Fast and furious India soar

Ishant Sharma (left) and Umesh Yadav dished out a devastating performance in the second Test against Bangladesh, sharing 17 wickets between them to fashion a thumping win for the hosts. PTI

When Virat Kohli led India in a Test series for the first time on home soil against South Africa in 2015, R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja were two of his primary weapons of destruction who were helped in no small measure by the under-prepared surfaces. The nature of surfaces copped heavy criticism and undermined India’s victories. Pacers were a mere support cast then. Four years down the line, things have turned dramatically though. We will come to that later.

For the record, it took India about 46 minutes and 58 balls to register their seventh win in a row (starting from their West Indies tour in July-August this year) which is their longest Test-winning streak. In the process of their innings and 46-run win, India also became the first team in the world to post four innings victories on the trot.

Bangladesh, overnight 152/6 and needing 89 runs to make India bat again, were bundled out for 195 with Umesh Yadav (5/53) grabbing all the three wickets to fall in the first hour of the opening session here on another well-attended day at the Eden Gardens. Mahamudullah, who had limped off with a hamstring injury on the second day, didn’t turn up to bat, signalling the end to the proceedings of the first D/N Test in India.

This was India’s third series sweep in the World Test Championship since their first assignment in the Caribbean. While the maiden pink ball created an expected buzz with the Kolkata crowd thronging the stadium in large numbers on all three days, what was also fascinating about the match was the domination of the Indian pacers who completely overshadowed their famed spinning duo who between them could bowl no more than seven wicketless overs. Ishant and Umesh claimed nine and eight wickets respectively for the match, a first such instance for India.

This was only the second time in their Test-playing history and the first time ever at home that Indian pacers have claimed all wickets to fall in a match. They claimed 19 Bangladeshi wickets (Mahamudullah was retired out), bettering their previous best of 17 here against Sri Lanka in 2017. The only other occasion Indian pacers have taken all 20 wickets of an opposition was against South Africa in Johannesburg early last year.

A quiet revolution is taking place in Indian cricket since Kohli’s ascension as the team’s captain. While it would be far-fetched to say that each of the pacemen was hand-picked by Kohli, there’s little doubt that quicks have gained manifold prominence under him.

Quick to realise the fact that he needed a skillful bunch of pacers with matching fitness to win series in countries like England, Australia and South Africa, he laid more emphasis in developing a quality unit. Fueled by ambition and spurred by captain’s unstinted support, the pacers too have responded in a splendid manner. And the results are there to be seen.

The likes of Jasprit Bumrah, who is out injured, Ishant, Umesh and Mohammad Shami have provided India a lethal edge on both home and away pitches. Having come here prepared for a stern test from spinners, South African batsmen in the previous series were stunned by the pacers. Rookie batsman Zubayr Hamza even admitted that the Proteas weren’t mentally prepared for Indian quicks.

“Firstly, these were already there when I took over as captain,” said Kohli when asked about how he went about developing a world-class pace attack. “Bumrah is a late addition, but all other guys were already there. And everything happens in time. They gained more experience, now they’re bowling well together which took a lot of time to figure out. They have their own fitness routines and everything. They take ownership of their preparation - their own fitness and communication is very clear.”

Workload management and enduring high fitness standards have stood out in recent times. Regularly resting pacers for limited-over engagements and keeping them fit and fresh for Tests has gone a long way in minimising injuries and enhancing performances.

"If someone is going through a workload problem, we don’t make them feel like it’s up to them whether they want to take rest or not. We take that call for them. ‘We want you fresh for Test cricket, don’t worry about anything else. You go, you train, you come back. Get 20 wickets and that’s the most important thing.’ And if they’re fit enough, the workload is there - Shami is going to be picked for one-dayers, Bhuvi is always available to play Test cricket. So, it all depends on how we manage them. And that I think because there has been a good communication between management and the bowlers. And they feel secure as well that if they don’t play, we have backup bowlers to come and do the job as well. So that bench strength is also helping us a lot,” he offered.

 

 

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