When South Africa last toured India in 2015, they left with scars. Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja spun a web such that the South African batsmen simply had no answers. They combined together to pick up 54 wickets in the series. Fast bowlers hardly played a role.
In fact, in all, the Indian pacers bowled a total of 127 overs across seven innings, picking up just eight wickets which is just about 11.4% of the total wickets to fall in the series. The pitches also played a part as rank turners were dished out.
Now, four years down the line, South Africa have come back and the story hasn’t been too different. India have continued to dominate. But two factors have changed. The pitches and the wickets taken by Indian bowlers. Ashwin and Jadeja continue to lead the wicket charts but the Indian pacers aren’t too far behind.
Out of the 40 wickets to fall, the spin twins have combined to pick 60% of the 40 South African wickets to fall in this series so far. However, the rest of them have come from the pacers. And they’ve done this in the absence of their premier fast bowler, Jasprit Bumrah who is yet to play a Test match at home. Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma have been excellent together in the two Test matches so far.
Mind you, this is a very similar pace attack to the one that played in 2015. Ishant and Umesh were India’s premier pacers back then. Varun Aaron played a couple of games while Shami was out in rehabilitation after a knee surgery. Hence, the improvement is evident.
The improvement has been gradual. During the 2016-17 home season which saw India play 13 Tests in India, the fast bowlers had also played a role. Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar did play second fiddle to the spinners but did provide consistent breakthroughs.
But their challenge was to replicate the success and come to the forefront in overseas conditions. Indian pacers have been guilty of getting carried away and wasting good bowling conditions in the past. However, it wasn’t the case throughout 2018 and half of 2019 when India played most of their Test matches in South Africa, England and Australia.
The trio of Bumrah, Shami and Ishant showed the improvement. They constantly challenged the opposition batsmen and rattled them with pace, movement and consistency. They were mostly in the limelight and if not for India’s batting failures, they could’ve well won India series’ in South Africa and England as well apart from Australia. They got the job done earlier in West Indies as well.
In fact, since the start of 2018, all three of these pacers are among the top 10 wicket-takers. Each of them have taken in excess of 50 wickets and each of them average less than 25.00. Their strike-rates are under 50 too. Hence, this pace attack has been a revelation. Add to this Umesh Yadav who hasn’t played a lot away from home.
After all their success overseas, these pacers have replicated their success at home as well. On good wickets that have been good to bat on, these pacers have out bowled their counterparts.
In this series against South Africa, there have been times where the pitch has offered something for the pacers. South Africa had the best of those conditions in both games and also the bowlers to exploit them. In fact, Temba Bavuma also said the pitch in the second Test in Pune was similar to what they get back in South Africa. However, it is the Indian bowlers who showed their South African counterparts how to bowl in such conditions.
Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada did get movement and nip on day one in both Test matches. But it was a lot more in the second Test in Pune. They beat the bat on a few occasions as well but just weren’t penetrative enough. Yes, they were a tad unlucky but the Indian pace trio got better rewards as they bowled better lengths and were far more effective.
The way Shami was making the ball to talk on the fifth day pitch in Vizag showed that he can extract anything even if there is nothing in it for the fast bowlers. He generates reverse at pace which has troubled the batsmen. Ishant has improved leaps and bounds in the last couple of years. He has generated quite a bit of movement and has a vicious in-dipper. Umesh Yadav has been lethal at home. He has played only few and far in between but has been effective whenever he’s had the chance. Yes, he is still a touch moody and goes through phases where he bowls filth but he’s grown a lot over the last few years as well.
This Indian pace battery has come a long way under Virat Kohli. They have dwelled and flourished as the current Indian skipper has backed them to the hilt. It’s no secret that he loves pace but the bowlers have responded beautifully as well. The bowling coach Bharat Arun deserves a lot of credit too. He has tirelessly worked with the current crop of pacers to help them get better every game. In fact, he has been one of the major contributors from this coaching staff.
Bumrah, Shami, Ishant and Umesh form a potent attack. Moreover, India’s bench strength is always improving. Bhuvneshwar Kumar last played a Test match in January 2018 and was the player of the match as well in that game. Navdeep Saini is coming all the ranks really well too. Hence, India boast of a pool of fast bowlers and have most bases covered.
When was the last time they boasted of such an attack and such rich reserves on the bench? Few of these bowlers have played for most part of this decade. But they were often guilty of being way too inconsistent. But in the last few years, their rise has been phenomenal and has been one of the reasons for India’s dominance in world cricket.
From 127 overs across seven innings in 2015 to almost 114 overs in 2019, this pace attack has come a long way and it’s just the number of overs that tells the story of their rise.