“Hence, the Indians should carefully go in and attack the good length consistently. If they can trouble the best players in the side, they have enough power to send back the other players too. The battle knell has sounded”
The battle knell has sounded. The trumpets, announcing the arrival of the Indian Team for a gruelling 5-match Test series have picked up the intensity, leading to a cacophony of noises. Hoarse. Nonrhythmic. Loud. Virat Kohli’s troops have set foot upon the fortress of Birmingham where wins have been nil and the dominating Englishmen, enjoying the home conditions watch their progress from afar. Analyzing their rival’s moves and planning the course of action with all seriousness, the grim faces portray what the challenge ahead symbolizes.
A match-up of personalities. Aggressor vs aggressor. Calm vs calmer. A contest between skills. Spinning deliveries against sheer pace bowling. Combating conditions and unsavoury moments. Tough sessions that will leave one desperate and exhausted. Celebratory sessions that will leave one jubilant. A cricket match on the surface; a fight for supremacy and pride above it.
While the Indian team has predominantly been known for the high standards in the batting and the spin bowling department, the pace bowling has often been abysmal on occasions. Yes, they have been the main weapons behind India’s most successful victories in the last decade or so, but more often than not, inconsistency and a severe lack in adapting to conditions have let to a downfall. However, the summer of 2018 promises to be a watershed moment as it is the pace bowlers who will carry the burden for the most part in the series.
Ishant Sharma is the unheralded hero abroad. Mohammed Shami is the crucial fulcrum that the unit needs and Umesh Yadav believes in bowling faster than ever. Bhuvneshwar Kumar – the sole hero from India’s outing in England in 2014, who relies on swing, will miss out from at least the first game and Jasprit Bumrah who has displayed his skill in the LOIs has immense talent. Wily Hardik Pandya cannot be counted out, for his arrogance and confidence is what leads him forward.
The match at Edgbaston will see India turn up in what has been an unlucky ground for them. They have participated in 6 games at the venue since 1967 and have lost 5 encounters, drawing one. Time and again, the pacers from the subcontinent have failed to find the correct line and length, which has allowed the rival team to get to a challenging total. Overall, in 6 encounters, the pacers have taken only 33 wickets for India at Birmingham averaging 48.36, which is way more than the overall average of 30 that the quicks from other sides have scalped in 50 clashes at the venue.
A major reason for this poor showing is the line that they have touched upon before. The general agenda that should be followed in this part of England is that dry wickets should be met with good length bowling and if the conditions swing, a fuller length should be aimed. With an intense heat wave striking England in the last few weeks, Stuart Broad is wary of the moisture that the track will contain, which indicates that deliveries pitched in the good length area will not be uncommon.
The two biggest nemesis for India will be Alastair Cook and Joe Root and by attacking their weaknesses constantly, the pacers should cramp up the two biggest match-winners up for room. The opener averages more against spin than quick-bowling, which should allow Virat Kohli the liberty to attack for long periods with pace. Cook is vulnerable to balls just outside the off-stump and the trick is to not give him width, especially on the back foot.
If the track is dry, and the Indian fast bowlers stick to a good length, the former England skipper will have his task cut out. He averages less than 30 when the pacers hit the good length area – as against an average of 50 when the balls are full and 70 when it is dropped short. Along with bowling full, Shami and Ishant will look to angle the ball across Cook’s body from over the wicket and if this ploy is implemented successfully, India can gain a massive advantage.
The strategy against Root, however, will be different. His preference of batting on the back-foot against pace makes it tough for him to step forward and drive off his front foot when the ball is pitched on the good length areas. This has meant that the captain is most susceptible to LBWs, bowled and edges to the keeper as the lack of any footwork undoes his efforts.
This was first witnessed in the Ashes of 2013-14 when Root crossed 50 only thrice in 18 innings. He was dismissed 16 times in the back-to-back Ashes, with 10 dismissals against the good length from the speedsters. This technical flaw makes him helpless against the wide-volleys that could have been driven or the stock balls that could have been pushed towards the straight cover. It reduces his shot-making area and makes him vulnerable to losing his wicket.
Hence, the Indians should carefully go in and attack the good length consistently. If they can trouble the best players in the side, they have enough power to send back the other players too. The battle knell has sounded.