India's fiery pace quartet evokes memories of West Indies legends

Joydeep Sen Gupta/Dubai
Filed on August 24, 2021
India's Jasprit Bumrah bowls on the fifth and final day of the second Test against England. (AFP)

India's pace bowling fortunes changed after Jasprit Bumrah's debut in 2018.

It’s been a role reversal for India’s Test cricket team since January 2018. The nation, known for its spin wizardry until the first decade of the new century, now possesses an embarrassment of fast bowling riches.

The glowing statistics reinforce India’s fast bowling revolution powered by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).

Now precocious talents are coming in thick and fast from small towns and the country’s vast hinterland.

Consider India’s South Africa tour in January 2018.

Since then, India’s bowling, spearheaded by their devastating pace attack, has been nothing short of spectacular in South Africa, England, New Zealand and Australia — what’s known as Sena nations.

Of the 387 opposition wickets that have fallen since then, pacers accounted for a rich haul of 300 scalps at an average of 24.83, a strike rate of 50.05 and an impressive 13 five-wicket hauls.

Indian spinners took 87 wickets at an average of 30.29, a strike rate of 66.97 and a single five-wicket haul.

Overall, India’s bowlers’ average was 26.05, a strike rate of 53.86 and 14 five-wicket hauls.

The turnaround started with Jasprit Bumrah’s Test debut in the first game of the three-match series at Newlands in Cape Town in January 2018.

His skiddy nippers and unpredictable scrambled seamers made a telling difference in the dead rubber, as the Proteas had defeated the visitors 2-1.

In the third and final Test of the series in Johannesburg, the visitors had fielded the quartet of Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who proved to be a handful for Proteas.

It was a green-top that the hosts had prepared to intimidate the visitors, which boomeranged on them.

This Test match was a precursor to the coming-of-age of the Indian pace bowling attack.

The National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bengaluru, under the able stewardship of Rahul Dravid, has been churning out an assembly line of fast bowlers.

India’s memorable victory against the hosts Australia in the fourth Test at the Gabba, Brisbane, in January is a case in point.

The visitors had won the nail-biter by three wickets with 18 balls to spare on January 19.

The match has gone down in history as one of India’s most memorable wins since the visitors came up trumps without their four front-line pace options.

Data shows that Bumrah, Shami and Ishant have among them taken a wicket for every 22 runs conceded.

Mohammed Siraj’s inclusion in the squad has added the X-factor where rivals seldom get an over for easy pickings.

India’s Test bowling attack has emerged as the most incisive and threatening in international cricket on the back of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja’s spin and guile.

The pace juggernaut is likely to roll on over the next few years, as the BCCI’s bid to inculcate professionalism, systems and processes through the years are yielding results.

Besides, there is also a marked improvement in India’s lower-order batting.

For instance, two invaluable partnerships by the lower order this year underscore the consistent success of the Test squad, which has come together as a well-knit unit.

Look no further than the 123-run seventh-wicket stand between Washington Sundar and Shardul Thakur in the Gabba Test earlier this year, or the unbeaten 89-run partnership for the ninth wicket between Shami and Bumrah in the second Test match at the Lord’s last week.

The steely resolve in hostile playing conditions outside home turf is evoking memories of Fire in Babylon, a 2010 British documentary film about the record-breaking West Indies cricket team of the 1970s and 1980s under Clive Lloyd.

The documentary captured the dominance of West Indies, who had morphed into world-beaters for around two decades from a bunch of highly talented, entertaining “Calypso cricketers”.

Perhaps, history will remember the current Indian Test team, led by Virat Kohli, for having dared to emulate Lloyd’s squad’s feat.

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