There was a time when India craved a quality pace attack, for years. That dream has finally turned into a reality. As the saying goes "sabar ka fal meetha hota hai (the fruit of patience is sweet)." Today, India have a rampaging fast bowling attack which is making the right noises in international cricket.
The metamorphosis of this Indian pace attack has been one of the biggest and inspiring stories in world cricket in the last few years and just like fans and experts, West Indies legend Brian Lara is mightily impressed by the pace battery's transformation which reminds him of the fiery West Indian pace attack of the past.
"Unbelievable. I saw them in the West Indies and I must say I felt like it was what I was accustomed to in the past, in the ‘90s and early part of the 21st century. This is a little bit exceptional," Lara said on the sidelines of the launch of the Road Safety World Series launch.
"When you look at the quality – Shami, Bumrah, Yadav, they are unbelievable. And the guys that you have on the sidelines, it reminds me a little bit of what the West Indies had back in the 80s and 90s – the reserve strength is very important in assessing a team’s ability. If your reserve strength is very good, Bhuvi and all these guys are sitting on the sidelines, then it means that your attack is quality."
While the emergence of a formidable pace attack has been one of the driving forces behind India's success in the world cricket in recent years, Lara feels that the inspiration gained from the legends of the past has played a crucial role in India becoming a dominant force.
"I think it stems from the role models," Lara explained. "Sachin will talk about Sunil Gavaskar as his role model, but if you look at all the players now I feel that in the ‘90s, the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, and what they did and stood for, it was a different sort of Indian cricket team coming in and trying to play good cricket all around the world and being successful."
"We all still reminisce about Sourav Ganguly taking off his shirt and running around the field and the success that they had in Australia and in the Caribbean. So the team now, using role models of the 90s, is showing how good they are and playing in various conditions around the world. We all know the Indian team was not the most respected when they travelled."
"But now India, anywhere they play, are a force to be reckoned with. I believe it stems from the years of preparation, the role models that Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid became, forcing this present bunch to take inspiration from the past and make an impression."
The Indian team set a new benchmark when they beat South Africa in the second Test in Pune. They surpassed Australia to record most consecutive Test series wins at home with 11 on the trot. Moreover, it's not just the wins but the manner in which they have been achieving these wins, with authority and domination, which has impressed the cricketing fraternity. So does Lara think this current Virat Kohli-led team is on par with the Steve Waugh-led rampant Australian team or the West Indies' fearsome teams of the 70s and 80s? Well, for Lara, there is still time to reach there as they need to consistently beat top teams.
"Well those teams dominated world cricket," Lara explains. "The West Indies in the 70s and 80s, the Australians in the 90s and the early part of the 21st century. India has that capability. Obviously, at home they are very very strong, they’ve always been very very strong. They’re now travelling well, they’re playing abroad and winning which is great."
"World cricket is a lot more competitive now, Australia, South Africa and England. So India will have to do it over a period of time, dominating all teams to be considered. But they are definitely a top cricketing nation at the moment."
Virat Kohli has been at the forefront of India's rise in world cricket. He's become India's most successful captain with 30 wins from 50 matches, overtaking Dhoni's tally of 27 wins. Being the captain of the side, Kohli has led from the front with his breathtaking batting consistency and energy on the field and that is something that has impressed Lara.
"He’s the ultimate captain in terms of his performances, he leads by example in all aspects of the game, on and off the field as well," Lara said. "And he came with a very good background of MS Dhoni. Obviously he laid the foundation, he did things a different way. So Indian cricket is heading in the right direction, I think it’s influenced by some of the best people so obviously they’re reaping the benefits of it."
En route their successful journey, the Indian team is still trying to put some things into place. One of them is Rohit Sharma. The move to give him one more chance and promote him as an opener clicked against South Africa as he scored consecutive centuries in his maiden Test as an opener. This Indian management thinks that Rohit is too good a player not to be playing all three formats of the game and Lara shares the same view.
"I think Rohit Sharma is an awesome player in all varieties of the game," The West Indian great said. "Obviously in the limited-overs aspect, he’s been all through successful. I don’t see any reason why he shouldn’t be in Test cricket. It seems like he has the passion to play, he wants to play, he wants to prove himself at that stage as well."
"To exclude a player like that will be very difficult, with the talent that we see in him. So hopefully he can be successful. I think he’s got the gift."
India got off the mark in the World Test Championship in an emphatic manner by beating West Indies 2-0 in the Caribbean. While India's bowling class stood out, what also came into focus was the West Indies' batsmen's lack of application and temperament. It's been a long-standing problem hurting them.
The home series win against England had elicited hope but the embarrassing loss against India has raised the same questions again. Lara acknowledges that there is a problem and the players need to get back to first-class cricket to improve the long-form skills.
"We came off with a win against England six months ago at home which was very promising. So you expected the team to maybe follow on after that," Lara said. "But there was a lot of one-day cricket and different things happening over the last five-six months with almost the same players. So the attrition level is something the West Indies cricket board and the management will have to see if they can solve because some of the cricketers are understanding the shorter version of the game but the longer version they’re missing some key elements."
"I think first we’ve got to get back to playing good and competitive first-class cricket in the Caribbean where the guys spend time in the middle as batsmen, bowlers bowl long spells and see if we can work from there."
"But I still believe that the talent for the West Indies is very good and promising. Maybe the entire batting line-up is in their 20s and you just want to know if they’re playing at the highest level, that they are capable of performing well. I think learning the game at the international stage is not where you want to go."
It's not just in the Test arena, West Indies have been struggling in the limited-overs as well. They last won a bilateral ODI series five years ago, against Bangladesh in 2014. They have lost 23 out of their last 36 matches since winning the 2016 World T20 title.
After a disappointing World Cup where they were knocked out of the group stage, Kieron Pollard was handed over the captaincy of the limited-overs side in a bit to turnaround their fortunes. It came as a surprise to many because the Trinidad all-rounder had last played an ODI three years ago in 2016. However, Lara feels that Pollard's appointment is a step in the right direction.
"He’s got some good experience. I also believe that a captain is as good as his team and the people who really support him. And I believe that he will get the support, that’s half of your job done."
"Practically, he has played cricket all around the world, he will understand what needs to be done. So it’s not a bad decision. If he’s committed to West Indies cricket for a long period of time, it’s a step in the right sort of direction and let’s see how it goes."
The World T20 is the next big tournament on the horizon and Lara reckons that West Indies aren't the favourites but they are always a threat with a cluster of talent at their disposal. What's crucial, according to Lara, is how the management and administrators "harness this talent".
"Whatever tournament the West Indies are going to, they’ll never be favourites at this point in time," Lara explained. "Even the two tournaments we’ve won in the past. What we do have is quality players in the shorter version of the game. A lot of young players that are coming into the team, Hetmyer, Pooran, they are very very good in the T20 version, in the limited-overs version of the game."
"I reckon that the next eight-ten months before the World Cup there will be a lot of planning. You may even see some new faces coming through. If you listen to any other teams in the world or captains, they’re very wary of the West Indies. They never ever take us for granted, which is a good thing. So hopefully we will make a good showing in the coming World Cup."
The World Test Championship has generated excitement in the cricketing circuit. Cricketers and fans have lauded the move by the ICC and given a new context to Tests. Lara feels that the Test Championship should have been introduced a long time ago.
"I think for someone who played for 16-17 years, over a 100 Test matches, at some point in time it became monotonous where you just keep going and travelling and racking up the numbers," The former West Indies captain explained.
"You win or lose the series, yes it mattered. But in terms of Test Championship where it will culminate into a team becoming champions, I feel that should have happened a long time ago. Happy to see it now."
"Even if you play against one of the minnows, if you play against Afghanistan or Bangladesh, it means something, you’re working towards something. And I feel it will also create a little more excitement for the spectators knowing that that is not just another series. This series leads to something else. Credit must be given to ICC for introducing – maybe a little too late – but introducing it was important," Lara signed off.
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