“Now they do have a real battery of pacers. And if the leadership keeps repeating that this is a team out to do be the best travelling side, they do have sufficient ammunition in their arsenal to potentially back their claims”
5 for 28.
There are two occasions when this particular bowling analysis has been etched into the annals of Indian cricket in lettering of gold.
Kapil Dev in Melbourne in early 1981, running in on the final morning at Melbourne, turning a near-certain defeat into one of the most memorable triumphs in the history of the Indian game.
And then, in mid-August 2018, 37 years down the line, Hardik Pandya skittling the Englishmen on the second afternoon at Trent Bridge, paving the way for one of the most stirring comebacks in the saga of Indian.
What else connects these two identical figures?
The fact that both these bowlers were brought on late. Kapil was the fourth bowler used in the innings. Pandya the fifth.
No other Indian pace bowler has come on as the fourth or fifth bowler used to take a five-for.
There ends the similarity. This is definitely not one of those inane articles linking the great all-rounder with the youngster just embarking on his career. (Although lack of attention span may indeed brand it as one.)
Kapil was brought on late because the previous day he was unable to bowl. With the ace pace bowler struggling with injury, Sandeep Patil had bowled two overs with the new ball alongside Karsan Ghavri. After that Dilip Doshi had taken over. By the end of the day, John Dyson had been caught behind off Ghavri’s left-arm medium pace. The great Greg Chappell had walked out and bowled first ball to an attempted bouncer which did not quite rise. And Graeme Wood had been stumped off Doshi.
The next day, Kapil had run in at 24 for 3, with another 119 runs needed by Australia.
Pandya’s case was different.
He was the fifth bowler to be used, but not because of any constraint. It was because of the range offered by the Indian team.
Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah opened the Indian bowling, two pacemen of formidable quality. In fact, we will be hard-pressed to find any local bowler in England bowling at comparable speed.
The great off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin came on next, and he was followed by Ishant Sharma. Ishant may not deserve the adjective ‘formidable’ like Shami or Bumrah, but he stands one shy of 250 Test wickets. In the last three years he averages 27.
So, Pandya came on as the fifth bowler, the fourth pace option. And he ran through the side with five wickets for 28.
This is unique in the story of Indian cricket.
No Indian pace bowler has come on as fourth change and picked up five wickets in an innings. More significantly, no Indian pace bowler has ever been the fourth fast man used in the lineup and ended up taking five wickets in an innings.
Of course, it is very rare for an Indian side to field four pace bowlers in a Test match, two of them of rather a considerable pace.
And for an Indian side to have a fourth pace bowling option in an innings capable of running through a side is unique. It has never happened before.
When asked in the press conference whether this Indian pace attack was the best in history, head coach Ravi Shastri simply replied, “By miles.” And he was not exaggerating.
Shami has 118 wickets at 29.75, is seriously quick and an expert in the art of the reverse-swing.
We have already spoken about Ishant.
It is early days yet for Bumrah, but in four Test matches, he has raced to 21 wickets at 22.61. He has five-wicket hauls in his last two, both of which India won away from home in arduous lands, helped significantly by his efforts with the ball.
Then there is Pandya, who has just picked up his first five-wicket haul in his career.
The man who is supposed to be the most lethal in these conditions is not even playing due to injury. Bhuvneshwar Kumar has 63 wickets in 21 Tests at 26.09 and was largely responsible for the win at Lord’s in 2014.
Also in the squad is Umesh Yadav, another considerably fast man, with 106 wickets in Test cricket. Like Ishant, his average is on the higher side, but he too has excellent numbers in the last year and a half.
For decades the Indian team has been expected to win Test matches and Test series in difficult lands such as Australia and South Africa, without a proper pace attack, without there being anything like a cohort of pace bowlers boasting a significant number of wickets at a decent average. Exemplary though they were, Zaheer Khan and Javagal Srinath both had averages on the wrong side of thirty.
Now they do have a real battery of pacers. And if the leadership keeps repeating that this is a team out to do be the best travelling side, they do have sufficient ammunition in their arsenal to potentially back their claims.
Perhaps if the Indian management takes scheduling and acclimatising to the conditions a bit more seriously, this side can indeed deliver on the ambitious promises.