Breaking records and matching legends, Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami have reinstated the ‘fear’ factor in the middle. The pace family of three look happiest feasting together in the Test arena.
At present, the deception of Bumrah, the reverse swing of Shami and the length of Ishant Sharma — in tandem — rank top in the list of challenges in the red-ball wild. The diverse skill sets and ideas, when operating together, resulted in India’s first deadly pace pack.
In 10 Test matches together since 2018, the last being at Sabina Park in Jamaica against the West Indies this year, the right-armers gobbled up 142 wickets at an astounding average of 20.59. They also had a ferocious strike-rate of 44.76 to join an elite club.
That fear of being hit is back despite helmets. And at the moment, it’s the Indians who are causing the chills and frills.
The trio of Bumrah, Shami and Ishant have beaten the greatest of pace packs on strike-rate and bowling average in just one year and nine months. Among iconic pace batteries with a minimum 100 wickets together, Steyn-Morkel-Philander (South Africa) are second in the best strike-rate list (48.87) but the timeline covers 31 matches in seven years. Imran-Wasim-Waqar (Pakistan) are third, with a strike-rate of 49.47, in 11 matches from 1989 to 1992.
The Indian speedsters have also dethroned the West Indies greats from the best-bowling average list. Holding-Garner-Croft — 21.89 from 1979-1982 — and Holding-Garner-Marshall — 22.50 from 1980-1987 — have slipped to the second and third positions respectively on the average count.
Start of partnership
It all began on the tour of South Africa with Bumrah’s arrival in whites. He returned with a five-for in the first innings of the third Test in Johannesburg. In the second innings, it was Shami who picked up five as India earned a consolation victory in the three-Test series.
Ishant has been the long-spell bowler with a consistent line and length. A year later in Perth, when he had raised the tempo with a four-for in the first innings, the Australians had to return to their notebooks. As soon as they figured him out in the second innings, Shami took charge and registered his career-best figures of 6/56.
If one misfires, the other steps in.
The energy, however, revolves around youngster Bumrah who is only 12 Tests but 62 wickets old. His scooter action is the X factor.
Bumrah’s action — a big hit
Renowned bowling coach and former India international T. A. Sekhar — who has seen Bumrah from scratch — agrees.
“Bumrah is a bowler who is rare. He is not a run-of-the-mill bowler like Ishant, Shami, Zaheer Khan or a Munaf Patel. His action is that of a freak. What I see in him is that he defies the biomechanics of a classical fast bowler.
“When people see a bowler with an action that is a bit different from normal, they start saying he will not play Tests and will only play ODIs or T20Is. A bowler gets branded like that,” argues Sekhar, who was one of the fastest in the eighties.
But the Ahmedabad boy proved people wrong by shining in all formats.
“He is difficult to read and that’s why, he has been consistent. Batsmen can’t read him because his stock ball is the one that comes in. A lot of commentators and ex-cricketers say he has developed an outswing but I feel, any in-swing bowler will develop a leg-cutter. He will deliver the ball close to vertical and the angle of the seam will hit the deck and an odd ball could go out. Maybe, he has perfected that.
“Swing happens in the air, but the cutter happens after the ball is pitched. It can curve in too. Either it holds the line or takes a slight deviation from the pitch. I think he has developed a leg-cutter. He has practised that a lot and is able to bowl at will,” Sekhar decodes.
Bumrah’s action is also a big hit among children. A video of an Australian kid impersonating the Indian pacer went viral on social media after India’s Test series triumph Down Under.
Pre-release, both his arms are in the air for a split second. The left one rises a bit like a pointed gun, while the delivery arm holds the cherry higher up. The quick arm interplay causes a sort of illusion for the batter. And Bumrah can bowl six different deliveries in an over; flexible lengths, nasty yorkers, bouncers, deceptive slower ones, cutters — his bag is full of what you don’t want as a batsman.
The key lies in the quick arm action, Sekhar notes.
“He generates very good pace in a short run-up. He doesn’t have a classical run up. He walks almost 40 per cent in the run up and then, starts picking up. He doesn’t generate great momentum to bowl that quick but his arm action is so quick. His right hand goes up. Normally, the left hand goes up and the right hand doesn’t go up that high. But in this case, it is different. It also comes down fast, even though it is straighter, and that helps him generate a lot of momentum in the arm action.”
And there is “no problem with the technique.”
“Any fast bowler is injury-prone. Fast bowling itself leads to injuries. Even Bumrah will go through that but it will not be because of the action. It could be due to any other activity,” he says.
Ishant 2.0 and the joint trap
Bumrah creates that uncertainty around batsmen. “A psychological pressure,” Sekhar adds, which helps Ishant and Shami to bowl around him.
Not many international batsmen like to face Bumrah. “It is because they don’t know which ball is going to come in, deviate in or out, whether a yorker will come or a bouncer. Everyone knows he has a lethal yorker which he uses very rarely in Test matches.”
Test veteran Ishant has matured with age. No, he isn’t an old horse. He had started early as a teenager. He is only 30 now with easily four to five years of cricket left in him.
“Ishant’s planning, execution and control on length makes him special. Length is very important, the ball needs to be pitched where you want it to be pitched. Having that control is essential,” says former India fast bowler-turned coach Subroto Banerjee.
In the West Indies, Ishant broke Kapil Dev’s record of being the pacer with most wickets (158) outside Asia.
Banerjee, who has trained speed guns Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron, feels it’s a mix of smart thinking and game awareness. “They execute what they plan and having Ishant is great as he is a workhorse. He can keep bowling.
“They are assessing the batsmen well and implementing all the plans. What happens is you plan, but the execution is not very good all the time. But these players are controlling the bowling. These are good signs.”
Ishant has had problems with his release in the past. The county stint with Sussex perhaps repaired the issue. Now the bowling arm goes down with more precision and control.
“He has been able to use his experience. Of course, the speed has come down drastically but he played in the county circuit which has helped him bowl more professionally. He is also a swing bowler. The ball goes away after pitching. He also gets wickets with leg-cutter type of balls. He does what Srinath (Javagal) used to do, the ball starts moving from the hand and after pitching also, it moves. The day he is able to hit the right line, he is quite dangerous while bowling in a group.
“Even though he is not as quick as Shami or Bumrah, he keeps bowling long spells. He is like Peter Siddle of Australia,” Sekhar highlights.
Shami and reverse swing
Shami skids the ball, makes it talk, starts reversing with different seam positions. The magic is priceless.
“He is steady and a player-bowler,” Banerjee adds. All three bowlers are hurling different sorts of deliveries to unsettle the batters. “That’s what, they don’t know how to play the three of them together.
“A rhythm bowler too,” Sekar pitches in. “He can swing the ball and his seam position is excellent. He can be compared to somebody like Waqar Younis. His length is a bit up, he may get hit for a few boundaries more than others but he is an excellent red-ball bowler. He bowled well in the World Cup because of the rhythm. He can reverse the ball very well because of his seam position. He has troubled enough batsmen with reverse swing. A good combination to bowl with Bumrah. They complement each other.”
The Virat factor
Most of the cricketers say that captain Virat Kohli, who is supremely fit, made the whole unit fitter. How the fast bowlers managed their bodies in a gruelling overseas Test calendar covering South Africa, England, Australia to the West Indies recently is a fine example.
“Virat has upped the tempo of the side. It is driving them to perform better as the captain is performance-oriented,” reasons Banerjee. Ishant bowls at around 135 kmph to 140 kmph, Shami in the at 140 to 144 kmph, while Bumrah in top gear nears the 150 kmph mark. “It is a multi-dimensional attack,” Sekhar sums up.
All three have claimed fifers in the last one year and nine months. Bumrah went a step further by registering fifers in all the countries he toured; the first Asian bowler to do so. The hat-trick against the West Indies in Jamaica made him the third Indian bowler to achieve the feat.
All the fireworks, so far, happened far away from home in pace-friendly conditions. The real challenge for the trio will begin at home come October. A spin demolition of South Africa will be too boring.
The grass should be thicker and greener on the wicket for better gastronomy.
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