It was quite a surprise, and frankly a pleasure, to see the Indian fast bowlers getting up the noses of the English batsmen in Mohali in the third Test. India’s fast bowling books are a little strange. The graph tends to waver rather erratically, given that we thought fast bowling had come to stay once Kapil Dev made a mark.
That was quite the beginning of the Indian fast bowling saga. Once we saw Kapil charging in from one end, and Karsan Ghavri in the supporting role, we began to believe that we could, after all, do respectably well with the seam-up stuff.
As Kapil’s legend grew, we had more bowlers coming to the fore, with Javagal Srinath leading the next generation of fast bowlers, followed by Ajit Agarkar, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, R.P, Singh, and Irfan Pathan and onwards to Ishant Sharma.
With Ishant’s advent, it looked like the art had reached optimum in India, since he was the typical fast bowler – tall, fast and aggressive. Surely we could only look ahead now. For a while, it looked like we had indeed hit the lodestone. We had Varun Aaron, Mohd. Shami and Umesh Yadav, all hitting 140 and even claimed to be close to 150!
So this was perfect. Not quite, as it turned out.
Lack of form, fitness issues and general insecurities about their place in the team – most things inter-related — caused for all of these bowlers to be in and out of the playing XI with distressing regularity.
We were never sure which fast bowlers would be playing. When Mahendra Singh Dhoni leads, it is normally two speedsters and the spin duo of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. With Ishant a little short on form for most parts, the onus of the bowling responsibilities fall on Shami and Yadav for most parts.
But there were issues there too. Shami had a series of fitness issues and Yadav has frequently been too erratic.
So there were times when Bhuvneshwar Kumar is recalled. Here is another bowler we thought was very much in the mix. But then again, he too is afflicted with the same issues.
Virat Kohli is now the Indian skipper with maximum exposure, and his format is a little different. He believes in the five-bowler format, which gives space to both Shami and Umesh Yadav, with Jayant Yadav adding to the mix. It is also evident that Kohli, as would be expected from his aggressive approach, demands that fast bowlers essentially have one job – to bowl fast.
He demands that Shami and Umesh really hurl the cherry down, and use any movement and bounce that is available on the track. Mohali saw that factor being utilised to the hilt.
Young England opener Haseeb Hameed got hit on the hand in the first innings and though he showed exceptional gallantry in the second, he is now out of action for the rest of the series.
Chris Woakes too got on the wrong side of a bounder from Shami and we now hear he too has a hairline fracture.
The comparison between the Indian and English fast bowlers has so far landed much in the former’s favour so far in this series. The English have deployed Chris Broad, Ben Stokes, Woakes and James Anderson, as soon as he was fit, or almost fit. Plus, there’s Steve Finn in the reserves.
So their strength was going to be fast bowling. But as it turns out, barring Stokes, none of the others has really been able to make much impact, making Adil Rashid their next bowling success.
Test matches are won by dismissing 20 opposition batsmen and scoring one run more, over two innings. So there has never been any doubt that the bowling is vital and equally the more difficult of the trades.
It also means that the pitches do not necessarily need to be square turners. We can work on bounce and a little movement, which works fine for the fast bowlers, as well as the spinners, who have the ability to work on the same things and make things happen.
It would still be quite the sight to see two or three Indian fast bowlers come charging in and deliver venom, much like when we saw a few years ago. What a sight that would be!
But there aren’t too many reserves that gave been seen in action. Sure, there will be medium-pacers galore in the domestic circuit, but out and out fast bowlers are not to be seen.
One reason is too much cricket, at all levels. If you don’t have recovery periods, it is always a diminishing return. But that is a sad truth of the sport worldwide – there are just too many premier leagues.
Our bowlers thankfully are involved in only one. So they can be expected to be available for national duty for longer. So long as they can keep form and fitness in the forefront.