“The Indian fast-bowlers have started their campaign with a bang and here’s hoping they can carry it even further”!
One cannot even begin to describe the sense of anticipation that gushes forth when the two top-ranked Test teams assemble together to battle it out in a mouth-watering series. The presence of exciting legends and the influx of younger legs set forth a challenge of wits; to be won by the team that trumps in pressure situations.
The table-top at Newlands was ready and the spectators had already begun their dissections and predictions as news of Jasprit Bumrah’s surprise entry into the Indian team for the first Test match against South Africa came forward. Clearly, including him in the final eleven over the more experienced Ishant Sharma was a debatable move, but more surprisingly it was Ajinkya Rahane’s omission in favour of Rohit Sharma that crippled nerves. He was the most successful batsman for India overseas. The batsman who was technically very rigid and miles ahead of Rohit, who had been selected on current performances. Was the choice to forgo reputation for form a brave one or would it come back to bitterly haunt India?
With these questions still swirling on in the minds, piling up to the already insane levels of excitement, India began their overseas tourney with a spell that displayed the country’s improved resources in their fast bowling arsenal. As Bhuvneshwar Kumar ripped off the top three wickets of the Protean batting order in no time, it drew glimpses of the potential that the Uttar Pradesh seamer possessed.
His first ten deliveries conceded no runs and through a perfect combination of seam position and swing, he created havoc amongst the likes of Dean Elgar and Hashim Amla.
The pacer stuck to his plans cleverly from the very first ball of the innings, directing two half volleys towards Elgar, who tried hard to cash in on the deliveries that pitched down leg. Clearly ruffled, the left-hander tried to get under the third ball that pitched on the off-stump only to be undone by the slight seam movement that was on offer. The opener, who had found an exceptional run of form in the preceding Test matches fell victim to an unplayable delivery by Bhuvi, and it was only the beginning of a menacing spell ahead.
Equipped with the kookaburra, the Indian bowler hardly portrays signs of being a fast bowler. He often appears timid and frail; contend with going about his work in a silent manner, sans the aggressive sledges a fast bowler is expected to adorn. A bad delivery that is meted with a boundary is hardly ever answered with a glaring stare and a good one that picks up a wicket too hides the over-enthusiastic emotions that are usually on display.
One hand goes up in celebration. One finger is twirled in acknowledgement of the feat achieved. A grim expression that breaks into a shy smile is all is conjured up. It is as if Bhuvi is ashamed to revel in the celebrations- he often finds it needless when he knows that the innings is yet to be wrapped up.
And that is exactly what transpired in the Rainbow Nation as well. Once Elgar was dismissed, the focus at once shifted to taking up the next wicket. The very first ball that the new batsman Amla faced curved in the air and moved away after pitching, forcing one to reminiscence about the heydays of James Anderson. The first over ended with an outswinger that forced Amla to rush forward, only to be beaten by the late seam movement. Two deliveries and two lucky misses. It was game-on and Virat Kohli’s shouts of encouragement only seemed to heighten the intensity in the middle.
Romping on with an accurate line and length and with immaculate control, Bhuvi’s burst of seam bowling with subtle swing brought back wide smiles on the faces of the Indian cricket fans. His discipline was to be admired and it had almost seemed ages since the country produced a fast bowling spell that was so intense; so compelling.
The first four overs of his spell, in which he went on to scalp Aiden Markram and Amla were bowled with an average speed of 132.8kmph, with the seam and swing being targeted at 0.81 and 1.1 degrees, respectively.
A composed approach
His ability to remain flexible and change his game-plan according to the situation deserves due credit as well. When he was slapped for a four by Markram in the third over of the innings, he swiftly came back to control his away movement and caught the batsman plumb in front in the very next delivery. The one that had been hit for a boundary was an overpitched ball, seaming away at 2.01 degrees, which created a wide enough angle for a boundary.
The one that scalped the wicket was more precise. The inswinger was controlled with a seam movement of 0.7 degrees, which caught Markram by surprise. In an attempt to defend the ball, he was already beaten and before he even realised, the long walk back to the pavilion had begun.
It almost seemed a contest in contrasts. While Bhuvi was producing one of his finest and most magical spells of his career, Mohammad Shami from the other end failed to stop the outflow of runs; spewing deliveries all over the crease, without a definite plan. He was only able to bowl his balls with a seam movement of 0.8 degrees, compared to the 1.1 degrees produced by his teammate. Also, what stood out was his persistence in bowling his overs on the fourth stump line against the right-handers- something that hardly caused much trouble.
Bhuvi on the other hand, bowled a majority of his deliveries in the line of the sixth stump and he effectively mastered the art of swinging his good length deliveries to invoke more trouble.
Even though Amla’s dismissal was on account of the batsman’s own folly, the delivery before, which swung in deeply to rattle the player, remained a perfect one indeed. The riveting contest between the Indian bowler and the dangerous AB de Villiers, in which the latter stepped on the off-stump in the bowler’s run-up, forcing him to bowl short, were all the ingredients that a perfect day of a Test match involved.
His momentum went awry once ABD smashed him for seventeen runs in an over but till then, Bhuvi had set the tone for a lethal series. It was a spell that showcased Indian cricket’s growing prowess in the fast-bowling department and also one that proved that this series will not only revolve around the South African pace attack. The Indian fast-bowlers have started their campaign with a bang and here’s hoping they can carry it even further!