Though India lack a bowler of Zaheer’s skills at the moment, it would be a fallacy to consider the current attack inferior in any way to its English counterpart.
‘You need 20 wickets to win a Test match,’ said Zaheer Khan – unarguably the best left-arm seamer India has ever produced – during a recently-held cricket talk show. In this age of heavier bats and unhelpful pitches, these words of wisdom from the ex-India bowling spearhead can’t be any more closer to the truth.
With the six matches of the T20I and ODI series finishing at a combined score of 3-3, the visiting Indian team is now up against their greatest challenge of the past few years – a series of five Tests against the hosts England. The year 2007 remains the last time India won a Test series in this part of the world and the willy Zaheer was instrumental in the win bagging 18 wickets over 3 Tests.
Though India lack a bowler of Zaheer’s skills at the moment, it would be a fallacy to consider the current attack inferior in any way to its English counterpart. In Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah the visitors can boast of an all-weather attack capable of restricting and taking wickets under different conditions, that too while bowling at 140kph. After adding the trio of spinners – Ravi Ashwin, Kuldeep Yadav and Ravindra Jadeja – to the list, there shouldn’t be any doubt in calling this the best bowling attack in Indian cricket history.
Umesh, who made his debut in 2011, seems to have finally come of age especially after his fiery spell in Dharamsala last year which blew away the Australian top order in a spell of fast bowling seldom seen in India. He continued to impress at this year’s IPL and on the current tour.
Earlier known only for his pace and swing, he has now learned the art of bowling tight spells resulting in breakthroughs when the conditions are not supporting him.
Since the time Ishant bowled ‘that’ spell to Ricky Ponting at the WACA in 2008, he has been in and out of the team owing to numerous injuries and subsequent loss in form. He seemed to have developed a habit of staying in line and length while his pace dropped appreciably.
With Kohli’s insistence on fitness and rotation, he has now started filling in the shoes he was always expected to. He can now bowl long spells while continuously attacking the batsmen with hostile pace and bounce.
Be it his 7-74 against England at Lords in 2014 or his brutal 8-86 against Sri Lanka at the Sinhalese Sports Club the next year – eventually setting up a series victory – Sharma has proved that he can be the tall angry fast bowler that Indian fans have always dearly wished for.
Shami who has been plagued with personal problems of late might be the only bowler whose mental preparedness for the Tests is in doubt considering the very little amount of cricket he has played this year. Still, his 16 wickets during the South Africa tour in January 2018 should be evidence enough that he can deliver the goods when required.
The ‘Swinger from Meerut’ – Bhuvneshwar – has already got his name on the Lord’s honours board with a six-for in 2014 and is the best bet for India under conditions which favour swing. Though he will miss part of the series due to a back condition but India will be fortunate to have him fit to play at any point of time during the series.
Bhuvi’s death-bowling partner in ODIs, Bumrah is also facing a similar predicament but if and when he is fit to play, he should prove to be a handful as he showed during his debut series against the Proteas.
With the pace attack for the first three Tests likely to comprise of Ishant, Shami and Yadav, it is time to turn our attention to the spin bowling department. Considering the abnormally high temperatures in England at the moment, the spinners are expected to find much more purchase from the sun-baked surfaces than usual this year. This scenario presents a rare opportunity for India to play with two tweakers in the playing XI.
R Ashwin is almost certain to be the first-choice spinner in the team considering his vast experience against different oppositions. His successful stint at Worcestershire county in the last season must have helped him assess the English conditions much better and being the witty customer that he is, he will surely employ the tricks he learned during the county games.
But, if Kohli chooses to go with just one spinner, Ashwin will face stiff competition from Kuldeep, the mystery spinner who bamboozled English batsmen during the limited overs series. With an arsenal consisting of well-disguised variations including the googly and the wrong’un Kuldeep is currently one of the most exciting prospects of this team and it will be interesting to see how the opposition plays him when they don’t have the need to go after him from the start.
The third spinner in the squad, Jadeja, is not the most gifted spinner going around and is set to sit out at least the first few matches owing to his monotonous style of bowling.
In essence, India might lack a genuine left-arm pacer like Zaheer, but the veteran would himself agree that the above-mentioned names will give India the best chance to get 20 wickets and win the series.