When fiery paceman Mohammad Nissar bowled impressively on India’s tour of England during the pre-Independence era, one English journalist colourfully described his bowling as coming off the pitch like ‘the crack of doom.’
Well, there sure were cracks aplenty forming on the new Perth Cricket Stadium pitch. But as to whose doom it would spell we simply have to wait and watch.
Nevertheless, two troubling aspects stood out in India’s choice of bowlers on the morning of the Perth Test.
The first was the matter of four fast bowlers. The worry was not because there were four, but the fact that the fourth paceman, Umesh Yadav, was chosen as a cover for one of the other fast bowlers and not because the pitch had a greenish tinge on it.
This became apparent very early in the Test when Ishant Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah struggled to find their rhythm. They looked flat, jaded and low on energy on a fresh, first day pitch. They were barely able to crank up their bowling speeds to the mid-130s on the speed gun and this sort of pedestrian speed hardly bothered the Aussie batsmen.
This was a far cry from the first innings of the Adelaide Test when India came roaring back into the contest with their high-energy, focussed and impressive pace bowling exhibition that more than made up for the batsmen’s failure.
But at the Optus Stadium in Perth on Friday morning, Ishant and Bumrah did not seem to be on top of their game. This forced skipper Virat Kohli to fall back on his other two pacemen, Yadav and Mohammed Shami, well before the first drinks break. He also pressed into service part-time spinner Hanuma Vihari within an hour of the lunch break.
The second aspect also hinged on India’s bowling. The bowlers had long and tough sessions in Adelaide, with a lot of energy, steam and effort expended on the last day to ensure the win.
However, after that hard-fought win, the fast bowlers had just three days to recoup. Additionally they also had to undertake the long flight from Adelaide to Perth (Where skipper Virat and wife Anushka Sharma thoughtfully gave up their business class seats to ensure the comfort of India’s long-limbed pacers).
Thus, when Australia won the toss, they not only opted to bat first but ensured that India’s weary bowlers would get no respite in the heat. This led to their damp bowling efforts during the first session.
The lack of intensity was so apparent that Australia ran away to a rapid start. It was only after Shami bowled restrictively and Yadav threw heart and soul into the fight that the scoring rate receded quickly.
Still, Australia were 64 without loss at the big break.
Here it must be pointed out that Perth, in western Australia, can be baking hot. This impacts cricket pitches which, despite being bound by grass, can crack open due to the searing heat and attendant evaporation of moisture in clay. The old Western Australia Cricket Association (WACA) pitch, for instance, was notorious for the massive cracks it sported. These formed, deepened and widened as the Test progressed.
On one occasion, on the morning of an Ashes Test, a TV crew dropped a pen into the crack to show how wide and deep it had become.
Interestingly, the edges of cracks in Perth don’t crumble. They become hard as nails. However, the ball that pitches on these cracks can take off in any direction, much to the consternation of the batsmen.
India’s bowlers, who looked below par in the first session, suddenly woke up from their slumber after lunch. There was an appreciable increase in intensity and pace, with Bumrah bowling in the high 140s. Shami too bowled brilliantly, but without luck.
Even part-time off spinner Vihari found the crack on one occasion and it immediately accounted for top scorer and opener Marcus Harris (70).
However, despite having an excellent post lunch session, India still bowled and fielded pretty loosely and thus could hardly be happy with their efforts. The general consensus is that they have given away 75 runs too many already.
The flat effort of the morning, compounded by an aggressive field placing that gave away too many easy runs has ensured that India have had a disappointing day in the office.
Unless the four fast bowlers find their mojo very early on Saturday morning, India will be under a lot of pressure for the remainder of this Test. Batting last, with a pitch swathed in dangerous, widening cracks, would not be a picnic. Thus the bowlers work early on the morrow is paramount to India’s fortunes. Can they rise to the occasion?