Indian Fast Bowling Comes of Age
The Indian team is going through a purple phase at the moment.
Batting has traditionally been Indian cricket’s strength.
Even in the formative years when the Indian team went from one debacle to another the batsmen almost always came good with heroic performances in adversity. And when Indian cricket’s fortunes took an upsurge following the arrival of Sunil Gavaskar in 1971 it was again the batting more than the bowling that shaped some of the proudest moments in Indian cricket.
And as the cricketing world knows India’s batting line-up in the first decade of the new millennium was the most lustrous in the contemporary game. Sure there have been numerous outstanding bowling feats performed by truly great bowlers but overall these have taken second billing to the batting feats.
These days however it appears that the bowling is as strong as the batting. Certainly the bowlers have played a major role in India enjoying the exalted status it enjoys in world cricket today – No 1 in Tests and No 2 in ODIs. Over the last few months in particular in contests against Australia, Sri Lanka and New Zealand the bowlers – both pace and spin – have backed the batsmen admirably and this has resulted in one of the most successful phases in the history of Indian cricket.
Spin bowling has traditionally been India’s strength but of course since Kapil Dev burst upon the scene in 1978 pace bowlers too have played starring roles in many of India’s victories. However the current phase could well turn out to be the golden age of Indian fast bowling.
Even as there are signs that Ishant Sharma for long the spearhead of the pace attack is in decline the feats of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shammi and Umesh Yadav have really attracted considerable attention all over the cricketing world. All of them have got time and age on their side and they are bound to get even better with the benefit of further experience.
It has been such a joy to watch the quartet in action of late. They have given batsmen little respite and have bothered them no end with their speed and swing, guile and accuracy. It has been particularly gratifying for someone like me who has been witness to the time when the new ball bowling was a joke and a farce in the sixties and early seventies.
This was the time when Eknath Solkar and ML Jaisimha were regular opening bowlers and those in charge of the new ball included the likes of MAK Pataudi, Salim Durrani, Ajit Wadekar, Budhi Kunderan, V Subramanyam and Gavaskar.
These days of course the new ball attack is anything but a joke or a farce. The present quartet is as good as any of the numerous fast bowlers that have appeared on the Indian cricketing horizon since Kapil’s arrival. And if they can perform so well in sub continental pitches there is every reason to believe that they will continue to bowl admirably on the bouncier and faster pitches abroad.
The great thing about the quartet is the variety in their bowling. All the qualities that go into the making of a good fast bowler are in ample evidence. Pace, swing and accuracy is their forte and the batsmen up against them know they have a task on their hands. They have to display concentration, determination and technical application of the highest level to combat these bowlers who are always looking for weaknesses in the armour.
Like all good fast bowlers they give India the early breakthrough and when it comes to bowling at the death in limited overs cricket they are among the best in the game. They can never really be collared as numerous top batsmen have found out much to their dismay. The bouncers and yorkers are used judiciously and in the middle overs they are able to stifle the runs besides picking up a wicket or two. And in a tight situation they are able to hold their nerve as they have demonstrated on many occasions.
The third ODI against New Zealand at Kanpur the other day was a case in point. New Zealand were well placed to reach the target of 338 but in the death overs Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar rose to the occasion overcoming the twin handicaps of the dew factor and a perfect batting track. They restricted the runs while picking up crucial wickets and New Zealand fell just short.
Of the four bowlers only Bumrah hasn’t played Test cricket but there is little doubt that he will be a success when given a chance. In any case his rising stature is confirmed by his No 1 ranking in T20 Internationals and No 3 slot in ODIs. The other three have displayed their skill, craft and expertise in no uncertain terms in the game’s traditional format and look good to achieve further laurels.
Of course the spin department has matched the pace attack which means that the Indian bowling wears a balanced look. Ravi Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja have picked up wickets by the bucketful and now we have the promise of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal waiting to unfold substantially. Really the bowling represents an embarrassment of riches making Virat Kohli’s job as captain that much easier. And with the batting maintaining its traditional strength it is no surprise that the Indian team is going through a purple phase at the moment.