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ICC Men's ODI World Cup 2023

India’s part-time bowling options are limited, and it could cost them at the World Cup

Lack of part-timers in India ODI side
Aadya Sharma by Aadya Sharma
@Aadya_Wisden 2 minute read

The India ODI team doesn’t have real part-time bowling options. It’s slowly become a well-established fact.

At the press conference where India announced their squad for the 2023 World Cup, Rohit Sharma was asked about the lack of part-time bowlers, quite contrary to the 2011 World Cup winning team.

“Hopefully Sharma and Kohli can bowl some overs in the World Cup,” he responded, adding “we have to make do with what we have”.


In a way, it is a drastic change from the Indian ODI outfit that existed not too long ago, replete with part-time options. Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina and Virender Sehwag all bowled regularly in the 2000s, giving the main bowlers cushion and the captain options. It isn’t the case now.

Thus, India have to pick five batters (including a wicketkeeper), four bowlers (at least three of whom are rank tail-enders), and at least two all-rounders – Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja, with Axar Patel as backup.

This combination cannot be disturbed. Replace one all-rounder with a batter, and India are left with exactly five bowlers. If one of them breaks down mid-spell – a very likely event in a big tournament – it may cost them a match.

How did it come to this in just over a decade after an ODI side stacked with batters who could bowl?

In his book Coaching Beyond: My Days With The Indian Cricket Team, R Sridhar, India’s erstwhile fielding coach, explained the decline: “One of the main reasons for that is our coaching system. With the Indian team now, as it has been for a little while, we have three dedicated throwdown specialists and generally we get four nets.

“Two nets are used for full-fledged bowling; in the other two nets, there is always someone who wants extra batting. Most of the batters finish their 20–25 minutes of batting, after which there are between three and five men waiting with weapons in their hand – I am referring, of course, to the sidearm or the slinger.”

Sridhar noted how, after facing bowlers, batters switch to sessions with slingers, while their remaining energy is spent on fielding. In the pre-slinger era, the batters had to become competent part-timers by bowling at their teammates.

“Across formats, all our batters only bat, they don’t bowl at all,” Sridhar wrote.

In a bid to understand it further, here’s how India’s ODI batters have done as bowlers:

Rohit Sharma

Last bowled in an ODI: January 2016

If you’ve forgotten what Rohit Sharma’s bowling action looked like, you’re not alone. His neat, uncomplicated off spin used to be a useful trait early in his career, but as years passed, it became non-existent (for those who don’t know, he even has an IPL hat-trick).

His eight ODI wickets include some impressive names – AB de Villiers, Michael Clarke, Chris Gayle and JP Duminy (twice) – but he has not bowled since 2016. The long absence can be attributed to injury risk as his workload grew, although his long-standing shoulder issues have all been on his non-bowling arm.

Shubman Gill

Never bowled in ODIs

Gill doesn’t have a single wicket recorded in senior cricket, although there have been extremely rare occasions where he’s turned his arm over for, well, off spin.

Earlier this year, he sent down an over during the Ahmedabad Test match against Australia, but is by no means even a serious part-timer at this point. A deeper investigation reveals he used to bowl a bit at the Under-16 level as well as for the India Under-19s, but nothing that would warrant a bowling role for India.

Virat Kohli

Last bowled in ODIs: August 2017

A wildly stiff-actioned bowler who was used rather frequently in the past has now disappeared from bowling sheets. Kohli has bowled over 100 overs in the ODI kit, but none since 2017, letting his batting greatness take centrestage.

He took a total of four ODI wickets – Alastair Cook, Quinton de Kock, Craig Kieswetter and Brendon McCullum – but those were a long time ago. He’s unlikely to bowl more than an odd over in the future, and it could partly be due to a back issue that sprung up a few years ago. Or, he could just be done with that side of his playing life.

Shreyas Iyer

Last bowled in ODIs: January 2023

Another specialist batter with sporadic bowling contributions, Shreyas Iyer’s leg-breaks (and even off-breaks) have hardly been used at the international level. He has bowled just over six overs in ODIs, and is yet to pick up an international wicket.

However, there have been spurts of bowling brilliance at lower levels though. In an U19 two-day game for the Mumbai U19s in 2012, Iyer once took a five-for against Himachal Pradesh. Two years later, playing for Clifton Village in the Nottinghamshire Premier League, he took 20 wickets at 21.50, including two four-fors. No one knows what happened to this budding leggie.

Suryakumar Yadav

Never bowled in ODIs

He can bowl seam, he can bowl off-breaks, although he’s done neither in the India kit yet. However, ‘SKY’ has as many as 24 first-class wickets at 22.91, and six T20 wickets at 23.33 (and economy of 6.36), and a few more scalps beyond that, including Joe Root during a Mumbai A game against the touring England side in 2012.

Given his rather decent first-class numbers, one wonders why he doesn’t bowl at all at the topmost level. He was spotted bowling to Virat Kohli in an India nets session in 2022, but it doesn’t look like it’s getting more serious than that in near future.

Tilak Varma

Yet to play an ODI

Part of the Asia Cup squad yet uncapped in ODI, Tilak claimed Nicholas Pooran with his off break, off just his second ball in T20I cricket. He can be India’s realistic part-timer – a role he has played in domestic cricket.

In a young career, he has eight List A wickets (at 21.87), and three each in first-class cricket (at 9) and T20s (at 36.33, ER: 7.78), and a few more at the U19 level.


KL Rahul is a specialist batter, and when not that, a wicketkeeper. Bowling has never been his thing: he has never rolled his arm over in international cricket – although he does have one List A wicket during a 2014 Vijay Hazare Trophy game where ten Karnataka players bowled. That’s that.

Ishan Kishan has never bowled in his senior white-ball career.

To summarise, only one of India’s batters have bowled in ODIs in the last five years. Even if you widen the pool to consider all of India’s top-five batters since 2020, none of the non-all-rounders – Prithvi Shaw, Mayank Agarwal, Manish Pandey, Ruturaj Gaikwad and Shikhar Dhawan – barring Deepak Hooda has a single ODI wicket. Most have not even bowled, and Dhawan has probably not had his action cleared after he was called for a suspect action.

It’s a clear pattern that might continue, with India relying on their specialist bowlers to do the job itself.

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