Highly skilled unit: Virat Kohli’s team, with a lethal fast-bowling unit that is perhaps India’s best
This is a changed Indian unit with aggression writ large all over it. Yes, it is Bangladesh we are playing, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that the Indian fast bowlers are bowling with venom and pace. The team management hasn’t resorted ...
Win the toss and bat first has for ages been the preferred option in India in Test cricket.
On wickets that aid spin, no team would want to bat fourth. Not so, however, with this Indian team. At the toss before the first Test match against Bangladesh, captain Kohli had little hesitation in saying that had he won it, he would have bowled first and unleashed his three quicks. On a greenish wicket, India had gone in with three pacers and two spinners and, interestingly, of the 58 overs bowled in the Bangladesh innings, the Indian fast bowers bowled 39.
This is a changed Indian unit with aggression writ large all over it. Yes, it is Bangladesh we are playing, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that the Indian fast bowlers are bowling with venom and pace. The team management hasn’t resorted to preparing dust bowls and is keen on playing on true wickets that offer bounce and movement. It doesn’t matter whether the team bat or bowl first. All that matters is they have the firepower to pick 20 wickets and close out the match and have done so consistently in the last year and more.
Can this fast bowling unit be compared with the Australian unit of the 1990s or the West Indian quartet of the 1980s? Are they the best-ever Indian bowling unit of all time? With Jasprit Bumrah back, is it fair to call this Indian bowling unit the best in the world? And with Ashwin and Jadeja as the two spinners, does the Indian bowling have the best balance in contemporary cricket?
Interestingly, it will be difficult to dismiss any of the above as exaggeration. That’s half the story told. That this team merit comparison with the best of all time is a testimony to how good they are and how good they have become over time. Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav, for example, have never looked fitter. They have never bowled faster and never used the short ball better. The way Shami and Umesh cleaned up the tail was a treat to watch and reminded me of Waqar Younis or Shoaib Akhtar at their best. The way Ishant Sharma is running in from ball one and getting the ball to move both ways is a testimony to his improvement as India’s spearhead in the last year-and-a-half. Yes, Bangladesh have lost against Afghanistan most recently but that doesn’t take anything away from the fact that the Indians have literally banished the West Indians, the South Africans and now the Tigers from their presence.
You don’t choose your opponents as they say, and whoever India have played, they have ended up dominating.
That’s all that matters to this team and that’s how it should be.
At the moment, Virat’s India are sitting pretty at the top of the world Test rankings and, on current form, are a serious contender for the Test Championship title. While it is known the Indian batting will be tested in New Zealand, it is also known the Kiwis will think many a time before preparing green tops for the Indians. On a green wicket, Shami, Bumrah, Bhuvi, Ishant and Umesh are equally good if not better than Southee, Boult and Wagner. They are as lethal as any in the business and that should make the job of the batsmen easier. Pitches will have to be prepared not to pepper the Indian batsmen but to keep the Indian bowling unit at bay and that, may I say, is a first in India’s cricket history.
What explains this change in mindset? And can the Indians sustain this intensity for the next year-and-a-half to make it to Lords in June 2021 to play the final of the inaugural world Test championship?
Chances are they can, for this unit is fitter than any Indian team I have seen. The dropped catches notwithstanding, this is a highly skilled and fit team with most players at their peak at the same time. Indian teams of the past have always had one run away spearhead with the others playing the support act. Kapil Dev was always the leader of the pack with Madan Lal, Roger Binny, Balwinder Sindhu playing the support cast. It was the same under Javagal Srinath or Zaheer Khan. Now it is different. If the batsmen think they have played off Ishant and Umesh, there is Shami to follow. And if Bumrah plays, there is always the threat of him coming and picking wickets in a heap.
In swinging conditions, Virat has the luxury of getting Bhuvi in the mix in place of Umesh. It is this luxury of options that makes Virat’s team what it is — a ruthless unit keen to win every game they play.
Finally, I am tired of hearing people say ‘oh, it’s Bangladesh!’ When Roger Federer plays Wimbledon, do we say, he is playing a qualifier in the first round, so why watch? Or do we celebrate him irrespective of his opponent?
When Sir Donald Bradman’s Australians beat the Indians 4-0 in 1948-9, did we say they played against a poor Indian team or did we say Don’s Invincibles are the best? It is time to acknowledge Virat’s team are a cut above most teams playing the sport now and have the potential and the intensity to sustain this special run. For how long, only time will tell.