Umesh and Shami were outstanding, says skipper Kohli

Following his team's crushing innings win over South Africa in the third Test, Virat Kohli weighed in on the effectiveness of Indian pacers in home conditions.

Umesh Yadav and Mohammad Shami strike a pose with the Freedom Trophy after India's victory.   -  Rajeev Bhatt

Anrich Nortje survived a panic-inducing spell of short-pitched bowling from Mohammad Shami just after lunch on day three of the third Test in Ranchi: one ball hit him just below the collarbone, another rapped him on the gloves, a third thudded into the right elbow.

Dean Elgar ducked into a Umesh Yadav short ball and was struck just above the ear, forcing him to retire hurt. Never before has India's fast bowling got the blood going and adrenaline pumping the way Shami and Umesh have this series.

Not long ago, India's pace reserve wasn't deep and an express seamer was a novelty rather than the norm.

Fast forward to 2019, and the current Indian pace attack, comprising Ishant Sharma, Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Umesh and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, has been the catalyst for the side's ascent to the No. 1 status in Test cricket.

 

South Africa’s fast bowlers have managed only 10 wickets at 70.20, while India’s grabbed 26 at 17.5. The contrast is both stark and revealing.

Following his team's crushing innings win over South Africa in the third Test, Virat Kohli weighed in on the effectiveness of Indian pacers in home conditions.

"The two guys (Umesh and Shami) were outstanding. If you see, their strike rates in Indian conditions are great because they are always looking to hit the stumps and the pads. It's again a great sign of the kind of intent the bowlers are running in with now... the fitness levels have gone up, so the brain is supporting what you want to do and the body is supporting the workload. These guys are relentless; they are running in to pick wickets," Kohli said.

Shami had the visitor in all sorts of trouble with some probing bowling throughout the series, extracting disconcerting bounce from the most unresponsive of surfaces.

The pace spearhead, in a post-match chat with the official broadcaster, revealed that Kohli's captaincy has been instrumental in the bowlers hitting the right strides.

 

"Virat gives us a lot of confidence and freedom. He just sets you free and that helps an individual's confidence. We just try to maintain the right lines and lengths. The Indian crowd is also behind when we play at home. Fitness matters a lot. The team environment speaks highly about fitness. We enjoy each other's confidence. We know our conditions and our fast bowling unit has come up in the last few years," Shami said.

Earlier in the series, opener Rohit Sharma had said that on certain fourth-innings pitches, Shami is even more dangerous than spinners.

Rohit remembered Shami's debut Test in Kolkata in 2013 when on a slow, low-bounce wicket at the Eden Gardens, he ran through the West Indies in the second innings with five wickets.

Kohli attributed the 29-year-old's effectiveness to his "mindset and a willingness to do things differently."

"We speak of things doing differently ... say the openers walk out to bat on a green pitch and think the opposition hasn't scored too many, so we might not either then you can't score runs. Instead, if you believe you can score, you will get a 100 when the others don't.

"As a fast bowler if you feel that there's nothing in the pitch but we can make things happen then you can make it happen. If you look at the track and just give up, then you won't achieve anything... Even if the ball is doing a little bit after the spinners are done bowling, they (fast bowlers) want the ball back.

"They want to make an impact. It's the mindset; they (fast bowlers) don't want easy cricket, easy situations: they want to be on top of challenging situations because it's going to do the team a lot of good," Kohli said.

Gifted athlete

Yadav, Shami's partner in crime, had featured in only five of India's last 18 matches before the Pune Test against South Africa.

In October last year, when India beat the West Indies 2-0 for a record-equalling 10 successive series wins at home, Yadav had come for some free-flowing praise from Kohli who even labelled him a near certainty for the subsequent tour Down Under.

Three months later, Yadav returned home having played a lone Test in Perth. He hadn't played a Test until the second match against South Africa. "Umesh has constantly worked on his mindset," Kohli said about Yadav.

Umesh Yadav derailed the South African batting unit with some hostile spell of fast bowling.   -  AP

 

"Staying in a good space and constant communication is important with guys who don't play because they understand to get the result, we play the guys who we feel can get the best out of those conditions... you can look back and reflect 'these are my numbers' but if you are part of a champion team those memories will stay with you forever," Kohli said.

"Umesh is supremely fit ... he is an athlete, you look at him on the field after a spell and you cant tell that he is a fast bowler," he added.

India opener Mayank Agarwal has described the feeling of seeing South Africa's batsmen hop and struggle against the short balls as 'pleasing'.

"We also face a lot of heat while facing them. Our fast bowlers are giving back what they get, not only the bouncers but the areas that they bowl in as well," Agarwal said.

After being a little under the radar, Kohli's India has slowly but steadily hardened to the culture of fast bowling. And it can only augur well for the side in the days to come.