If you were growing up in the late 90s and early 2000s, when India and Pakistan were still regularly playing against each other in international cricket, one of the favourite fantasies was to make a team comprising of both Indian and Pakistani players.
This was the era of the all-conquering Australian team which was sweeping every competition and format in front of them and it wasn’t really odd to try and dream up a team that would have been able to beat them. India had the batting but not the bowling. Pakistan had the bowling but not the batting. Cricket fans on both sides of the border would invariably think of what might have happened if partition had not taken place and the cricketing riches of both countries could be pooled together.
The decisions were never easy to make but we would invariably look at Indian batsmen to fill the opener’s slot and most of the other positions in the top order. Hanif Mohammad, Javed Miandad and Zaheer Abbas would get into the mix as would Inzamam-ul Haq but it was Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Dilip Vengsarkar, Mohammed Azharuddin, Gundappa Viswanath amongst other Indian batsmen who would invariably dominate the conversation. Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman would sneak into the argument too.
Syed Kirmani would invariably have an edge for the keeper’s slot. Remember this was before MS Dhoni made his debut. Wasim Bari and Moin Khan would figure in the conversation as would the maverick Farokh Engineer.
Then, we would move to the allrounders and bowlers. Kapil Dev and Imran Khan were shoe-ins. There were no arguments about this one. The two were head and shoulders above the other contenders.
The spinner’s slots would never be easy to pick. India has had some great spinners over the years and Pakistan could claim to have had a few too. Kumble would almost always be one of the picks and the second spinner’s slot would be a battle – Saqlain Mushtaq or Harbhajan Singh or Bishen Singh Bedi or Abdul Qadir or another genius to choose from. It was a never-ending battle of sorts. Lots of quality but few positions to pick for.
As the entire premise of the dream team was to beat Australia, there would usually be three spots for fast bowlers. All three would usually go to Pakistan. Wasim Akram. Waqar Younis. Shoaib Akhtar.
India was always the place that produced better batsmen. Pakistan was always the place that produced better fast bowlers. They said that India owed it to Sunil Gavaskar and Pakistan owed it to Imran Khan. So children in India grew up dreaming of scoring hundreds while children in Pakistan grew up dreaming of bowling fast.
There were other arguments, of course. The diet of Indian bowlers, they said, was simply not good enough. Not enough protein and not enough muscle. The skill was lacking because they had to bowl on dustbowls most of the time. Whatever the reasons may have been, when it came to fast bowlers, it was all Pakistan.
Now, cut to 2021. The balance has shifted. The Indian dream has been rejigged. The children not only dream on becoming batsmen like Gavaskar, Tendulkar, Kohli or Dravid, rather they also dream about bowling fast. Not like Akram or Younis or Akhtar. But like Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj and others.
They dream because of the show that Bumrah and Co have put on… the show they have been putting on for a while now… the show that allows Kohli to say that if his side can get 300 runs on the board, the opposition will be under a different kind of pressure.
India have made bowling out the opposition a habit. They aim to take 20 wickets in every match they play and more often than not, in the recent past, they have succeeded. The Johannesburg Test match in 2018 between India and South Africa was the first instance of India’s pacers taking all 20 wickets in a Test but since then, the pace attack has very rarely been denied.
India bowling away from home (last 5 years)
|536||17||31.52||won||v Sri Lanka||Galle||26 Jul 2017|
|569||20||28.45||won||v Sri Lanka||Colombo (SSC)||3 Aug 2017|
|316||20||15.80||won||v Sri Lanka||Pallekele||12 Aug 2017|
|416||20||20.80||lost||v South Africa||Cape Town||5 Jan 2018|
|593||20||29.65||lost||v South Africa||Centurion||13 Jan 2018|
|371||20||18.55||won||v South Africa||Johannesburg||24 Jan 2018|
|467||20||23.35||lost||v England||Birmingham||1 Aug 2018|
|396||7||56.57||lost||v England||Lord's||9 Aug 2018|
|478||20||23.90||won||v England||Nottingham||18 Aug 2018|
|517||20||25.85||lost||v England||Southampton||30 Aug 2018|
|755||18||41.94||lost||v England||The Oval||7 Sep 2018|
|526||20||26.30||won||v Australia||Adelaide||6 Dec 2018|
|569||20||28.45||lost||v Australia||Perth||14 Dec 2018|
|412||20||20.60||won||v Australia||Melbourne||26 Dec 2018|
|306||10||30.60||draw||v Australia||Sydney||3 Jan 2019|
|322||20||16.10||won||v West Indies||North Sound||22 Aug 2019|
|327||20||16.35||won||v West Indies||Kingston||30 Aug 2019|
|357||10||35.70||lost||v New Zealand||Wellington||21 Feb 2020|
|367||13||28.23||lost||v New Zealand||Christchurch||29 Feb 2020|
|284||12||23.66||lost||v Australia||Adelaide||17 Dec 2020|
|395||20||19.75||won||v Australia||Melbourne||26 Dec 2020|
|650||16||40.62||draw||v Australia||Sydney||7 Jan 2021|
|663||20||33.15||won||v Australia||Brisbane||15 Jan 2021|
|486||20||24.30||draw||v England||Nottingham||4 Aug 2021|
|511||20||25.55||won||v England||Lord's||12 Aug 2021|
In the recently concluded Lord’s Test, England’s attack looked rather toothless in the third innings of the match. Then, in virtually unchanged conditions, the Indian attack gave us reminders of its class. Bumrah, Shami, Siraj and Ishant were at the batsmen all the time. The openers were gone for a duck and none of the England batsmen were comfortable before the hosts were finally bowled out in 51.5 overs.
There was swing, there was movement off the wicket and the short ball was used effectively too. More importantly, there was an intelligence that far outweighed everything else. The England bowlers, following the fracas between Bumrah and James Anderson, went looking for revenge. India were angry too but they simply went looking for a win and that was perhaps the best revenge of all.
As Siraj clean bowled Anderson to spark off the victory celebrations, thousands in India would have taken up the ball and not just the bat. It was the kind of performance that will launch a thousand dreams but more importantly, it was the kind of performance that we have fast become used to.
It is the consistency that allows for a change in thinking. Not a random flash in the pan anymore but consistent progress over a lengthy period of time that convinces everyone watching that the pace bowlers have stepped up for good... that Indian pace bowlers can cut it with the best in the business.
Being a fast bowler is tough work. You need to run in all day in tough conditions, bowl hundreds of balls and hope to at least get a few wickets. But for India to bring its long-cherished dream of winning away from home to fruition, they desperately needed fast bowlers. Not one, not two but a whole pack and now, at long last, they’ve got what they wanted.
The away wins show that this was the missing piece in the puzzle and more importantly, forever banishes the thought that Indians can’t bowl fast. In many ways, this is truly India 2.0 and the best part is that they are just getting started.