“The current Indian pace attack is well stocked and all the incumbents are now making their presence felt on the international scene in no uncertain manner. At the back of one’s mind in such situations however sometimes lurks uncertainty about the future. Not in this case”.
Birmingham 1967. Bedi, Prasanna, Chandra and Venkat play together in the same Test match. This would remain the only such instance in the illustrious career of India’s famed Spin Quartet. Skipper Pataudi throws the ball to wicketkeeper Budhi Kunderan to open the bowling since he has included no pace bowlers in the line-up. In trying to set the field, he asks Kunderan what he would bowl. Kunderan famously replies: “We will find out soon, won’t we?”
Fast forward 50-years to Johannesburg 2018.
Virat Kohli’s India goes into the third and final Test match against South Africa at the Wanderers with no spinners and five pace bowlers all capable of consistently bowling at above 140 km per hour. Sitting in the sidelines is India’s fastest bowler, Umesh Yadav, with no more bowling slots available in the side.
The contrast is stark and speaks volumes about the path Indian cricket has traversed in the ensuing half-century. While spin continues to be an important part of the Indian armoury, the flirtation with pace that Kapil Dev started has now become a full-blown romance.
Umesh Yadav, Mohammad Shami, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah have joined veteran Ishant Sharma to form a battery of pacemen that are the envy of most teams in the world today. Hardik Pandya, also bowling in the 140’s brings up the sextet of pace bowlers that is almost embarrassing in its display of riches.
But this is only half the story – the storied past, the incidental present. For once in Indian sports, the other half of the story – the future, looks bright with the planning and the investment that has gone into cricket, clearly beginning to pay back.
The Future of Indian fast bowling is here
A new crop of fast bowlers (and we are talking about fast) is making waves on the domestic circuit and some have thrust themselves onto the world stage at the Under-19 World Cup under the tutelage of Rahul Dravid. Others have excelled in domestic tournaments or in the IPL in the last couple of years, and some have earned rare praise from Glenn McGrath at the MRF Pace Foundation. Some like Jaydev Unadkat have already been blooded at the senior level and will no doubt get further experience in the coming months. Together, they form an enviable talent pool for the future of Indian cricket.
Since it is never too early to talk about the future, here is a short recap of each of these prospects who might well become household names in the months and years to come.
19-year old Shivam Mavi is not built like a fast bowler, but he certainly acts like one. One is reminded of a certain Ajit Agarkar who had precisely those qualities, if not quite the pace. At 5’9’’ Mavi will barely reach Mitchell Starc’s shoulder when they team up to open the bowling for KKR this IPL. But at 145 km per hour, his deliveries will compare favourably with those that Starc sends down from the other end. The pace at which the red cherry will come at the opposition from either side of the 22-yard strip will be unrelenting.
Combined with that will be Mavi’s smooth run up and action culminating in his natural aggression once the delivery has whizzed past the nose of the hapless batsman. One of the first words he uttered about his bowling to the media recently bears testimony to his pace bowler’s mentality: “I once hit a batsman on the helmet and the guys who followed were really scared. I was enjoying it.” Mavi has been playing with grown men, many of them first-class cricketers in club cricket since he was 14-years old because he was too good for his age group. His left knee gave way four years ago and after going through rehabilitation he is fully fit and generating real pace. This is a young man you can expect to see in India colours over the next year or two.
Currently making waves in New Zealand at the U-19 WC alongside Mavi is our second exciting talent, Kamlesh Nagarkoti. At 18-years of age, Nagarkoti is a year younger than his partner-in-crime, but perhaps even more lethal in the pace and accuracy that he brings to his bowling. Against Australia at the U-19 WC, his fastest ball was clocked at 149 km per hour, impressive by any standards. To add to the misery of his young opponents, he employed the special reverse-swing skills with the old ball that coach Rahul Dravid insisted he learns while Nagarkoti was in rehabilitation at the NCA from a shoulder tear.
The son of an army man who used his entire retirement kitty to buy a one-bedroom apartment in Jaipur so that his son could play cricket, Nagarkoti’s first pay cheque of half-a-million US Dollars from KKR in IPL 2018 should be enough to reward his father financially for keeping his faith in his son’s abilities. KKR will have the unenviable task of deciding which of these two young pacers will start with Starc this season. In any event, it is safe to assume that it will not be long before Nagarkoti’s talent is unleashed upon unsuspecting international batsmen by the Indian selectors.
Bengal can (and does) take immense pride that she gave Indian one of her greatest southpaws and captains Sourav Ganguly. But despite a number of fast medium pacers trying to break into the big league, other than Mohammad Shami (who originally hails from Uttar Pradesh), Bengal has had little to show the country in terms of homegrown fast bowling talent. All that could change with the emergence of 19-year old Ishan Porel.
At 6’3” Porel is more in the mould of a traditional fast bowler. Travelling several hours a day from his hometown of Chandernagore to Kolkata to play cricket, Porel is a ward of the Utpal Chatterjee Cricket Academy and benefited from the advice of Waqar Younis who was an early mentor of the fast bowling programme launched by Sourav Ganguly led Cricket Association of Bengal. Younis’ advice was simple: “Whatever happens, don’t reduce pace. Swing will come,” he said.
Porel has opened the bowling with great success for the India U-19 at the WC. Today he put in a magnificent performance against Pakistan in the semi-finals with a spell-binding spell that read 6-2-17-4. This spell broke the back of the Pakistan batting and caused a collapse to 69 all out chasing India’s 272. Despite the form he has shown, Porel has not been picked up by KKR who have instead chosen to blood his pace bowling partners from the same tournament. Porel can take comfort from the fact that he is just the latest victim of KKR’s allergy for home grown talent and this should in no way affect his future with the national team as long as he keeps up his string of strong domestic performances.
At 24, Kerala’s Basil Thampi is a senior citizen among the young hopefuls, but is just a hop skip and jump away from his national debut if his recent call-up for India’s T20 squad in December is an indication. In the mould of Jasprit Bumrah, Thampi is quickly becoming a “death overs specialist” in the shortest format. Playing for Gujarat Lions in IPL 2017 he picked up 11 wickets from 12 matches and the Emerging Player of the Year award. He has been picked up by VVS Laxman and his team for SRH in the upcoming edition. His performance in the longer format, helping Kerala get into the quarterfinals of the Ranji Trophy (which even his illustrious predecessor with the new ball Sreesanth had not been able to do) has helped him emerge into the limelight among the new crop of bowlers. Thampi, bowling effectively and consistently around the 140 km per hour mark, has earned the praise of Glenn McGrath at the MRF Pace Foundation where he trains.
Another ‘veteran’ in this group is 23-year old Aswin Crist of Tamil Nadu. Picking up the role of pace spearhead of the team from his mentor Laxmipati Balaji, Crist bowled Tamil Nadu into the semi-finals of the Ranji Trophy last year, had an excellent TNPL outing and shone in the Vijay Hazare Trophy picking up 20 wickets from 9 matches. While IPL franchises have not rewarded him with a contract, this strong young graduate of the MRF Pace Academy with the ability to bowl long spells has his sights on the longer format of the game with the red ball.
Our first left-arm fast bowler in this list, 18-year old Arshdeep Singh comes from Madhya Pradesh and plays for Punjab, bowls in the 140km per hour range and has been an important member of the India U-19 WC squad in New Zealand. He made his way into the Punjab team through sheer hard work, cycling 25 kilometres a day to and from practice, perhaps inadvertently helping strengthen his back and legs. His performance in the Vinoo Mankad Trophy where he was the second highest wicket-taker convinced Venkatesh Prasad and Rahul Dravid that this 6’2” pacer was worth investing in, particularly given India’s inability to find left arm pacers to replace Zaheer Khan, Irfan Pathan and RP Singh. Time will tell to what extent this young man justifies their faith. It is early days yet and he certainly provides hope for the future.
A 24-year old who has not yet garnered the attention he perhaps deserves is Umar Nazir Mir from Kashmir. At 6’4” he reminds one of Ishant Sharma, but in addition to the natural bounce that he generates because of his height, his ability to consistently bowl long spells at over 140 km per hour and swing it both ways when the ball has shine and reverse the old one are skills that have not gone unnoticed. The fact that he plays for traditionally one of the weakest teams in the domestic circuit does not make it easy for him, but persistence and good results may get him the break he is looking for.
These, however, are not the only ones who are lining up to get noticed by the selectors as the second line of offence for India’s fast bowling department. Waiting in the wings are Nathu Singh (RH Fast Medium)from Rajasthan, Avesh Khan (RH Fast Medium) from Madhya Pradesh, Ankit Rajpoot ((RH Fast Medium) from Uttar Pradesh, Aniket Choudhary (LF Fast Medium) from Rajasthan, Sandip Warrier (RH Fast Medium) from Kerala, Veer Pratap Singh (RH Fast Medium) from Bengal and K. Vignesh (RH Fast Medium) from Tamil Nadu.
Many of these young men have already been picked up by IPL teams over the past year and they continue to put in impressive performances on the domestic circuit. An added bonus is that in line with the trends of the modern game, most of these bowlers can also hold their own with the bat more creditably than many of their predecessors.
The current Indian pace attack is well stocked and all the incumbents are now making their presence felt on the international scene in no uncertain manner. At the back of one’s mind in such situations however sometimes lurks uncertainty about the future. Not in this case.
The selectors, fans and the powers that be at the BCCI can all take heart from the fact that some exciting young fast bowling talent is knocking on the door. The days of wicketkeepers taking the shine off the ball are truly in the past, and the future of Indian cricket looks set to be fast and furious.