Years ago, when Australia’s pace attack terrorised batsmen, their supporters had come up with a creative remix to hail the devastating wicket-taking propensity of pace duo Jeff Thomson and Dennis Lillee:
"Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust
If Thommo don’t get you
Then Lillee must"
Must in the same vein the current Indian pace attack could probably go "....If Bumrah don’t get you, then Ishant or Shami or Pandya must!"
Of late, India’s four-men pace attack has been likend to one of the most feared predators in the wild — the pack. The characteristic of a pack is its relentless pursuit and snipping of larger, fleeing prey. Each predator in the pack takes turn at nipping and consequently bleeding the larger prey during the ruthless, single-minded chase till the debilitated prey can flee no more. They then feast on it in a matter of a few minutes.
Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami and Hardik Pandya have attacked batsmen likewise and thereby attained the reputation of the fearsome pack. Their takedown of England’s top order at Southampton was a classic demonstration of the predatory ways.
England opted to bat first, thinking that they could make hay while the sun was out. But the mere whiff of early morning juice on the pitch and the potent features of the red Dukes cricket ball were enough to stir up the hunting instincts of the pack.
Indeed it was as incisive piece of fast bowling as one could hope to see in conditions more beneficial to batsmen. Sure, there was something in the air for swing and seam bowlers but it was not anything alarming. In fact, for England’s batsmen brought up on a dose of hostile weather and pitch conditions, the first morning of the Test at the Ageas Bowl must have seemed benign in comparison.
On another day, another time, against another attack they would have had a lip-smacking feast on the bowling. But this was the Indian pace attack; conditioned from youth to bowl in tougher conditions and on relatively lifeless pitches.
All the discipline of bowling on barren pitches now came to the fore as they used skill and experience to come up with one of the most awesome displays of incisive swing and seam bowling.
Bumrah and Sharma coaxed swing and seam movement out of thin air, so to speak, to make it harrowing for the bewildered batsmen. Poor Keaton Jennings could not make out whether the ball was going out or coming in when he took a painful blow on the unprotected part of his leg to be trapped in front.
That delivery from Bumrah not only raised doubts in batsmen’s mind but virtually unnerved them. While the predominantly in-tilting Bumrah (for right-handers) was uncharacteristically getting the ball to move the other way on occasions, Sharma was getting the ball to seam prodigiously from his towering height. Shami and Pandya were also probing and asking all the right questions in their own unique ways.
That magnificent period when these bowlers were literally making the ball talk lasted close to 40 overs. By then England were tottering at 86 for 6. It was by far one of the most absorbing displays of fast bowling and shored up the belief that this pace attack was right up there with the best. Only after the pitch lost its sting and the old ball stopped moving could England stitch together a cloak of respectability as Sam Curran hauled them to 246.
However, earlier, when the Indian pace quartet was at its wicket-taking best, it brought back shades of one of the most formidable quartets ever assembled in world cricket, Clive Lloyd’s West Indies. Any four from the fabulous five — Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Colin Croft, Joel Garner and Malcolm Marshall — could be called upon to mow down rival batsmen with their blistering pace which was hurtled from various heights, angles and trajectory.
This Indian pace attack has not yet reached that cult status of Lloyd’s dreaded quartet. For one it is not as quick as those Caribbean hitmen. But its aura has been built in other ways; with acute angles, differing height, jagged seam and late swing.
Even in the absence of their best fast bowler, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, India’s pack is certainly one to be feared. Earlier, they proved their mettle in South Africa. Now against England they have actually outperformed their more seasoned and reputed home team pacers.
Frankly, but for batting dragging it down, this Indian pace quartet would have already won the current series for India. Sure, this battle is not yet won. Not by a long margin. But India’s pace attack, by its very deeds, has sent a clear signal that it is the real thing and that opponents had better watch out.