India can now boast of a fast bowling unit that can hold its own against the very best in the world
Umesh Yadav has developed from someone who blew hot and cold to someone who was a master of reverse swing on abrasive surfaces to his current avatar: a consistent, strong quick bowler who sets up batsmen with care and executes his skills with accu...
This revolution has been televised. Indian fans have watched it unfold on their screens over the last few years.
A nation of batsman-worshippers and skilful ball-twirlers has seen, jaws dropped in disbelief, the building of a fast bowling unit that can hold its own against the very best in the world. South Africa arrived in India worried that they were in for a repeat of 2015 when the ball turned and spat from day one. What they did not bargain for was being battered and bruised by India’s quick bowlers on tracks that have been largely true and definitely fair.
Hell, the result may not have been all that different if these three Tests were played in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Pretoria rather than Visakhapatnam, Pune and Ranchi.
While it is true that South Africa have been poor with the bat, it is more relevant that India’s fast bowlers have been exceptional with the ball. And all this without their ace in the hole, Jasprit Bumrah.
Mohammad Shami has presented a seam so upright that the only Indian bowler in memory who has come close was S Sreesanth, whose moral compass was not quite as steadfast as his seam.
Shami has literally breathed fire, bowling with the kind of intensity that is only possible when you are at the top of your game, physically.
Umesh Yadav has developed from someone who blew hot and cold to someone who was a master of reverse swing on abrasive surfaces to his current avatar: a consistent, strong quick bowler who sets up batsmen with care and executes his skills with accuracy.
Ishant Sharma has had a career of two parts, and the immense experience he has built into his game — at 31 he already has 94 Tests under the belt — has ensured that he is making up for lost time.
Once thought to be an unlucky bowler, someone who bowled well without just reward, he now hits the right lengths on varying pitches, and has been just as incisive, if not as dramatic, as Bumrah.
And credit must be given where it is due. The one constant in India’s set up through this period of growth, evolution even, has been Bharat Arun, the bowling coach.
Whether it is a bowler understanding his game better, switching on to the need to increase and sustain levels of fitness or develop additional skills to complement his main strength, Arun has been at hand to ensure that it happened.
And, when there is individual improvement across the board, to the point that there is no weak link in the bowling attack, the coach has more than done his job, he has transformed a good outfit into a winning one.
Speaking before the second Test, Arun shied away from taking any credit. “Our bowlers are skilful at reverse swing as when they play domestic cricket, wickets generally are flat,” he said. “The outfield is also not at times great. For a bowler to be successful, he needs to learn how to reverse the ball and that's where our domestic cricket contributes a lot.”
The variety in India’s fast bowling resources has meant that the pitches have largely been taken out of the equation. “Ideally, a normal wear and tear wicket for Test match is fine but if you want to be No. 1team in the world, you can't be looking at wickets. You got to look at the bowling, adapt your bowling instantaneously for success.”
By the end of the third day of the third Test, India had reduced South Africa to 132 for 8, following on, and were on the verge of completing a 3-0 clean sweep. A look at the fast bowling numbers is revealing. South Africa’s quicks had 10 wickets at 70.20 in the series while India’s speed merchants had 26 scalps at 17.5.
Certainly there are other factors at play that contribute to this. It helped that Virat Kohli won the toss each time and that his batsmen were good enough to overcome the best fast bowling conditions each time to put a score on the board. This meant that India’s quicks had the luxury of at least a day and a half extra rest in each Test.
Add to this the fact that India declared late into the second day on each occasion, and this meant that the fast bowlers had two bites of the cherry, a short, furious spell in the dying light and use of a relatively new ball again the next morning. But, you can take nothing away from this set of Indian fast bowlers. They’ve been irresistible all series.