Team India in the fast lane

Experimenting hosts look for a 5-0 sweep of hapless Lanka in Dhoni's land

Team India in the fast lane

As expected, India opted for a less intense optional training session on Saturday, a day ahead of their fifth one-dayer against Sri Lanka at the JSCA stadium.

Stand-in skipper Virat Kohli stayed indoors, team director Ravi Shastri left after spending some time at nets, while Suresh Raina, who was rested for this match, had already headed for Lucknow, his hometown.

It made sense because India are already 4-0 up in the series against a fragile Lankan side, and some of the frontline players needed time to catch their breath before embarking on a tour of Australia in a week’s time. But Umesh Yadav seemed unaware of that relaxed mood around him.

The strapping pacer joined nets after a light warming-up session, and immediately made an impact. Kedar Jadhav, top-scorer of the last domestic season, never looked entirely comfortable against Umesh, who cranked up good pace. Ajinkya Rahane was the next in line of the fire, and the Vidarbha fast bowler beat him thrice on the trot outside the off-stump before the Mumbaikar got his act correct.

Karn Sharma, the leg-spinner, would have been reticent to face Umesh after seeing the struggles of his more accomplished colleagues. Karn was all at sea against Umesh in the four balls he faced before the latter moved away for a chat with coach Duncan Fletcher.

Soon Varun Aaron and Ishant Sharma joined the discussion that went on for about 15 minutes. Of course, Aaron and Ishant wouldn’t be seen in action in morrow’s match after being ruled out with injuries, and they are travelling with the team for the convenience of physio to work on their fitness.

But the sight of three pure pace bowlers together was a comforting sight. The injuries to Aaron and Ishnat had prevented them to operate along with Umesh consistently in the one-day series against Sri Lanka. But once fit, hopefully by the first Test against Australia at Brisbane, they will be quite handy. In December 2012, Umesh had troubled England on a rather flat pitch at Ahmedabad, while Ishant had bounced out England at Lord’s, setting up a famous victory at the home of cricket.

Aaron so far has not produced a signature spell like that, courtesy an injury-prone body. But his ability to hit upwards of 150 kmph just like Umesh is a tantalizing prospect. Aaron, though, is a no non-sense fast bowler, relying largely on pure pace, and even on docile pitches the Jharkhand man can be a threat because of his quickness through the air. He, however, needs to be more consistent with his line and length to stop being on the expensive side.

Umesh is slightly different. He is quick, of course, but quite good in reverse swing as well, as he showed against England at Motera two seasons back. Now, Umesh has understood the need to have variations to succeed in different conditions, and Kohli explained it.

“I have always thought that he will be a better bowler as he goes on to play for India in more matches. He is a naturally strong guy with good pace and he has now added swing to his arsenal. He was lacking in the consistency part, but he has worked on it to become a smarter bowler,” remarked Kohli.

Assistant coach Sanjay Bangar too agreed. “Umesh has improved a lot as the matches have progressed. He now has got more control over his bowling. More importantly, his performance with the new ball has improved as he has been giving us a lot of wickets upfront, which is very crucial,” said Bangar.

Kohli was excited at the prospect of fielding three genuine fast bowlers. “It will be a change of character for the Indian team because in the past we never really had two bowlers who can bowl in the 150 kmph range. Now we have Umesh and Aaron. Ishant is someone who is 6’4’’ and bowls in the mid 140s and gets the ball bounce awkwardly. So, that’s something we hope to build on,” he said. 

Only one slice of that dream combination would be seen in action on the morrow against Lanka. But the wait to watch three Indian fast bowlers hunting together is itself laced with contentment.

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