India have been hunting for a genuine all-rounder ever since Kapil Dev retired in 1994. The search has went on for a good two decades and is still to end. The likes of Ajit Agarkar, Irfan Pathan and a few others promised a lot. However, none of them could live up to the expectations. While Agarkar went on to become a successful ODI bowler, Irfan's career has been derailed by injury and poor form. He has made some comebacks, but hasn't been as effective. Irfan still has time on his side, but he is clearly past him prime, at least as a pace bowler. The lack of an all-rounder is one of the key reasons why India have struggled to win Test matches, at least away from home.
It may be too early to come to a conclusion on the same, but the way Bhuvneshwar Kumar has batted and bowled in the series, he definitely has given India some hope for the future. There is no doubt Kumar is a very effective bowler in most formats of the game especially in places in England, where the conditions are conducive to his style of bowling. Even on the unresponsive pitches, he has a done a good job of keeping the pressure on the opponents. But, it has been his batting that has stood out on the current tour of England. Kumar has displayed a wonderful technique to keep the good balls away, score of the bad balls. More significantly, he has looked an assured presence at the crease.
If Kumar can continue in the impressive manner that he has batted and bowled in England so far, he can definitely transform himself into a genuine all-rounder. It is high time India gets one. While Kumar's batting can be expected to be the same in most conditions, it is his bowling that will determine his standing as an all-rounder in Indian cricket as well as on the international stage. He will not pick as many wickets as he has done in England on the sub-continental surfaces. As mentioned earlier, he does a good supporting job, but to be seen as a genuine all-rounder, he needs to find ways to get wickets irrespective of the conditions as the likes of Jacques Kallis and Chris Cairns have done in recent years.
Another player who can stake a claim for the all-rounder's slot is Ravichandran Ashwin. However, the big hindrance in Aswhin's case is his lack of consistency as a bowler. Even as he is deadly with the ball against the toughest of opponents at home, he has been completely pedestrian in places like Australia, England and South Africa. This is one of the reasons why Ashwin hasn't found a place in the starting XI in the first two Tests in England. Currently, Ashwin is going through a similar phase in his career to Anil Kumble, who also struggled away from home in his initial years. He can possibly take a few tips from Kumble to improve on his numbers abroad.
In comparison to his bowling, Ashwin's batting has been consistent in all conditions. He has got a very potent technique to deal with both the swinging as well as the turning ball. This is why he has scored runs in India as well as in challenging conditions in Australia. If Kumar as well as Ashwin can find a way to improve their potency with the ball even when the conditions do no suit their style of bowling, the balance of the Indian line-up will bear a very strong look. They will have two players who can contribute handsomely all-round. Whether they can achieve the same is something only time will tell.
--By A Cricket Analyst