Indian pace ace-high

It’s heartening that in the Indian Premier League, a batsman-friendly biff, the seamers selected for India have held their own and this can only boost the confidence of skipper Virat Kohli, as he mulls over the Champions Trophy.

Mohammed Shami relies on pace and reverse swing to get his wickets.   -  IPL/SPORTZPICS

The glitzy Indian Premier League (IPL) caravan is rolling across the country but the BCCI-ICC row has meant that players and fans have one eye on the ICC Champions Trophy in England, from June 1 to 18. The ‘will they’ or ‘won’t they’ queries about Indian cricketers’ participation in the tournament did the rounds but they finally proved to be a tale of all’s well that ends well. The Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Administrators (CoA) emphatically told the BCCI to pick a squad for an event in which the Men in Blue are the defending champions! The Board complied and announced the squad on May 8.

In the last edition in England in 2013, M. S. Dhoni’s men seized the trophy. It was a decisive march shaped by Shikhar Dhawan (363 runs) and Ravindra Jadeja (12 wickets) while the fast bowling troika of Ishant Sharma (10 wickets, 5.73 economy-rate), Bhuvneshwar Kumar (six wickets, 3.91 economy-rate) and Umesh Yadav (four, 5.55) also played a part. The talk about England as a venue often stirs up the familiar tropes of seam and swing in nippy weather under low-slung clouds. For Indians of a certain vintage the acme of nostalgia would be about remembering Balwinder Singh Sandhu’s exaggerated swing that castled West Indian opener Gordon Greenidge in the 1983 World Cup final. The great batsman shouldered arms and India was soon on its way to a maiden global cricketing title. Readers of this magazine may recall a picture from India’s triumphant 1986 series in England: David Gower swaying sideways while a Chetan Sharma bouncer just whizzes past the graceful southpaw’s nose. 

Cut to the latest Champions Trophy, obviously the focus is on India’s pace bowling resources and the way it is shaping up currently in the IPL. 

Mohammed Shami, coming back after addressing fitness concerns, has bowled well and played a pivotal part in Delhi Daredevils’ six-wicket victory over Sunrisers Hyderabad in a league game. He castled David Warner and scalped Kane Williamson and seemed to have regained his mojo.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar in the Sunrisers dugout has been even more impressive and at the time of going to the press, has bagged 21 wickets at an economy rate of 6.82, which is quite remarkable in the Twenty20 format. 

If pace and reverse swing are Shami’s preferred allies, guile and conventional swing are Bhuvneshwar’s strengths and together it is a bouquet of skill-sets that can come in handy for Virat Kohli’s men as they aim to defend the title and kick-start their international season on a resounding note.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar nails batsmen with guile and conventional swing.   -  IPL/SPORTZPICS

 

Another key bowler, who can bolster the Indian unit, is Umesh Yadav and currently he has nailed 13 wickets for Kolkata Knight Riders in the IPL. Unalloyed pace revs up Umesh’s repertoire and he along with Shami and Bhuvneshwar can be a potent strike-force, that could choke and scalp batsmen. All three were picked for the Indian squad.

Now the question remains if it is possible to cotton-wool them and preserve their stamina and skill for the Champions Trophy but the IPL team managements, having invested in these players, will not embrace a larger view of these bowlers’ need to stay fresh for national duty. 

The teams cannot be blamed, though, as the primary focus is to win the IPL trophy.

Among the others plying their speed missiles in the IPL, Ishant has been a bit tepid while Jasprit Bumrah (Mumbai Indians, 13 wickets), Jaydev Unadkat (Rising Pune Supergiant, 17), Ashish Nehra (Sunrisers Hyderabad, 8) and Varun Aaron (Kings XI Punjab, 7) from among the group that has already donned India colours, have had their moments of delight. 

Bumrah too got the selectors’ nod for the Champions Trophy. It is heartening that in a batsman-friendly biff, the seamers have held their own and this can only boost the confidence of skipper Kohli as he mulls over the Champions Trophy along with his support staff. That the bowler-friendly conditions of England beckon, is another lodestone for the Indian team.

IPL/SPORTZPICS

Umesh Yadav has developed into a key strike bowler.

 

Even rookies like Basil Thampi (Gujarat Lions, 10) and Mohammed Siraj (Sunrisers Hyderabad, 6) have caught the eye in the current IPL. Thampi even relished the thrill of dismissing Dhoni. Thampi and Siraj bring in an element of surprise but having played in the high-profile IPL, their bag of tricks must have already been dissected by data analysts in various team managements.

“The best way to keep the scoreboard quiet is to take wickets,” legendary off-spinner E.A.S. Prasanna had once quipped. It is a lesson that the bowling unit may well remember. For the moment, India has an adequate mix of fast bowlers backed by quality spinners in R. Ashwin and Jadeja to cause a few headaches for rivals during the Champions Trophy. 

Thankfully, the uncertainty over team selection has been quelled. When the Indian squad does take the field in its opening match at the Champions Trophy, that too against arch-rival Pakistan in Birmingham on June 4, surely, it will have a fine fast bowling unit to take on the opposition.