Traditionally, India has never been a gifted bowling side in Test cricket. There have been a few undoubted legends from India’s bowling department that have emerged over the years, such as Kapil Dev, Zaheer Khan, and Anil Kumble. Nevertheless, despite some bowlers giving their absolute best for the team, the batsmen have always been more respected and worshipped community in India.
If one considers India’s overseas Test record, it isn’t anything worth boasting about. To further classify Indian bowlers, it can be duly said that the spinners have played their part, while in the subcontinent as the surfaces have amplified the skills of the Indian slower bowlers. But while discussing the pacers, there are question marks bound to emerge after taking into account India’s Test performances away from home.
The Test series win over Sri Lanka last year away from home was India’s first Test series victory away from home shores since 2011. In between the four years, the men in blue toured England and Australia twice, having terrible tours each time. The solitary tours to South Africa and New Zealand also ended up in disappointing results. A common aspect between the tours to Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand was that the batting stood up in all conditions. But whenever India ended up on the losing side, it was due to the poor outing of the seamers which spoilt the show.
So what is it exactly that hinders the effectiveness of Indian pacers in away tours? To understand things in an uncomplicated manner, we consider the tours made since 2010 and not before that. In all the test series’ away from home, Ishant Sharma has been the common member. The 27-year-old lanky pacer has toured Australia on 3 separate occasions, but is yet to display the traits that are expected from him.
Talent wise, Ishant has always been a great pacer, and that is evident with his statistics in victorious causes for the side. Since January 2011, India have won just 4 tests away from home, and Ishant has been a part of all the games. Out of those 4 victories, two have been in Sri Lanka, while one a piece in England and West Indies. In these successful games for India, Ishant averages a mere 18.33 with the ball and strikes every 6 overs. As compared to his career stats, where he averages 36.9, these numbers seem tremendous.
But the issue has been that Sharma hasn’t been consistently able to replicate such success. A clear reason behind that is the fallen intensity in his latter bursts. In his first couple of spells, Sharma seems to be quite accurate, but as the game goes on, he tends to lose his fire. With an odd old ball, he can generate some magic with the reverse swing, but that has been a rarity. The root cause which stems Ishant is that he lacks intensity in his later spells.
The same has been the case with other Indian pacers, who are currently in the Caribbean. The likes of Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, and Bhuvneshwar Kumar have enormous potential to succeed at the highest level, but once again, they haven’t been able to successfully execute that. Yadav was just a revelation for India in the otherwise dreadful tour of Australia in 2011-12. But he hasn’t grown in stature since that tour. His test average of 36.05 doesn’t justify his skills one bit and is a rather shameful number for a pacer of his talent.
The problem with the Vidarbha pacer has been his wayward bowling. For instance, out of the six deliveries in an over, Yadav will bowl two absolute gems, but will stray all over the place in the remaining 4 deliveries. Due to missing his targeted line and length so frequently, the batsmen easily prey upon him and his rapid pace further aids the batsmen. This factor is visible as his economy rate is among the worst for a pacer at 4.05. Due to leaking runs at such a hemorrhaging rate, he is soon taken off the attack.
There is an interesting aspect while discussing the case of Mohammed Shami. The Bengal pacer till date hasn’t been given an extended run and owing to injuries, he was out of action post the 2015 World Cup. Just before the World Cup, in the test series against Australia, Shami was really good as compared to the other pacers. On the flat dead pitches Down Under, where scores of 500 were easily crossed, Shami did well by taking 15 wickets in 3 games at an average of 35.80. If given a few tests, Shami can genuinely emerge as a top notch pacer, as his basics are well covered. One can expect him to pitch the ball in the right areas more often than not.
Commenting about swing sensation Bhuvneshwar Kumar wouldn’t be too accurate, as he has played just one test since his fine tour of UK in 2014, where he was the Man of the Series. But yes, if Kumar learns the trick of swinging it both ways, then he will be a lethal package.
For India to consistently do well overseas, Ishant Sharma will have to lead the bowling attack by example. The past couple of years have been great for the Delhi pacer and along with Shami and Yadav, India can have a fantastic bowling trio.
All in all, the upcoming tour of the Caribbean seems to be a positive one for the Virat Kohli-led Indian outfit. Under the astute coaching and vision of Anil Kumble, these pacers will just excel and the spin great will definitely play a role in ironing out their flaws.