When India last played a Test at Indore, it proved to be a marked occasion. A 321-run decimation of New Zealand completed a 3-0 series sweep and secured the world number one ranking for Virat Kohli’s side – within two years of Kohli taking over the reins from MS Dhoni.
The crushing of the Kiwis, at Indore, as indeed all through that three-match contest, was carried out by R Ashwin: career-best figures of 13/140 in the third game, and a total of 27 wickets in the series.
All told, 41 of the 57 New Zealand wickets to be taken by the Indian bowlers in the series (excluding run-outs) were snapped up by Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. India batted first in all three Tests, and their margins of victory read 197 runs, 178 runs and 321 runs.
Cut to Thursday morning, at the same venue.
Asked to bat after losing the toss to Bangladesh captain Mominul Haque, this was Virat Kohli’s reaction: “We would've bowled first to be honest. We have three pacers, so ideal for them, who are in top form.”
By the time day’s play ended, India were all of 64 runs adrift of the total managed by the visitors; not for the first time, and most certainly not for the last, Kohli’s bowlers had done the job for him.
Ashwin’s guile saw him eventually triumph over the only real period of challenge from the Bangladesh batsmen (and also over the unexpectedly-buttered fingers of Ajinkya Rahane), but the bulk of the damage was done by the three pacers the Indian skipper glowingly referred to at the toss – so much so, that Jadeja was only called upon to deliver three overs, and made his only contribution of the day through a run-out courtesy his rocket arm.
Between them, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami bowled 39.3 out of the 58.3 overs faced by Bangladesh and picked up 7/94. Ashwin’s 16 overs were essential too – 12 of them came on the trot in the afternoon session and brought with them the prized scalps of Mominul and Mahmudullah.
That passage of play in the middle, where Bangladesh attempted a revival through Mominul and Mushfiqur Rahim after having lost three wickets in the opening session, may have been the only period where the game was not going to plan for India. But even during that phase, you caught a glimpse of just why this attack is being hailed as India’s greatest and considered among the world’s finest.
Even as Mominul and Mushfiqur ran up their 66-run association, there was no desperation, no fidgeting, no extra burden on a particular bowler – this even as the Indian captain and vice-captain contrived to give Mushfiqur as many as three lives. That’s the advantage that comes with fielding an attack comprising five quality bowlers as opposed to a couple of marvels paired with some middling options.
Go back to the most successful Test teams in the modern era. Think West Indies in the ‘70s and the ‘80s, think Australia at the start of this century. Those attacks didn’t have one or two stand-outs – see off McGrath, prepare for Lee; go past Marshall, welcome Holding.
The rankings present the evidence: India excluded, Australia and England boast of the most entries in the top-30 of the Test bowling charts with four each. India? Six entries, all of whom are in the top-25.
On day one at Indore, Kohli savoured the fruits of just that luxury. With the exception of Ashwin’s afternoon spell, the Indian skipper didn’t require a long burst from any of his multiple strike options.
Ishant and Umesh began the proceedings, the former bowling five overs and the latter seven, and both returned one wicket each. Shami had a change of ends after his first two overs, and immediately produced the third breakthrough to keep India well ahead going into lunch.
After the lunch break, while Ashwin bowled his 12 overs, the pace trio was rotated at the other end – Shami bowling four overs, followed by three-over bursts from both Ishant and Umesh – before Jadeja finally got a brief look-in.
While Ashwin exercised control and command in returning with figures of 2/32 from his 12-over stint, what served to aid India’s cause – and eventually resulted in the slide that consumed the Bangladesh innings – was the lack of scoreboard-ticking options on either end. The 10 overs delivered by the Indian pacers, too, only produced 27 runs for the visitors.
Bangladesh weren’t losing too many wickets, but India weren’t giving much away in the way of runs either. More worryingly for the Tigers, the ball was now nearly 50 overs old.
And when the red ball is more than 40 overs old, and you’re playing in India, the Shamis and Yadavs start roaring. Two such roars of Mo Shami, off successive deliveries in the 54th over, were the death-knell on the Bangladesh effort.
What could have been 140/5 at tea turned to 140/7 in the space of two balls. Four-and-a-half overs into the third session, Bangladesh had been shut out for 150 after opting to bat on a first day subcontinental wicket.
And some in South Africa were seriously starting to think that India’s success was built upon the luck of the coin?
From Indore 2016, to Indore 2019, this is where Indian Test cricket has come in the last 37 months – 37 months of an undisputed reign at the top of the ladder in the longest form of the game. You can take spin out of the equation, you can take the toss out of the equation, and still, at home at the very least, you just can’t turn the equation upside down.
Because if Ishant doesn’t get you, Umesh will. If Umesh doesn’t get you, Shami will. Oh, and there’s this guy named Jasprit Bumrah, who’s yet to play a Test match on home soil.
Shudder and shiver if you’re lining up to face them. Savour, if you’re not.
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