Throughout the noughties under Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble's captaincy the Indian cricket team laboured to shed the notorious but perennial tag of 'poor travelers' in Tests, which was attached to the side of the nineties.
Ganguly pioneered the lot with squaring off the Test series in Australia followed by a maiden series win in Zimbabwe, Dravid captained India to famous Test series victories in West Indies (first after 35 years) and England (conquering after 21 years). Kumble in his short spell as a captain became the first captain from the subcontinent to beat Australia at Perth. MS Dhoni led the Indian side to series triumph in New Zealand after four decades.
Their accomplishments outside Asia meant India was gradually emancipated from the label of poor tourists. Before a slump halted their rise.
Since Dhoni-led India won the Test series (1-0) in New Zealand in 2009, India has played nine Test series in SENA (South Africa, England, New Zealand and Australia) countries up until 2018, drawing one series (South Africa in 2011) and losing eight of those series. Two of which came this year.
The competitive nature of sport and largely due to the concept of time, it doesn't take much for the detractors to reassign the ignominious tag.
A supposed 'defining period' in the words of coach Ravi Shastri has seen Virat Kohli and his troops lose Test series in South Africa and England in 2018.
Going strictly by the past records, and according to India's scoreline in previous two assignments outside the sub-continent (2-1 and 4-1 in South Africa and England) an avid Indian cricket follower of the previous era would be anxious about India's prospects Down Under. However, it isn't the case with the follower of today.
The boldness does not exude because of the absence of Steve Smith and David Warner, and the 'weakening' of the Australian team. Indian side that travelled to Australia in 1977-78 when the top brass of the Aussie side were engaged in Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket, the visitors lost a 41-year old Bob Simpson's Australia. The positiveness emits from the team's own strength and faith in their ability.
Every time India boarded the flight abroad, be it to South Africa or England, there was a palpable excitement ahead of team's departure with the visiting side even starting as favourites and now again before the tour of Australia, the buzz is similar.
Despite the trail of defeats in South Africa and England, the vibe was upbeat in BCCI headquarters in Mumbai during the pre-departure press conference on Thursday ahead of the long tour of Australia. The optimistic mood wasn't because of the bullish presence of Shastri and Kohli, but a team driven by self-belief to win Test series on their capabilities.
"We are all feeling good about the fact that we have a great bowling attack now. They know exactly what they want to do. After a long time we feel we can pick up 20 wickets in every Test we play, which I think is a great feeling to have," said Kohli confidently.
Test cricket's old adage – of picking 20 wickets to win – is no longer a huddle an Indian captain worried of.
India's belief disseminates from a fit, diverse and a lethal group of fast-bowlers from India that have consistently proved over the course of last couple of years in home and away conditions of their newfangled ability.
"But it is the batsmen, who need to step up. We have spoken as a team after England and everyone is really keen to correct those things and put in a complete performance. The whole combination has to come together for us to win series, not just one Test match," Kohli was quick to address the flaws in batting after he expressed his conviction in the bowling unit.
Seeing a captain having no concerns over his pace attack ahead of a long and an arduous overseas tour, while conceding the chinks among the batting department was unprecedented in any of India's pre-departure address.
Kohli, who belted four centuries in his previous tourney in Australia said, "From the last time we went there, the fitness levels are way up, which I think is the most important factor in Australia because the pitches can get really boring at times and the Kookaburra ball doesn't move so much. It is all about patience and maintaining the pace throughout the day, which a bowler has at the start of play," explaining the rationale behind the hypothesis of his pacers.
There is very little contention to what Kohli said. Umesh Yadav, the bowler, who possess the gift of raw pace, had a stellar home season in 2016/17 taking 25 wickets in 11 Tests and has continued his ascendancy by becoming only the third Indian quick to claim a 10-wicket haul in India last month. Jasprit Bumrah has had a phenomenal start to his Test career, with both his five-wicket haul coming in the two away Test win this year. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami – all proven performers complete the Indian pace battery.
The bowlers delivered in both away assignments, however, it were the batsmen (barring the obvious – Kohli) who surrendered rather too tamely. A telling sign of the shift in power paradigm in Indian Test cricket.
Indian pace attack will once again be in focus as the team sets off for their final overseas expedition in 2018. The World No 1 Test side yearns for a sweet end to a year where despite being dubbed favourites in South Africa and England ended on the losing side.
The current collective of Indian fast bowlers have attracted admiration like none of its predecessors.
It has got even the great merchants of fast bowling talking.
Seven years ago, West Indies fast bowling legend Andy Roberts took a dig at Indian pacers by calling them "spinners" during India's tour of the Caribbean.
Come 2018, his fast bowling partner and an integral part of the famous West Indies' fast bowling quartet, Michael Holding, too, is excited for the Indian fast bowlers. Touting the current crop as the best bowling attack India have had, an opinion that has been resonated by several others, including Sachin Tendulkar.
Holding called during the five-Test series in England, where the Indian bowlers took all 20 wickets in three of the five Tests after bowling out the Proteas in both innings of the Tests India played early in 2018.
What stands out in the consortium of the fast bowlers is the array of attributes they possess. There is swing, seam, speed, bounce and unorthodoxy – each facet represents the top five Indian pacers going around in Bhuvneshwar, Shami, Umesh, Ishant and Bumrah. Not very difficult to mentally place one Indian bowler across every characteristic.
Another reason of the quicks gelling well as a pack is thanks to the clarity in individual's role and the way the group of bowlers have complimented each other has been a revelation, contrary to the uncertainty surrounding the batsmen.
After years of longing for a pace attack, after toiling for next 'Kapil Dev' and after decades of envying neighbours – Pakistan for their factory of fast bowlers, India have finally put together a destructive bowling bunch of whom India can not only be proud of but also depend on for winning Tests.
The failure of Indian team in South Africa and England, some baffling decisions from the team management, questionable tactics from the captain and most importantly the ineptness of the batting unit must be criticised. However, amid all flak, the blooming of an explosive bowling attack must be applauded, cherished and celebrated because the fast bowlers might well be at the forefront of India's upcoming chapter in cricket.
With Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar, Shami still in their 20s, Ishant and Umesh in early 30s and the second string of attack including youngsters Hardik Pandya, Shardul Thakur, Deepak Chahar and Khaleel Ahmed being readied, if we push to look a little beyond with prospects like Kamlesh Nagarkotti, Shivam Mavi, India is likely to soon become a fast-bowling powerhouse with a bevy of bowlers coming through the ranks.
The year 2018 belongs to the emergence of Indian fast bowling. Kohli's numbers with the bat this year across formats have been gobsmacking, but 2018 (even with one series still remaining) has surely got to be the year of Indian pacers.
Once the Indian batting ensemble finds its rhythm and combines with the band of bowlers with emcee Kohli at helm, India won't be far from playing the tune of world domination, whose notes were first written by the pacers.
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