For the first time in Test cricket history, India has a battery of fast bowlers who can hammer down the world’s best batting line ups. The year 2021 began and ended on a very satisfactory note for our Test team and a lot of the credit for that goes to our pacemen Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj and Shardul Thakur with Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav also chipping in when required.
Now India’s fast bowlers have given the team a balance that it often lacked earlier. In South Africa, the men in blue are soaring skywards. In 2021, out of 14 Tests, India won 8 Tests, drew 3 and lost 3. What is most noteworthy is that some of the victories came on foreign soil namely Australia, England and South Africa where the Indian team had struggled in the past. However, the major loss was in the final of the World Test championship. If that had been won, it would have been the icing on the cake.
An article about the Indian team in Wisden states: “There were heroics from a side which was reduced to its last man Down Under, put up a splendid fight in England, and ensured a dominant win in Centurion. India are now the best side in the world, and are doing things no Indian team has done before. So does this year count as their greatest in Tests?”
According to the same article the year 2021 showed what a strong India can do under a determined captain. These wins showed a kind of emphatic dominance that the cricketing world hadn’t seen for a long time.
Not since the days when Mohammed Nissar and Amar Singh were at their peak in the 1930s, did India have a fast bowling attack that was rated among the top notch attacks in the world. Kapil Dev was top class and he was around for a long period but he did not have a consistent partner at the other end. There were other seamers such as Karsan Ghavri, Chetan Sharma, Madan Lal, Manoj Prabhakar and Javagal Srinath but their careers did not run simultaneously. What makes the present situation different from the past is that now we have a lineup of very good pace bowlers working in tandem which was never available earlier.
A good fast bowling attack makes a big difference in the performance of any team especially in Test cricket. We know how West Indies dominated world cricket for more than two decades with their strong fast bowling attack handled by Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Malcolm Marshall, Joel Garner, Colin Croft and later Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh. Earlier Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson helped Australia to become the world’s top team. Going back further, there were Trueman, Statham and Tyson who did the same for England. There are countless examples in Test cricket where the fast bowlers made all the difference. The only exception was when India’s famous spin quartet of Bedi, Prasanna, Chandrasekhar and Venkataraghavan were able to outwit the world’s best batting line ups.
According to statistics provided by S. Giridhar and V.J. Raghunath in their book Mid Wicket Tales, right arm fast bowlers alone have taken 60 percent of all wickets that have fallen in Test cricket up to 2014. That figure highlights the devastating effect that fast bowlers can have in cricket.
But there is one big difference in the way Indian fast bowlers operate and their approach to the game as compared to the Lillee -Thomson pair and Holding-Roberts-Marshall trio. The Indian bowlers focus on getting wickets and have so far not been embroiled in controversy about short pitched bowling aimed at injuring or intimidating the batters who are facing them.
The Indian pacers attack like a relentless pack of wolves hunting down their prey. Each of them knows his task and follows the plan like a well drilled army unit. And what is more, each is slightly different from the other so that the batters have to adjust their approach in dealing with them.
Bumrah is tall and has a high and straight arm action which helps him to achieve bounce off the pitch. He can move the ball both ways and has a killer yorker. Shami who is a little shorter than Bumrah delivers balls which tend to come off the pitch very quickly and skids through with unerring accuracy. His ability to reverse swing the ball creates problems for batters. He recently crossed the 200 Test wickets mark and every wicket was richly deserved. According to Virat Kohli, Mohammed Shami is among the most dangerous fast bowlers in the world now.
Siraj has pace, accuracy and stamina. He is confident and knows exactly what line he should bowl to each batter and where to pitch the ball for maximum effect. Thakur and Ishant Sharma are ideal if more variety is needed. So now India has got an abundance of talent in the fast bowling department.
The BCCI should ensure that the flow of talent continues. Budding fast bowlers in every corner of the country have to be provided with the right inputs and guidance from expert coaches. A lot also depends upon the kind of pitches that we have in India. The BCCI now has the financial resources to ensure that pitches which are fast and true are provided for every first class and junior level match so that both our fast bowlers and batters are given the opportunity to hone their skills.
Abhijit Sen Gupta is a seasoned journalist who writes on Sports and various other subjects