Pacers provide cutting edge

Pacers provide cutting edge

FAST AND FURIOUS: Mohammed Shami, along with Ishant Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah, have added more teeth to Indian pace attack. REUTERS

India head coach Ravi Shastri, at times, can make boastful claims. But when he hailed the current pace attack as the best the country has ever seen, one couldn’t agree more given the depth in talent and the matching results this year.

India have produced some wonderful pacers in the past -- from Mohammed Nissar and Amar Singh to Kapil Dev, Javagal Srinath and Zaheer Khan -- but they generally had had to hunt on their own, rarely able to find a constant partner who could be equally potent from the other end in alien conditions. The lack of a quality seam attack, partly due to nature of pitches back home, acted as a severe handicap in countries like Australia, England, South Africa and New Zealand.

Things, however, have changed for the better with India possessing one of the best pace attacks in the world at the moment. Rarely do top teams take an India attack for granted with each of the pacers different from the other but potent in his own way. In Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah Umesh Yadav and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, they have an attack that can pick 20 wickets consistently. Their unified presence also offers the team management plenty of options, unlike the times of the past.

Leading the pack

The 27-year-old Shami has emerged as the leader of attack, having played all the Tests in South Africa and England. One of the major reasons, apart from having the ability to bowl really quick, in him starting in all the games and becoming an integral part of skipper Virat Kohli’s scheme of things is his ability to move with both the new and the old ball. He’s particularly lethal with the old ball, his skill to extract reverse swing late in the day often mystifying. There have been times when he’s appeared pedestrian but when he’s in rhythm, he’s a hard man to stop.

Veteran Ishant gives Kolhi the comfort of experience. When the team is on the attack, Ishant too joins in the festivities but when the team is under the pump, the 29-year-old acts like a no-nonsense centre-back in football. He just dries up the runs and helps recreate the pressure to set up another wave of attack. Workhorse Ishant also has been producing some game-changing moments, showing his hunger to be relevant amidst tough competition from his juniors.

Young Jasprit Bumrah is the surprise weapon in the powerful ammunition. His unique action, which makes life difficult for the batsmen at the start, allows him to kick the ball off the surface. Known for his white-ball exploits, Bumrah has become an instant hit with red ball too. A genuine wicket-taking bowler, Bumrah can also send down marathon spells without tiring. Even in spells late in the final session after a long day in the sun he can clock speeds in excess of 140 kmph that has come in for special praise from Kohli.

The trio’s exploits have ensured India haven’t missed the services of Bhuvneshwar here in England. The affable pacer, who could only swing during the early part of his career, has added plenty of yards of pace that has made him more complete now. Unlike a few other swing bowlers who can go for runs, Bhuvneshwar barely errs in his line or length, constantly knocking on the patience of the batsmen.

Umesh has somehow slipped down the pecking order but he was such an integral part of India’s rise to number one position during the long home season when they beat all comers. He missed only one game then, toiling hard on the home pitches and creating breakthroughs when the spinners couldn’t.

In seven Tests this year of which six have been on the road, the pace attack has captured 96 of the 140 wickets that the bowlers have claimed. Among sub-continental teams, only Pakistan could boast of having a dangerous set of seamers for a long period of time. India have been blessed with that gift now. It’s up to the batsmen to score runs and give them the platform to cause damages.