This India-Australia Test series was a typical ‘seesaw’ battle. The pendulum swung one way and then it swung the other way, and so it went, until day three in Dharamsala. At stumps the previous day, India had been restricted from scoring by a spirited Australian attack. Ravindra Jadeja broke the shackles and helped his side take a meagre 32-run lead. Now, it was the visitors’ turn to push the balance back in their favour, and set up a grand finale, as per the script written down for this series.
It didn’t happen.
Instead, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Umesh Yadav made Matt Renshaw, David Warner and Steve Smith dance to their tunes. Then, Jadeja and R Ashwin demolished the middle and lower order to deliver the knockout punch that had long been coming.
Round the clock back to that afternoon in Dharamsala. Kumar hit one on the crack at good length at 85 clicks and the ball climbed on Renshaw. Yadav did the same with Warner from the other end, albeit a bit quicker, and then he did more.
The difference between him and the Australian pacers was the line he bowled; while they relied more on short and short of length deliveries, Yadav went a lot closer to the stumps and made the batsmen play. Warner’s dismissal is an easy example herein — the batsman simply had to play and edged it.
There wasn’t any dubious trickery involved in this. It was a simple amalgamation of how Yadav had bowled throughout the season. From West Indies to New Zealand to England, to Bangladesh in between and unto this series, Yadav had performed a variety of roles bowling in tandem with Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma, as well as the two spinners. Sometimes he was the support pacer (Antigua), on occasion the leader of the attack (Rajkot), and at other times, he was the holding bowler as pacers (Chennai) mostly are in Indian conditions.
Consistency is the watchword for Yadav this season, a concept previously not associated with him. It has helped him scale a new dimension, and form a formidable pairing with Shami (when fit) or Ishant. While the latter has been reduced to a third-choice role, the senior-most pacer still has his utility. No, it is not in making comic faces that go on to become internet memes, rather it is in holding one end and allowing a bowling partnership to emerge.
Nobody does it better than Shami though. It was in the West Indies when he burst onto the scene again, rejuvenated after his long lay-off from injury. Short steps in his run-up aided more pace and bounce, yet the most pleasing aspect was how easily he paired up with Yadav to rattle the opposition. The Indore Test stands out herein as the duo choked runs together, squeezing the Black Caps into a collapse, or even the Mohali Test, wherein they cleverly used reverse swing to polish off the tail and negate the English advantage of winning the toss.
Shami’s absence could have hurt India, but Yadav didn’t let that happen, for they are much in the same mould, a fact that hasn’t gone unnoticed. Post-match in Dharamsala, Virat Kohli admitted that he puts Shami and Yadav together in India’s current top pacers’ bracket, and for good reason. Where does it leave Ishant and Kumar though? Right where the team management wants them is the definitive answer.
As aforementioned, Ishant’s role has regressed from lead pacer whenever Yadav or Shami are available. When playing he will still be handed the new ball, but mostly the expectation from him is to keep things tight. A flurry of wickets has never been his forte. In the West Indies, the captain had underlined this aspect, the workhorse role, if you want to deem it, and Ishant fits in well as the third stand of the pacers’ troika especially when touring abroad. It is the precise marker wherein his vast experience comes in handy.
Then, you obviously look at the fourth peg in this attack, Kumar, and roll back to the Tests in St. Lucia and Kolkata. What did they have in common with Dharamsala? A green, bouncy track, accentuated with cooler climate that allowed for good movement to be generated with the ball. Kumar has made an impact in each of those games, never mind the management has used him very sparingly.
All the pacers understand this last bit, for none of them has gone on to feature in all Tests this season. Rotation has become the watchword, and gone are the days when one fast bowler played an entire four/five match series, only to run out of steam or get injured at the end. Kumar is well versed with this mishandling, having carried the burden during the 2014 England tour, and then missing out for the next year or so.
Now, he is only too happy to play this bit part role, for it works out well as per his strengths. Additionally, it has helped Kumar work on his fitness and strength, and increase his pace, so much so that he has added the element of reverse swing to his repertoire as well. Remember the Hyderabad Test against Bangladesh?
Indian cricket has never been blessed with a handsome – and handful – pace attack such as this. This is a team that was either leaning on Kapil Dev, Javagal Srinath and Zaheer Khan for long, or hoping that a mercurial Sreesanth would come good. When was the last time an Indian captain had four raring pacers to pick from? Easily enough, this unique choice is not lost out on Kohli.
“When teams prepare only for your spinners and our fast bowlers come in and bowl those kind of spells, it can really shake the opposition. Seizing the momentum for the team has been outstanding on part of the fast bowlers. That’s probably been the one factor that has been the difference in our winning all these series compared to drawing a few or drawing a few games,” said the skipper.
It puts focus on India’s next Test assignments – South Africa, England and Australia (possibly even Sri Lanka and Pakistan in Dubai) – all away. For a team that has its eyes set on the next big challenge – defending the no 1 ranking through an overseas cycle, this pace attack is going to be crucial to team India’s fortunes.