In Test match cricket, India has relied heavily upon two players to deliver over the last year-and-a-half. One of them is the unfailing Virat Kohli and the other, ace fast bowler Jasprit Bumrah.
Bumrah will miss the Freedom Trophy series to be played between India and South Africa this October due to an injury. He will sit out the entire three-Test series and it is said that he may not be fit enough even to play against the Bangladeshis later in the year. The BCCI, announcing Bumrah’s pulling out of the series, called his injury a ‘minor’ stress fracture in the lower back.
My knowledge of sports medicine may be zilch. As a young fast bowler at the local level, however, I had developed stress fractures of the shin bones in the mid-1980s and just to stand at fine-leg after a short spell of bowling was torturous; it used to be excruciatingly painful. I was told later to strengthen my calves and the muscles around the shin bones to get rid of the pain. The stress fracture in the lower back for Bumrah, I believe, would have been caused by overwork, weak muscles and stress caused by a freak action. I guess, it would be painful too.
Skipper Kohli will badly miss Bumrah’s services in the Freedom series. He was his ‘go-to man’ in tough situations. The Team India management and the selectors will therefore do well to decide whether they want the young fast bowler to play just the white-ball format, the Tests or lose him in all three forms of the game in future. In an earlier column, I had mentioned that in Bumrah’s case, Team India and the selectors are probably killing the goose that lays golden eggs!
The Proteas will be happy though; Bumrah, with his unusual action, and pace and movement off the track, has troubled most batsmen the world over in the last few years. India may therefore go into the Test matches at Vishakhapatnam, Pune and Ranchi with only two pace bowlers, namely, Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami. On tracks that may turn — and bounce — I would think, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav will be assigned the task of bowling the South Africans out twice, along with the pacers.
If Indian fans believe that the young and inexperienced South African side are going to be pushovers this series, they sure have another think coming. The high-flying Indians, after their recent Test wins in the Caribbean Isles, will surely like it to be a clean sweep of the three-Test series. A 3-0 win will get them into an unassailable position in the World Test Championships; but it isn’t going to be easy. The Faf du Plessis led side, after their twin losses to Sri Lanka in the last year-and-a-half and despite their win over the Pakistanis, at home, will be a bit apprehensive about playing India in its backyard. They will fight all the same, just like they did in the T20 international series just concluded.
The Proteas have a sharp new ball attack in Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi and Vernon Philander. Anrich Nortje, if he can stay fit through the series, will also be a handful. In the spin bowling department, Keshav Maharaj will lead the attack with left-arm spinner, Senuran Muthusamy to back him. Dane Piedt will perhaps have to bide his time and may make it to the playing eleven only if one of the two left-arm spinners aren’t fit to play. It looks like Rabada and Maharaj will have a lot of work to do on the slow Indian tracks.
The responsibility of putting up a sizeable total on the board, to trouble the strong Indian squad, will lie squarely on the shoulders of Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram, Du Plessis, Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock and perhaps, Theunis de Bruyn. Philander and Muthusamy can also add useful runs in the lower order. If the South Africans have to do well on this tour, they shall have to play Ashwin and Kuldeep Yadav with a lot of patience. Amol Muzumdar, the South African batting coach, I am sure will impress upon his wards the importance of not giving away their wickets to the duo, playing rash strokes.
The Indian think-tank will perhaps persist with Rishabh Pant as wicketkeeper-batsman, ahead of Wriddhiman Saha, during this series. The latter, the country’s best ‘keeper at the moment may therefore have to cool his heels till the gloss on Pant’s ‘explosive batting talent’ wears off. This series will also see Team India’s efforts to revive Rohit Sharma’s career in the five-day format. Sharma — a white-ball legend — in all probability will open India’s batting with Mayank Agarwal.
The experiment with the opening slots, Cheteshwar Pujara’s recent form, Pant in the lower order — and as ‘keeper — and the absence of Bumrah, may just be the chinks in the armour that South Africa would be looking for to trouble India in the forthcoming Freedom Series. Will the talented Shubman Gill get a look in? I doubt if he will.
Looking into my crystal ball, I think India will win the series against South Africa and the Freedom Trophy with it. I am not sure though if it will be a clean sweep.
The author is a caricaturist and sportswriter. A former fast bowler, coach and sports administrator, he believes in calling a spade a spade.
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