounders”, but rarely managed to contribute with both bat and ball in the same match.

The debate of “bits-and-pieces” players versus specialists might rage on, but the crux of the matter is “bits-and-pieces” players are an eternal cause of concern. There’s always the risk of getting neither a bowler nor a batsman. Ravindra Jadeja is essentially one such player. He has successfully managed to force the entire nation into a state of cluelessness. By maintaining a First Class average of 51.67 after 46 matches, and after scoring not one, not two, but three triple tons, he surely should be classified as a batsman. 158 wickets in domestic cricket should be sufficient to tag him as a bowler. But with just a glance at the manner of his dismissals in international cricket, one can effortlessly conclude that he’s no batsman. He’s had a fair share of success with his left arm spin, but then that makes him a bowler. Not an all-rounder. Just another “neither-here-nor-there” player.

Similarly, the trend of “batsmen who can bowl” or “bowlers who can bat” seems to be hitting the national team pretty hard. For example, Irfan Pathan is a famous casualty – a completely avoidable disaster. Making his debut as a swing bowler, he bowled India to some good victories for a year and a half. But a couple of milliseconds after displaying some batting prowess, Irfan’s potential of becoming the nation’s next Kapil Dev seemed to have become the dinner topic of conversation in practically every cricket watching household in the country.

Due to the desperate urge to groom Irfan as the country’s leading all-rounder, somewhere on the way, the bowler in Irfan Pathan was lost. The man who once bamboozled batsmen with his natural swing is now reduced to spending all his time at the NCA, wondering whether to run into bowl, or wield the willow. And maybe, reflecting on a career that could have been.

Irfan Pathan must be contemplating a career that could have been.

Irfan Pathan must be contemplating a career that could have been.

Clearly, this is a mistake India can’t afford to make anymore. Also, why should anyone even be thinking on those lines? After all, India is a land of one billion people. And cricket is India’s primary sport. Surely it cannot be that hard to find one quality all-rounder. On the other side of the planet, West Indies (having a population that is one thirtieth of India’s) seem to continually unleash upon the world one stellar all-rounder after another. From Collie Smith and Garfield Sobers, to Dwayne Bravo and more recently Kieron Pollard, the Caribbean Islands seem to be littered with professional multi-taskers.

Obviously, there is something wrong with the system in India. Despite having an overflowing heap of talented individuals, the hunt for that one elusive unfeigned all-rounder continues. Nineteen years, and not even one? Unacceptable.

It is high time the BCCI gets its priorities straight. It is high time the BCCI focuses its attention to potential all-rounders and ensures that all-rounders are given opportunities similar to the ones that specialist batsmen or specialist bowlers seem to be continually pampered with.

Abhishek Nayar has held his own with both bat and ball this season.

Abhishek Nayar has held his own with both bat and ball this season.

It is no rocket science figuring out what the BCCI’s future plan of action should be. They have to identify a crop of cricketers having the inherent capacity of becoming all-rounders, based on their current domestic performances. For example, the 2012-13 season saw Parvez Rasool, Rishi Dhawan, Stuart Binny and Abhishek Nayar looking particularly capable of holding their own with both bat and ball. These players need to board the plane on every tour any team goes on. Be it the India A, B, C tours or the Emerging Players tournaments, these players need to go out there and play. It is essential that they are given a long rope; they are proven domestic performers and they deserve the chances that seem to come few and far between.

More foreign tours need to be organized; more matches need to be played. Their skills have to be put to test in every possible playing condition. The BCCI is lucky never to have had any monetary issues. It is high time they put their bulging wallet to some use.

Every great team has at least one outstanding all-rounder. A player who can hold his place in the team as either a specialist batsman, or as a specialist bowler – read Jacques Kallis, Shane Watson, Andrew Flintoff. A player whose inclusion in the eleven makes it appear as though there are twelve men in the side. For India to embark on that journey to greatness, it is essential that that elusive genuine all-rounder is unearthed as soon as possible. Or else, cricket will witness yet another tragic story of a country with countless talented and competent players who are not in the right place at the right time.

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