India wrapped up an incredible Test season on Tuesday after beating Australia by eight wickets in the fourth Test at Dharamsala. They clinched the series 2-1 and recorded their seventh straight Test series victory.
At the start of the season, India were scheduled to play a Test series against West Indies, New Zealand, England, Bangladesh and Australia. Out of 17 Tests in the season, India lost just one Test match.
And guess what? This time, it was not only about the spinners, but also the fast bowlers who played a huge role in India’s dominance during the season.
Let’s go back to the start of the season.
India are playing their first Test of the season against West Indies at Sir Viv Richards Stadium, Antigua in July 2016. India posts a mammoth total of 566 runs in their first innings, thanks to Virat Kohli’s maiden double hundred in Tests.
West Indies’ bowling looked listless and feeble. It looked like the wicket had nothing for the bowlers. But when the home side started their innings, suddenly the same banal strip became alive and venomous. India’s pace attack of Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav extracted pace and bounce off the wicket.
Lethal and Brutal Fast Bowling
West Indies’ batsmen were hopping and looking for cover. It was lethal and brutal attacking bowling by the fast bowlers. West Indies were bundled out for 243 and were asked to follow on. Eventually, the hosts crumbled under pressure and India won the match by an innings and 92 runs.
Shami and Yadav took four wickets each in the first innings to break the back of the Windies’ batting. It looked like West Indies was getting the taste of their own medicine.
For years, the Windies were known for the hostility and fear they instated in the world cricket with their battery of fast bowlers. This time they seemed to be on the receiving end.
The legend of West Indies cricket and the king of Antigua, who was part of the dominating West Indies team during the 70’s and 80’s, saw the pathetic display by his team in his own stadium. Sitting next to his old foe and friend Sunil Gavaskar, he said with his loud and husky voice:
Sunny, I never imagined one day your fast bowlers would be bouncing at us and we would be hiding. It’s so painful to watch.
And Sunny bhai just couldn’t hide his excitement as he also would have never imagined this kind of hostility by the Indian fast bowlers.
That statement from Sir Viv had one significant point – how far Indian cricket has come, specially their fast bowlers.
Umesh & Bhuvneshawar’s Amazing Spell
Cut to Dharamsala, where India played their last match of the season and the script didn’t change much. Day 3 of the Test – the match and series were at stake. It was still anybody’s game. And the fast bowlers stepped up once again.
In the second innings, Umesh Yadav and Bhuvneshawar Kumar bowled one of the most intimidating spells of fast bowling, one could see in in the Indian sub-continent. The best back foot players, pullers and cutters of the cricket ball were ducking and fending balls coming on their chins and chest. They had no place to hide.
It was Test cricket at its very best, and the team on the receiving end was Australia, who are known for their fast bowlers and their aggression. The Aussies could never recover from there and lost the match, series and their claim to be a better fast bowling unit than India’s pace battery.
From the shores of the Caribbean sea to the foothills of Himalayas, it was a long hard trek for the Indian team where they stuttered a bit while nearing the summit. The department (pace bowling) that was least expected to deliver in these conditions at home helped them through. India’s fast bowlers and their performance in this entire season has been the story of this side.
Ashwin, Kohli Play Their Part
On the dusty turning tracks in India, spin twins Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja were expected to be India’s main weapons of destruction. These fine tweakers played their role to perfection.
The likes of Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara and gang have piled up runs and performed exceedingly well. But all through the season, India’s fast bowling has moved to another level.
They have gone beyond their conventional role of removing the shine of the new ball before it's handed over to the spiders of spin to make their web. They out-bowled a very good New Zealand pace attack that had the likes of Trent Bolt and Matt Henry. They looked far more lethal and effective compared to the experience of English bowlers like Stuart Broad and James Anderson. And in this series, when it mattered the most, they out-bowled the likes of Mitchel Starc, Josh Hazelwood and Pat Cummins.
Umesh Yadav – The Leader of This Ascendency
The leader of this ascendency has been Umesh Yadav, who played every match with heart and vigour, bowled the first ball of the day and last spell of every long tiring day with same intensity and purpose. Shami when fit, destructive and dominant. And wherever and whenever Bhuvenshwar Kumar was presented with an opportunity, he was composed and cunning. Ishant recovered from Chikungunya mid-way through the season, and with every outing, he looked improved and imperative for the cause of the side.
Off the field, they feed off each other’s personalities and diversity in the group. They stay as a pack and often have their meals and gym sessions together. Fast bowling is the hardest job in cricket and only they can relate to their jokes and pains.
On two occasions in this season, wickets like the one in Wellington or Durban were presented in Kolkata and Dharamshala. There you would expect opponents like New Zealand and Australia to dominate India. But thanks to the Indian pace attack, on both occasions, Indians secured comprehensive and comfortable victories against the two teams. Even on unresponsive tracks, these men have attended to the call of their captain and the team.
Soon this team will be travelling abroad. The bounce of South Africa and swing of England will be waiting for them. They will be tested, but if these fiery, feisty, furious and fast men are protected well, India can hope to combat every challenge which comes their way. Preserve these times as Indian cricket fans of the 80’s and 90’s would have only dreamt of something like this. Therefore protect the speedsters, so that the dream continues.
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