It all started with bowling coach Bharat Arun requesting Ravi Shastri that he needed a meeting with the fast bowlers after the training session on the eve of the third Test. The match ended with all three fast bowlers - Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami posing for a photo alongside Arun.
Three Tests, two victories and 20 wickets on different decks, this is truly an attack that had lived up to his expectations. The pitches in South Africa had enough juice, the Dukes ball along with the overhead conditions aided the bowlers in England, but it was the barren wickets of Australia with a minimal lateral moment that was going to be the toughest challenge for the three-man attack.
When Ishant Sharma snared the final wicket of Nathan Lyon to give India a 137-run victory, he had taken his 11th wicket of the series. It meant all the three fast bowlers had taken their tally to double-figures. All three had bowling averages below 25 and strike rate less than 55. Shami, Ishant, and Bumrah have been the pivotal figures on the trip Down Under.
Before the series, the major doubt about the Indian seamers was if they could take wickets with the old Kookaburra. For a while now, the theory to stand a chance against Australia has been this - the fast bowlers need to make the new ball count and then hope reverse swing comes into play. However, during the ongoing series, reverse swing has hardly been prevalent and apart from the first innings in Melbourne, India has never managed to take more than two wickets in the first 20 overs.
Incredibly, out of the 49 wickets, the Indian fast bowlers have taken through the course of the series, 35 had been taken after the first or the second new ball has been 20 overs old. This has been an area that they had struggled with in the past tours. Yes, the pitches had been more receptive, but the three quicks have had to constantly adjust their lengths as per the surface. Adelaide got slower as the match progressed, Perth quickened up and the lack of pace in Melbourne prompted them to shift their lines to be at the stumps.
So what has made India so successful with the old ball? Firstly, it is the relentless pressure applied by all the bowlers. A large part of that has been brought about due to the physical conditioning that has enabled the bowlers to concentrate for a longer period of time. During the Perth Test match, there was a graphic showed that Bumrah had not erred on the right-handers' pads for 63 consecutive balls. In Adelaide, Ishant Sharma had only bowled on the line of the stumps three times in the first innings. Even Shami had increased his accuracy vastly, no longer was he the bowler that bowled the leg-stump half-volley once in an over. Together, all three of them had learned to apply the clamps like all the great bowling units that have toured Australia in the past.
During the Perth Test match, Arun had revealed how benchmarks were set during practice sessions and the bowlers needed to achieve those goals.
"Each time they come to the net and they bowl, they need to be aware of their plans and what they need to execute. Each time it's a little different of what they need to execute. We just test as to how far they've executed each time. That feedback allows them to be more consistent. I would probably put it across to the bowlers and ask what their plans are and as long as it's in line with what we want to execute in the game, that's perfectly all right," Arun had said about the training sessions.
Heading into Melbourne, the Indian seamers had bowled more overs than the Australian quicks and Tim Paine had even suggested that the workload would favor his team. But in Melbourne, Bumrah showed why his skipper rated him the best in the business. Bumrah finished the match with figures of 9/86, it was the best figures for Indian pacer on Australian soil. Not only was Bumrah accurate, but his average ball speed across three Test matches has been 142.2. He has been more superior to Cummins and Hazlewood.
While Bumrah has taken all the limelight, one must not forget the leadership of Ishant. The tall quick had been touted as the ‘worst pacer' to have played in Australia by a local newspaper in the series. Ishant had brushed all those records aside and proved that he can, after all, be the leader of this pack. It has been a long time coming, but all the pieces are falling into place nicely.
There is still one more match to go, but Bumrah, Ishant and Shami have certainly proved throughout 2018 and especially in Australia that they are best fast bowling unit India has ever had.