Stupendous Show By Indian Pace Bowlers
Stupendous Show By Indian Pace Bowlers
Batting has traditionally been Indian cricket’s strength and the batsmen have garnered most of the praise in running up double hundreds and even two triple hundreds and helping the team to amass totals of 700 plus. This has eased the pressure on the bowlers - a point underlined by a grateful Anil Kumble when he said in an interview a few years ago that the bowlers’ task was made simpler by the batsmen giving them huge totals to back them up.
But this was not always the case. In the heyday of the famed spin quartet the batting was generally brittle and the pressure on the four bowlers was enormous. They had to frequently defend totals or targets of 200 and 250 and it speaks volumes of their skill, subtlety and accuracy that they quite often succeeded in this tough task to shape some of India’s finest victories in the Test arena, The deeds of Bishen Bedi, Erapalli Prasanna, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar and Srinivas Venkatraghavan are part of cricketing folklore and deservedly so.
It’s been almost forty years since the spin quartet broke up and since then the batting and the bowling have performed well in unison as Indian cricket has gone from strength to strength and has on more than one occasion climbed to the No 1 spot in the ICC rankings. But I was reminded of the heyday of the spin quartet during the just concluded Test series in South Africa.
The present quartet of bowlers – and what a welcome sight that they are pace bowlers - did the Indian team proud in a manner similar to that of the ''Fab Four’’. In fact the feats of Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shammi, Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar will be recalled with a lot of pride in future for they too had to defend low totals. It does not matter if they came up short twice and were on the winning side once in the three Test series. When the spin quartet was at its peak they too finished on the losing side as the batsmen let them down repeatedly.
It was the same case this time. The quartet bowled heroically only for the batsmen to come a cropper. Sure the conditions were favourable to fast bowlers but full marks to them for taking full advantage and making the ball ''talk’’. The rather strong South African batting line-up could take no liberties for there were very few bad balls. Indeed they had to be literally on their toes as the Indian pacemen hurtled the ball past their heads varying the pace and movement cleverly. On other occasions of course they were making a fair mess of the stumps or forcing an injudicious shot by the batsmen.
One has seen over the years Indian spin bowlers weaving patterns around the best of batsmen and giving them no respite with their subtle variations of spin and flight with virtually no support from pacemen. Indeed before Kapil Dev burst upon the scene 40 years ago the Indian new ball attack was a joke, a farce. He provided the inspiration and many Indian pacemen make their mark on the international scene. Never however in the 85-year-old history of Indian cricket have we seen pacemen cause almost all the damage as they did in the series against South Africa.
It is not that India have not taken the field with four fast bowlers in the past but they did not prove to be as hostile and indeed dangerous as the present quartet. And most significantly in the final Test at Johannesburg for the first time the Indians took the field with four pace bowlers and a pace bowling all rounder leaving out the lone spinner Ravi Ashwin who played in the first two games.
The tactic was criticized at the time for when did India take the field without a specialist spinner. The more percipient Indian cricket followers pointed out to Perth in January 2012 when India omitted Ashwin and played with the all pace attack of Zaheer Khan, Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma and debutant Vinay Kumar. The quartet were roughly treated by the Australian batsmen and the tactic backfired as the home team completed an innings victory in three days.
This time in a unique achievement the Indian pace attack took all 20 wickets as the visitors won in four days. Indeed it is a tribute to the Indian bowling line-up that they took 20 wickets in each of three Tests and not surprisingly the pacemen’s haul was 50 of 57 with there being three run outs. This script would have been unthinkable during the peak period of the spin quartet and even in the Kapil or post Kapil period.
The pace quartet deserves the highest praise for their achievements in the series. I have no doubt that their performance in the just concluded series will be placed alongside the finest feats of the spin quartet. Perhaps even on a higher pedestal given that spin is Indian cricket’s traditional strength. Not even one South African hundred was notched up in the three games and this underlines the stupendous feat of the bowlers.
And to think that a seasoned campaigner and a bowler with a proven record in Umesh Yadav could not even get a look-in thanks to the welcome entry of Bumrah!