More than just the support cast

Last Updated 08 October 2019, 19:53 IST

Normally when non sub-continent teams come to India, their biggest fear has been the spinners. Raised on seaming tracks back home and not having the luxury of playing against a quality line-up of tweakers in domestic circuit, most visiting teams generally tend to struggle against a skillful Indian spin attack.

Take the current duo of R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja for example. Ashwin joined the great Muttiah Muralitharan as the fastest to 350 Test wickets in just his 66th appearance in the opening Test against South Africa in Visakhapatnam while Jadeja raced to 200 Test scalps in just 44 games last week. The duo, in helpful conditions, have generally run roughshod over the likes of New Zealand, England, Australia and South Africa. Slow and low tracks and batsmen not blessed with technique to handle the turning ball is just ideal playground for them.

Such has been their dominance since New Zealand arrived here in 2016, they have bagged most of the spotlight, especially Ashwin. But stunningly, the pacers, with their remarkable performances, haven’t been too far behind their slow bowling colleagues in terms of impact. Just like Mohammed Shami, who orchestrated South Africa’s collapse on the final morning of the first Test, Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma have dished out some wonderful spells that have seen India stand on the verge of their 11th Test series triumph at home since their 3-0 rout of Kiwis.

Umesh Yadav, who didn’t feature in the opening Test last week, had been the backbone of the pace attack until losing his place in the playing XI. In 17 matches at home since New Zealand series of 2016, he has picked up 50 wickets. Shami has played 10 matches during this period, bagging 34 wickets, while Ishant with 9 games has 22 scalps. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, generally chosen when overhead conditions aid swing and pitch the seam, has 18 wickets in five games.

These numbers are impressive because some of these sticks have come on tracks heavily in favour of spin. What’s more fascinating is the displays in the second innings where tracks barely offer any sort of assistance for pace. The seamers, who normally operate in short spells during the second innings, have more often than not struck and got those vital breakthroughs, ensuring there’s relentlessness in the India attack. On those rare Ashwin-Jadeja bad days, they’ve chipped in remarkably and at times have even been at the forefront of causing downfalls.

One of the major reasons behind the pacers succeeding on worn-out tracks is their ability to produce revere swing, making the old ball talk to telling effect. Umesh and Shami have mastered that art and when they are on song, few batsmen can cope with it, often struggling to detect which way the ball would move.

India’s bowling coach Bharat Arun, who has worked wonders with the pace attack, too reckoned that special ability as the difference maker. “I think there is a chance for pacers on any track provided they have necessary skills and our fast bowlers have done quite well in abroad and in India. In Indian wickets, when the ball spins, it also becomes conducive for reverse swing and all our bowlers are pretty good at reverse swing.”

Reverse swing, unlike conventional swing, is a hard art to perfect. Many pacers have gotten carried away when the old ball starts to swing and have struggled to exercise control over their lines and lengths. Some pacers from non-subcontinental teams have at times struggled to adjust to it. Arun felt hard yards in the domestic circuit, where pitches can be very flat, as the biggest contributor towards pacers harnessing reverse swing as a potent weapon.

(Published 08 October 2019, 17:55 IST)

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