India vs New Zealand: Hosts' pacers outshining Black Caps a positive shift from status quo

Amit Banerjee, Oct, 06 2016

Times are changing rapidly in Indian cricket, both for the better as well as for worse.

While on one hand the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) finds itself locked in heated battles against the Lodha committee and the ICC, India's series-clinching win over New Zealand in the second Test would have sent the country into a frenzy.

With the unassailable 2-0 lead in the series, the Indian cricket team have dislodged arch-rivals Pakistan from the top of the ICC Test rankings, a feat that they had been waiting to achieve ever since rains deprived them of the coveted position at Port-of-Spain.

Rankings aside however, it was the manner in which Virat Kohli and co. managed to seal victory in the Eden Gardens Test that was noteworthy. A sign of positive change in the brand of cricket that one is usually greeted with in the country.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar scalped 5/48 in New Zealand's first innings. AP

Bhuvneshwar Kumar scalped 5/48 in New Zealand's first innings. AP

What we are looking at here is the Indian pace duo of Mohammed Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar sharing 12 wickets between them in the second Test to decimate the Black Caps' batting order. Not at the Trent Bridge, or at the WACA of the yore, but at our very own Eden Gardens.

It is a positive drift from status quo in several ways. India is not a nation that is known for producing seaming tracks with healthy bounce and carry.

Ask any batsman the surface where he finds it easiest to score runs in the world - Of late the chances of Wankhede and Chinnaswamy featuring in that list are higher than most. Pitches like Kanpur and Nagpur have witnessed the unleashing of the proverbial ‘spitting cobras’.

It is then that watching the pacers strangulate batsmen with unplayable lines, which was the case with Matt Henry removing Murali Vijay in both innings, or sending their stumps cartwheeling towards the keeper proved a delightful sight at the Eden Gardens.

Perhaps, the bounce, carry and swing at the Eden Gardens was one of the most talked-about points at the end of the second Test aside from Rohit Sharma and Wriddhiman Saha's batting exploits. More importantly, it was the fact that the Indians pacers outshone their counterparts from a team that arguably has among the best fast-bowling attacks in the world right now.

Test cricket in India in recent times has mostly seen the side electing to bat first get the edge. After a couple of days of batting-friendly conditions, the spinners come into play usually from the third day onwards once the pitch starts deteriorating.

The Freedom Trophy ( India vs South Africa) last year saw the 'two Ravis' — Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja — share 54 wickets between them, while Imran Tahir (14 wickets) was the leader for the Proteas by a distance. The top four spots in wicket-takers list in the four-Test series during England's 2012-13 tour of India were also occupied by spinners.

The only occasion of a speedster dominating on Indian soil in recent memory was Mohammed Shami against the hapless West Indians on debut at the Eden three years ago, as well as Dale Steyn's ferocious spells (10/108) at Nagpur in 2010, with the latter producing a magnificent effort despite a slow track.

A table highlighting the number of times Indian pacers grabbed 10 wickets or more in a Test on home soil. Stats courtesy: Umang Pabari.

A table highlighting the number of times Indian pacers grabbed 10 wickets or more in a Test on home soil. Stats courtesy: Umang Pabari.

From the Indian perspective, the Eden Test was only the 20th time fast bowlers managed to grab more than 10 wickets in a Test at home, with the feat being achieved only six times since the turn of the millennium, which highlights how lost the  pacers have been in India.

Ahead of the series, which signalled the start of India's long home Test season, the focus was on the spin trio of Ashwin-Jadeja-Mishra. Shami made a successful comeback to international cricket after more than a year during the tour of the Caribbean, but his role in the ongoing series was expected to largely remain confined to bowling a few disciplined overs with the new ball and then may be play a part with the old ball assisting reverse swing.

Bhuvneshwar's participation in the series wasn't even confirmed, given the likelihood of sticking to four bowlers, and his tussle with Umesh Yadav for the second seamer's spot.

However, it is in this regard that special credit must be given to captain Kohli for his 'horses-for-courses' approach, bringing Bhuvneshwar in both at St. Lucia as well as in Kolkata, when he got an inkling conditions assisting swing. On both occasions, the young lad from Meerut re-paid his captain's faith in him with five-wicket hauls.

At Eden, Bhuvneshwar delivered a sensational spell to run through the New Zealand batting order in the first innings to collect 5/48, including two off consecutive balls to reduce the visitors to 122 for 7. Combined with Shami's reverse-swinging beauties and a barrage of bouncers, the two bowled with fantastic rhythm to play a major role in the 178-run victory in Kolkata.

There have been quite a few low-scoring five-day clashes in Indian conditions in recent times, especially on South Africa's visit last year. However, the Eden Test stands out from the others as one that saw the pacers, especially the home-grown ones, hogging the limelight.

Unlike the monotonousness of spin domination in recent times, this match has helped add some variety to the experience of playing Test cricket in India. That however, doesn't mean that India should completely deviate from its spin-friendliness, for that is a strength that they must preserve.

In an interview on CricketCountry, former Bangladesh all-rounder Khaled Mahmud had credited the rise of pace-friendly wickets in Bangladesh (as has been the case with Sher-e-Bangla, Mirpur) for the rise of world-class pacers such as Mustafizur Rahman.

Similar comments on the lack of quality pacers in India have also been made by legends such as Wasim Akram. The precedent set by Eden curator Sujan Mukherjee, might play its bit in the development of the Shamis and Bhuvis in the days to come. Virat Kohli described it as a brilliant wicket which produced a lovely Test match in the presentation ceremony, a visibly delighted Bhuvneshwar said, "In India we generally don't get these kinds of wickets. When you get one, you just try to make the most of it." He indeed made most of it and it was refreshing to see the Indian pacers outshine the visitors on Indian soil and play a crucial role in hosts' victory.

Published Date: Oct 06, 2016 | Updated Date: Oct 06, 2016

Rank Team Points Rating
1 India 4493 125
2 South Africa 3395 110
3 England 4097 105
4 Australia 3087 100
5 New Zealand 3114 97
Rank Team Points Rating
1 South Africa 5957 119
2 Australia 5505 117
3 India 4579 114
4 England 5645 113
5 New Zealand 5123 111
Rank Team Points Rating
1 New Zealand 1625 125
2 England 1962 123
3 Pakistan 2417 121
4 West Indies 2222 117
5 India 2183 115