For most fans of Indian cricket, the term ‘Fab Four’ usually brings back memories of ace batsmen Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman, manning a robust Indian middle-order.
In the 60s and 70s India was famous for its spin quartet. It was a collective name given to their spin bowlers - Erapalli Prasanna and Srinivas Venkataraghavan, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar and Bishen Singh Bedi. Thanks to their prowess, India had many famous wins, even overseas, including in England and New Zealand.
On Saturday, as India clinched a memorable away win in Johannesburg, a new Indian quartet or ‘Fab Four’ took centre-stage, this time of the pace variety.
This quartet of fast bowlers on Saturday championed a dramatic South Africa collapse that would hand India a win in what was the most difficult pitch of the series.
“You have to take 20 wickets to win Test match.” It is a oft-repeated line used by most commentators while analysing a team’s bowling. Not many previous Indian teams have managed to live by it, especially on overseas tours.
Pace and bounce
With pitches offering pace and bounce, the norm through the series, the spinners were never going to win matches. The onus was on the pace department to lead the way.
India’s pacers on this tour, though, were exceptional. “The bowlers were the biggest positive,” declared Kohli after the series-conceding defeat in Centurion and then repeated it after the victory in Johannesburg on Saturday after the three-match series ended 2-1.
They managed to bowl out South Africa in each of the six innings they played in this series. “To take 60 wickets is extraordinary,” Kohli beamed with pride after the win on Saturday.
It wasn’t straightforward though. India were outplayed in the first two games and the team management’s game-plan was under the scanner. Other than Kohli, no Indian batsman had clicked. With a ‘green mamba’ expected to be laid out in Johannesburg, the expectations were not high. The prospect of a whitewash seemed imminent. It was up to the bowlers, who had shown promise through the series to step up and make it a respectable series result for India.
And India went for an all-pace attack for the final Test in Johannesburg for just the third time ever. There were many who wondered if it was the right call. But, it was a sign of the team management’s confidence in the fast bowlers.
They were responsible for bowling out South Africa in both innings of the first two Tests, and Kohli was confident will do it again. The bowlers didn’t disappoint as they sparked a dramatic South Africa collapse in the final session on day four, just as defeat seemed imminent.
Mohammed Shami, who was hit-and-miss through the previous five innings, was on point and ended the series as the joint-highest wicket-taker (both sides) with 15 wickets. He ran through the South Africa tail and finished with a five-wicket haul.
It was Ishant Sharma, who started it all on Saturday. South Africa’s batsmen Hashim Amla and Dean Elgar had formed a gritty stand which was threatening to take the game away from India.
Amla’s ploy to shuffle outside the off-stump to negate the swing was working well. Ishant, though, found chink in the armour. He bowled a full delivery on the pads. Amla chipped it in the air and was caught. It was a moment that gave India the opening and triggered South Africa’s disintegration.
Jasprit Bumrah soon took over and picked up the crucial wicket of AB de Villiers. It was a game-changing moment, one that knocked the stuffing out of the South Africans. Bumrah made it a habit to provide the crucial wickets for India through this series.
“Bumrah fits perfectly into the ideal XI for us,” Kohli said after the match. “He is someone that has given us breakthroughs when wanted in the series, he has bowled his heart out. So, I am really happy for him, he really wanted Test cricket badly and has shown what a high-class bowler he is,” Kohli added.
“He probably bowled with the experience of a guy who has played 40-50 games,” Kohli added of the newest Test player for India.
The man of the match, though, was Bhuvneshwar Kumar. His control over the swinging ball set up the win for India during South Africa’s first innings. With invaluable contributions with the bat, he also proved his worth as a bowling all-rounder.
Complete bowling attack
India travelled with a well-tested and talented bunch of bowlers on this tour. The pace attack consisting Bhuvneshwar, Shami, Ishant, Bumrah and Umesh Yadav, was quite a formidable one on paper. Each member was a proven asset in various facets of the game. Despite, this being Bumrah’s first Test tour, he was always earmarked for success at this level.
In seam-bowling all-rounder Hardik Pandya and spinners R Ashwin and Ravidra Jadeja, the team was well-rounded in terms of alternatives.
But, it was pace quartet on Bhuvneshwar, Shami, Ishant and Bumrah, who were in the limelight through the series. In all they took 53 wickets amongst themselves.
Having spent much of the last year bowling on dusty wickets in India, the task was never going to be a straightforward one. But, they stuck through and delivered in the end.
As far as away tours go, this was like finding a key to the treasure chest hidden away from past Indian teams. For Kohli, it meant that India had finally found a fighting chance to win in all conditions. It meant that teams will now think twice before rolling out green tracks for this Indian team.
“They didn’t get much help from the wicket today,” Kohli said. “But the character that we showed today, it will give us the belief that we can do it again and keep on doing it.
“This win was very important from our and the Indian team’s point of view,” Kohli added.
And that is no understatement.