Some were left dumbfounded, some awestruck and some surprised as India bowled the opposition teams out in seven consecutive matches in the 2015 World Cup. Of the 77 wickets, 72 belonged to the bowlers with an impressive average of 23.98, economy rate of 4.85 and Strike Rate of 29.6. The best part was that out of those 72 wickets, 68% (49) of wickets were taken by the pacers. No one expected that it will be India's bowling - their perennial weak link - rather than the batting that will take India to the semi-final of the mega event. This, after two grueling months Down Under with four Tests and four ODIs, was a commendable effort.
Among all the pacers the one who impressed the most was Mohammed Shami. Shami ended up as India's second highest wicket-taker (17), behind Umesh Yadav (18) and best averaged Indian bowler (17.29). It wasn't even a fully-fit Shami, he had played the entire World Cup through pain because of a knee injury that would later rule him out for nine months from cricket.
And just when Mahendra Singh Dhoni thought he'd have his pace spearhead back in the attack, a hamstring injury has ruled Shami out of the three-week tour Down Under. Talk about cruel timing.
Even after the World Cup, India's bowling problems persisted. Shami had to undergo a knee surgery which had kept him out of action till now. Since then, it was evident that Dhoni's team missed the services of Shami. After the World Cup (Since 7th June 2015 till date), the Indian pacers have averaged 37.64 in ODIs - third-worst behind Pakistan and Sri Lanka and given away runs at 6.17 runs an over - most expensive by any team.
Their struggles were clearly visible against South Africa in the home ODI series where they managed to scalp just 15 wickets from five matches and averaged 50.86 going at 7.06 runs an over with a poor strike-rate of 43.2. Shami's presence was definitely missed. India lacked the combination of pace, accuracy and clever variations which Shami would have provided. Dhoni was visibly unimpressed with the fast bowlers' performance after the ODI series.
So when Shami was announced fit for the Australia tour, India received a huge shot in their arm in their pace bowling department and it induced a genuine sense of excitement among the fans, which has now proved short-lived.
"Shami has been a very good bowler for us, especially if you see the period before he got injured," Dhoni said. "He has been equally effective for us with the new ball, in the middle overs and in the death. He has been quite consistent in his performance," MS Dhoni said in the pre-departure conference.
This latest injury is a big setback, for Shami personally and the Indian team too, considering the fact that his return would have brought about the much-needed stability and balance in the bowling line-up.
Since his ODI debut in 2013, against Pakistan, Shami has improved immensely as a limited-overs bowler and his performances on 2014-15 Australia tour provided a glimpse of his abilities. It wasn't just about the pace, he was really clever with his variations. He bowled sharp disconcerting bouncers and swung the ball both ways. His ability to reverse helped him a lot in the death overs and he was India's go-to man in every situation.
Shami has been India's best pacer since his debut in 2013 - he is India's joint-highest wicket-taker (along with Ravindra Jadeja) in the last three years in ODIs with 87 wickets at 24.89 and an economy rate of 5.54. He's been the second-highest wicket-taker (58) overall after Imran Tahir in ODIs in the last couple of years (Since 1 January 2014).
He understood the Australian pitches and conditions well and that experience would have come in handy for the visitors.
However, Shami's loss could prove to be a blessing in disguise for Bhuvneshwar Kumar who was, at first, dropped from the ODI squad but then named as replacement for the injured pacer.
Bhuvneshwar endured a tough time in the South Africa series. He couldn't scalp a single wicket in the T20I series and conceded 53 from six overs at 8.83 runs per over. It got even worse in the ODI series where he averaged 49.57 with an economy rate of 7.13. In the final ODI at Wankhede, he became the second most-expensive bowler in an innings with figures of 10-0-106-1.
Bhuvneshwar was way beyond his best. He had lost his swing and the ability to take early wickets. His death bowling - which he had improved immensely - also took a hit. It seemed as if he was striving for extra pace and that affected his main strength.
"He is obviously trying to bowl quick and so falling into the trap of following others in trying to join the McGrath school of bowling, while abandoning his main strength, swing," Sanjay Manjrekar wrote after the T20I series against South Africa.
Once touted as India's pace spearhead, Bhuvneshwar has lost his way a bit after a sparkling start. He lost his place in the Test side during the Bangladesh series and was then dropped from ODI squad for Australia tour before receiving a lifeline.
After coming under intense criticism during the South Africa series, Bhuvneshwar said that he could still swing the ball but he needed the right conditions.
"I believe I still swing the ball; but as a bowler you also need conditions to assist your swing bowling. If there is someone who is able to swing the ball, I believe I have it in me to swing it a bit more than the other bowlers," Bhuvneshwar told BCCI.TV after India's win in Indore.
"But I also need a bit of assistance from the conditions to swing the ball. I have not intentionally tried to gain pace in my bowling. It is something that has developed with time," he added.
Well, Australia might just about prove to be the right place for him to start off afresh.
He's got into the groove with impressive performances in the Vijay Hazare Trophy where he scalped 10 wickets from five matches at 15.40, an ecomony rate of 3.27 and strike rate of 28.2.
Just as Farhaan Behardien hammered Bhuvneshwar into the stands in the 49th over of that forgettable afternoon at Wankhede, the medium pacer was greeted with a sarcastic applause from a jam-packed crowd as he brought up his century off the penultimate ball of his spell.
Such response from your home crowd could be morale-shattering, confidence-sapping and downright depressing. This Australia tour is Bhuvneshwar's shot at redemption, a true test of his mental toughness and character. It remains to be seen if Dhoni would go with Bhuvneshwar on pacer-friendly Australian pitches. But if he gets a go, and if he wades through it unscathed, then it will exorcise the demons of the horror outing at Wankhede and re-energise his career.
First Published On : Jan 11, 2016 09:18 IST