Are our fast bowlers faking fitness for selection?

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN asks: Are the current crop of Indian fast bowlers hiding their injuries to make their way into the team for lucrative foreign tours? And are our physios and trainers, and sometimes even the captain if not the selectors, part accomplices in this elaborate charade being played on Indian cricket fans?

Consider this:

# A couple of seasons ago, Harbhajan Singh had not recovered from his back injury completely, but yet was included for a tour and spent the tour mostly as a passenger. It was hinted at the time that captain Sourav Ganguly perhaps had an inkling of this yet took Harbhajan on that tour.

# Ditto Munaf Patel when he went to England last year. He could barely bowl few overs, but was seen hobbling off the field. He started throwing the ball underarm from the boundary line even in ODIs. Munaf had been given a clean chit by the physio who was later questioned by the Board.

# And now, Zaheer Khan. Like a light bulb, he is on-off, every season. In Australia, where fast bowling is the only thing which works for 80% of the match, he is already being sent back at the end of the first Test match itself! Sreesanth, who is still recuperating, is already talking of joining the team for the third Test.

Add to this list of fast bowlers sent into premature retirement like Lakshmipathy Balaji and Ashish Nehra, and you have to wonder: Are our fast bowlers guys overworked or overfeted?

Even now, long after they retired, Javagal Srinath, B.K. Venkatesh Prasad and Robin Singh look fitter and appear ready to take the five-day strain, given half a chance. So, why are our modern fast bowlers, many of them “trained” at specialist pace academies, so lacking in form or fitness to last an entire tour or a couple of series in succession?

Is it that BCCI is mule-headed and is driving them like a herd of cattle, cramming too many matches in a season and off season too? Or, since there is such a lot of money, are the players deliberately hiding their injuries, faking fitness with the connivance of some of our selectors and/or physios, if not the captain himself?

If it is the former, how come Sri Lanka’s Chaminda Vas and Lasith Malinga, South Africa’s Makhaya Ntini and Andre Nel, not to speak of the assembly-line of Australians, seem to carry on season after season, bowling yards faster than our bowlers and fielding very well too.

What seems to be the problem with our fast bowlers alone that they seem to pick up their returning boarding pass even while alighting on foreign soil? Especially with all the special diets and training exercises and conditioning camps that they have the privilege of?

How can a team plan its strategy with such fragile players? And more importantly how will an opposition side take our chances and claims seriously when it knows fully well that at sooner rather than later one of our key weapons will be headed home?

Photograph: courtesy The Tribune, Chandigarh