Even though there are many instances in Indian cricket when batsmen have shown the resolve and the will to fight, there are only a few instances when the bowlers have challenged the opposition in their den. However, the recently concluded Test series between India and South Africa turned out to be a bit different, even though the result was a much familiar one.
Despite the loss, India would be proud of the way their bowlers competed neck and neck with their South African counterparts. And it was the fast bowling department that stood out on those green and fast South African wickets, a sight which has been a rarity in the history of Indian cricket over the years.
Only if the Indian batsmen could have done better, the outcome of the series could have been a bit different. Claiming all 60 wickets in the three match series, and that too in conditions which have been the Achilles’ heel for Indian bowlers over the years, is surely no child’s play. Although, Ravichandran Ashwin, the lone Indian spinner to feature in the whole series had his moments in the second Test at Centurion, the Indian fast bowlers were the ones who gave the home team a run for their money.
“The bowlers were the biggest positive; we haven't done 60 wickets in the past. We want to correct certain mistakes. That lower-order showed character,” said an upbeat Virat Kohli after the victory in Johannesburg.
"This win feels great. As batsmen, if we can think about countering conditions better, we can do away from home,” Kohli added.
Surely, India have now proved that they actually do have the bowling arsenal to succeed in overseas conditions like in South Africa, England, New Zealand and Australia. Now, it is up to the batsmen to accept the challenge and raise their bar. While the Indian batsmen danced to the tune of the South African pacers, the Indian pacers ensured that the hosts’ batting unit do not find it easy either.
They were not as lethal as their South African counterparts, who were consistently extracting bounce along with movement from the surface due to their natural heights, but they bowled the right lines and lengths along with working up some serious pace consistently. Yes, they were wayward sometimes but learned quickly to come back and reaped the results.
It started with Bhuvneshwar Kumar in the first Test at Cape Town who broke the back of the South African top-order with a fabulous spell of 4/87. And it ended with Mohammad Shami’s career best figures of 5/28 in the fourth innings of the final Test at Johannesburg. And one should obviously not forget Jasprit Bumrah’s 5/54 in the second innings of the Johannesburg Test that helped India to make a comeback in the match .
There was Ishant Sharma too, Indian team’s workhorse, who maintained the discipline throughout the series since he featured first in the second Test at Cape Town. If it wasn't for his game-changing spell of 2/31 in the second innings in Johannesburg, India would have ended up losing this match too. Overall statistics of 8 wickets in two matches at an average of 18.75 and economy of 2.17 show the discipline that he maintained and how he acted as the anchor of the Indian bowling unit.
Hardik Pandya, India’s much fancied seam bowling all-rounder, doesn't have the right numbers to impress in this series. Just three wickets in three matches at an average of 54.00 and strike rate of 102.0 doesn't help. But, he maintained the discipline with an overall economy of 3.17. And his spell of 2/27 in the third innings of the Cape Town Test also promised a lot for the future. With time on his side, he is only expected to improve.
The result could have been different if India could have avoided the selection disaster in the second Test in Centurion. Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s exclusion raised many eyebrows and received heavy criticism from all quarters as he was clearly the best Indian pacer in the first Test.
But, that one mistake has certainly made it clear now what the ideal bowling combination should be.
He could also have ended up as the top wicket-taker in the series if he would have played that Test. But, ending up as the fourth highest wicket taker in the series with 10 wickets at an average of 20.30 is not a bad thing either despite playing one Test less.
Mohammad Shami, who played in all the three Tests, deservedly emerged as the joint highest wicket-taker in the series alongside Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada with 15 wickets to his name. His overall average of 17.06 and strike rate of 33.4 was second only to Philander in the whole series.
And the find of the series for India was definitely Jasprit Bumrah who led the bowling charts at the second position with 14 wickets to his name at an average of 25.21. Playing him in all three Tests had been touted as showing too much faith on someone who had limited first class experience in recent times. But, he proved his critics wrong with a fabulous performance as well.
At the end of the series, all the Indian fast bowlers have much improved overseas numbers to show against their name. Even though they haven't been able to put India on the right end of the results, Indian pacers have certainly gained confidence to perform overseas. They can only get better from here and the key to India’s overseas domination lies in their hands.