Bowlers in spotlight

It’s not often that the Indian bowling is talked up in a discussion or a debate. The two stellar performances in their first two World Cup matches, however, have had everyone raving about their bowlers.

The 76-run win over Pakistan and the 130-run humbling of South Africa offered a fair reflection of discipline, accuracy and incisiveness of the Indian attack. The pace unit of Mohammad Shami, Umesh Yadav and Mohit Sharma has a struck a perfect balance with the spin duo of R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja to make India an irresistible force, what with their batting and fielding too coming along well.

While the Indian batting has always inspired awe and admiration in equal measure, the bowling, more often than not, has copped criticism, and sometimes not without justification though. Just before the start of the World Cup, the Indian attack appeared to be in total disarray.

Through the Test series against Australia, the Indian batting, led by the effervescent Virat Kohli, stood up to the challenge posed by the home attack but the bowlers didn’t quite come to the party. They were good in patches but their lack of consistency allowed the Australian batsmen get on top of them.

There were patches of brilliance in the following tri-series too but never quite good enough to win the team a match. With fitness concerns clouding Ishant Sharma (who was eventually replaced by Mohit), Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ravindra Jadeja, it had the potential to derail India’s World Cup campaign but there has been dramatic turnaround in their performance.

Shami has been the standout among the pacemen, bowling upfront in the mandatory power play and then during batting power play overs. He has been fast, hostile and has provided early breakthroughs. He has comfortably slipped into the role of the leader of the pace group. He has also put the bouncer to good use as has Mohit whose slower bouncers on the Australian pitches are proving to be effective.

“It's not often that a South African team struggles against short-pitch deliveries,” said AB de Viliers after South Africa’s defeat to India in Melbourne. “I spoke to Hashim (Amla) after the innings. He actually mentioned to me that he was quite impressed with the bowling performance from India. I thought they were quite clever.”

Coming from a captain of a team that has grown on a steady diet of fast short-pitched bowling, it was a huge compliment for the Indian bowlers. While Shami and Mohit seem to have found their range and rhythm, the same can’t be said about Yadav who has been a bit up and down. While his ability to swing the ball at high speeds is a huge asset, the strapping bowler has struggled to exercise control over his lines and lengths through a match. But overall, his efforts have been tolerable and haven’t cost the team a bounty.

“In recent times, definitely, it was a fantastic performance,” gushed MS Dhoni after the South Africa game, when asked if it has been India’s best bowling show in the first 10 overs. “Maybe the wicket also helped us a bit, but still, hitting the right areas and the length according to the wicket is crucial, and I felt that was the main aspect where we were really good.

They quickly assessed what was the right length to bowl, and they didn't give too much room. When it was swinging they made sure they bowled tight length, and at the same time when it stopped swinging, they were still bowling close (to the stumps). They never gave any extra width to the batsmen, and it was important that we don't give them that width.

Most important thing is you always have plans, but it's how we execute the plans. In the first 10 overs this was definitely one of our best performances in the recent past,” the Indian skipper explained.

Among the spinners, Ashwin has been positively good. He has looked aggressive and has bowled to take wickets rather than contain runs. He built pressure on the Pakistani batsmen with a series of maiden overs while against South Africa he sustained the pressure created by the pacers.

“I was really happy to see him bowl the way he did in that first game,” noted Kohli. “He is a very skilful bowler, and I think he's at his best when he wants to take wickets, and he was really aggressive in the game (against Pakistan). He was on top of the batsmen the whole time. It's more of a mental battle going on in the field, and I think he was on top most of the time when he bowled.

And those maidens were game-changers, to be honest. He got only one wicket, but the way he bowled was absolutely outstanding, especially when you take into consideration you have five fielders in the ring and their spinners could not contain us so much, and the way he bowled on that wicket was pleasing to watch. He will be a key factor for us as long as he can be in that same mindset, which is to take wickets and be on top of the batter.”

Given the nature of the pitches that India will mostly be playing on in this tournament, it seems they will go with a 3-2 bowling combination and Ashwin and Jadeja’s partnership becomes crucial going ahead. “They have been our main bowlers for some years now and I think their bowling partnership is very important for us… Between the two they will have to realise who is going to be aggressive and who is going to play the supporting role.

If both are aggressive and get 3-4 wickets in an innings that obviously will be good for us but they are wise and know when to play what role and obviously MS (Dhoni) is there to help. So, I think their partnership will be crucial for us,” Kohli analysed.

While there is every reason for India to feel happy about their bowling show, it will not have lost on Dhoni that the tournament is still in its early stages. There are bound to be bad days and niggles that will keep a key bowler out (for example Shami who had to miss the UAE game on Saturday).

One has to be smart in the use of the resources and Dhoni having managed with limited supply of fit and quality bowlers through his long captaincy period, is well equipped to handle the situation. 

“I go into a game with a fresh mind and I try to see how a particular bowler is bowling that day,” pointed out Dhoni about the way he manoeuvres his bowlers. “It (bowling) looks settled as of now but I don’t want to get into a rigid frame of mind that these are our best bowlers.

We will have to keep seeing their performance, and to see that their fitness is maintained throughout the tournament. There are several breaks in the middle, so hopefully they’d get enough time to recover,” he offered.

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