The metamorphosis of the Indian pace attack into one of the best in the world has grabbed eyeballs across the cricketing globe. It's one of the biggest success stories in the past few years. The likes of Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma have formed a formidable trio and been wreaking havoc against opposition batsmen, which has been one of the foremost reasons for India's success overseas, something that eluded them in the past.
India has craved for a potent pace attack for years and the emergence of the current lot of the fast bowling cartel makes them a world beating side. So, what's the reason behind this turnaround? What's the key to success for these pacers?
Firstpost sat down with Zaheer Khan on the sidelines of an Abu Dhabi T10 league event to analyse the Indian pace attack. For someone who was a master tactician with an astute brain and one of the most successful pacers India have produced, Zaheer spoke on a range of topics including what makes Bumrah special, how does the team management need to handle Rishabh Pant, the fast bowling bench strength and much more.
This pace attack has become one of the best in the world, what has brought this turnaround?
There are a whole lot of attributes. You have to go way back when the academies were coming up, the pace foundation, the National Cricket Academy and Indian Premier League (IPL) also. You can say that the journey of having access to knowledge and the right methods has bettered. If you have the exposure to the right kind of method, training, you tend to grasp things at an early stage that has had a huge impact in terms of more talent coming up.
You have Bumrah, Ishant and Shami forming a formidable trio in Tests. What's the key to the success of this current pace battery?
Everyone has a different style for sure. Someone like Ishant, who has a whole lot of experience at this level, has evolved as a good bowler over the years. Yes, the progress has been slow, but the fact is that he has put in enough effort in terms of reaching to this stage. I feel the stint he had in England in the County helped him achieve that change. The change, I am talking about is the lengths he has bowling, which has had a very positive impact in terms of earning wickets. In terms of his fitness, it's always been his strength. You've always seen Ishant running in hard and bowl those long spells, now that strength is backed by some smart bowling which is giving him the success that we are talking about.
With Shami, all the ability was there, the wrist and the seam position was his strength, and the pace at which he operates is there naturally. What he needed was to back it up his fitness, particularly after the knee surgery, which put him out for about a year. He had to show that kind of motivation and drive to be back. I have seen good healthy competition around as far as the Indian team is concerned and that spurred him to that level. If you want something, you have to work towards it and that has been the case with Shami. He has been driven, has spent enough time on his fitness, and added that dimension to his game, which has worked for him.
Bumrah is an exceptional talent. His special ability is the awkward angle from which he delivers, gives him that edge and advantage over the batsman. He has actually adapted himself to the international level very well and evolved as a force to reckon with in a short time. But his success has been dependent on the kind of time and effort, which he puts not only on his fitness but also in understanding different phases of the game, understanding his own bowling and analysing the batsman.
What changes have you seen in Bumrah from when he started and where he is right now?
A better understanding of his bowling. In terms of his own action and how he has control over his different deliveries. That is something which is very striking. Also a lot of work has gone into getting fitter and stronger that has a direct impact on bowlers bowling longer spells, their intensity has rose. Bumrah has consciously put in a lot of time and effort in that aspect. In those things he has been very consistent with and also understanding what his strengths and weaknesses are. The slower delivery has increased the effectiveness of his quicker deliveries, which has forged together nicely.
What is the one thing that has impressed you the most about Bumrah?
The release point or the final stride is when a bowler needs to have complete control of his bowling in order to be able execute the delivery he is looking to bowl. Bumrah has that sort of control and that for him has improved drastically.
Earlier you mentioned about the improvement in the lengths that Ishant has been bowling, what sort of changes have you noticed?
The length has gone a little fuller than what he used to bowl. The Test match length is around five, five and a half or six meter, so that's the difference. It's not a huge difference in terms of the number of meters, but as a bowler it is. Getting that ball a little fuller also requires a lot more effort and lot more control which he has been working towards for a long time and which seems to coming together nicely now.
We saw a glimpse of future in the bowling arsenal with Navdeep Saini, Deepak Chahar in West Indies and there is Mohammed Siraj as well, they have made it to the international arena now, so what do they need to do now to go one step further now?
For anyone, it's pretty simple. You just have to keep pushing yourself. That one performance is very important for you to get that confidence at the highest level. Fortunately now with all the other matches which go around, not just the international games but also the first-class, India A and domestic games, that has added that advantage for you to be working on things and keep pushing yourself and to have that platform of coming back if in case you are out of the scheme of things.
You played county cricket, so did Ishant, how important is it for upcoming pacers to play in the County circuit?
You have to find a time window. It's about being on the lookout, it's about bowling that many number of overs. County cricket kind of gives you that kind of opportunity but so does our domestic cricket. It's about making use of those matches in adding skills to your armoury. Or if you want to work towards achieving some change, then you should be making use of those are the matches. County is played around the time when there is an off season in India, so how you can maximise the playing ability is something which is an option available. As a young bowler, you should just go and play domestic matches. It's about getting that many number of overs under your belt.
Rishabh Pant has divided a lot of opinions of late. Some feel he's been given too many chances, some feel you just need to leave such talent alone, what's your opinion on Pant?
For me it's pretty simple, he's a great talent, which everyone will agree with. It's just about protecting that talent, providing a platform to that talent to flourish. It's in the team management's hands to use him in situations where things are simplified for him rather than curbing his natural instincts or putting him in a scenario where he has to think too much or adapt or act otherwise by his natural instincts. It's about using him in situations where there is not much of thinking needed but you have to play just aggressively because that's his natural instinct. And as he adapts to the different conditions or as he evolves as a player, you can put more responsibility on him. I think right now too much responsibility and expectations are put on him just by sheer glimpses of what he can achieve.
India is heading towards a more all-round model in T20s, the likes of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal are also not guaranteed a place. Do you think that's the right way or specialists is the way to go?
The T20 World Cup is still a long way away. It's a great opportunity for others to stake a claim. But it's also a process where they are looking at identifying more and more players and creating a pool which selectors can continuously use from.
But don't you think specialists are important compared to the all-round options?
It all depends on the combination. If you have the best quality all-rounders then you know obviously that it's the best possible scenario. The specialists are also important (compared) to cricketers having all-round ability, but you also have to look at their abilities in isolation. A great example is Ben Stokes. If you have someone like Stokes then obviously it's a great option to have and that really changes the balance. In the past, you have seen someone like Jacques Kallis who used to provide that kind of balance and ability. So it's all very relative. It all depends on the pool of players available and the combination which you are working on.
Hardik Pandya has taken his power-hitting to another level, you have followed him in close quarters at Mumbai Indians, he was brilliant in IPL, what has he been doing around it?
Hardik has spent enough time working towards it (power-hitting). First and foremost, he is someone who likes hitting a lot of balls in the nets and work towards achieving consistency in his power-hitting. Over and above that, you have got to have the basic power-hitting ability, which he has. The practice makes it perfect.
Do you think he will be the X-factor for India going into the T20 World Cup?
He does change the balance of the team and that's the balance which we were talking about. So, if a team has that kind of option, it really gives the side the luxury to play an extra bowler or an extra batsman. You can use his services as just a pure batsman and then add a specialist bowler or you can just look at him as someone who will give you those four overs. And then play an extra batsman.
If you compare it historically, the batting averages in Tests have gone down in the last few years. Why has that happened?
You can look at these stats and numbers in any way possible. You can also say that the number of results have gone up. So the matches have been interesting. We've seen with the Ashes also, the matches going so deep and results derived so late makes it that much interesting, isn't it? The batsmen are playing aggressively and the scoring rate has gone up which also means that the batsmen are playing more shots and willing to take more risks. But on the whole, it has had a positive impact in terms of getting a result in Tests.
How does the 10-over format help the players?
What we have seen is everyone has been pushing that bar. If you look at it from a batsman's point of view, with 20 overs, you still see that people take time but with 10 overs, you've seen 150 also been scored. That is a different mindset. When you know that the game is so condensed, you have to go (from ball one). The ball is still hard and new and you have to make the impact in that, so actually it's putting more pressure on the batsman. As a bowler, it's a challenge. Right from the moment you take the ball in the hand, you know that the batsman is going to go after you. So what can you do in that scenario? So it's adding a different dimension for sure, for both batsman and bowlers to compete.
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