Over the years, the strength of the Indian cricket team has always been its batting. They had the big names but perhaps, more importantly, they had the consistency. They would score runs regardless of the conditions, the nature of the pitch or the opposition. In a nutshell, that is what earned them a reputation.
And now, we are seeing the bowling unit develop that same fearsome quality. They are producing the goods with a consistency that is scary for the opposition and god-sent for Virat Kohli. They did it in India, in South Africa, in England and now, on Day 2 of the Adelaide Test, they gave Australia a glimpse of what they are capable of.
It was an attritional day of cricket – partly because the pitch did not afford easy strokeplay but majorly, because India’s bowlers showed that they know how to execute a plan. When India ended Day 1 on 250/9, not many expected them to add too much to the total. They didn’t.
But many of their fans were expecting the bowling unit to once again lift the team and that’s what they did. The fact that the country expects them to ride to the team’s rescue over and over again shows just how far they have risen in the public eye. Earlier, India had the odd world-class bowler and a supporting cast. But now, India has options – options that are really capable of doing the job.
The main fear as Australia came out to bat was that they would get off to a quick start. Aaron Finch, their limited-overs skipper, was opening the batting and he can hit them a long way. But Ishant Sharma put that worry to rest quickly, removing the batsman with a very full delivery. He got the batsman to drive, got the wicket and Australia were immediately put on the back foot.
The Australian batting line-up hasn’t been doing very well and the wicket played on that mental fragility. Marcus Harris and Usman Khawaja stitched together a stand of 45 runs but it took them 21.1 overs to do that.
Perhaps the success of Cheteshwar Pujara on Day 1 made them think that staying at the wicket was the only way of going about things but their slow run-rate was also due to Ravichandran Ashwin’s brilliant first spell of 22 unchanged overs. At the end of the spell, his figures read 22-5-38-3 and Australia’s top order was back in the hut.
Ashwin wasn’t getting too much turn out of the pitch but he used flight beautifully. He was managing to get the ball to drift both ways and that kept the batsmen guessing and got him the wickets as well.
According to statistics put out by CricViz, the off-spinner has learned his lessons well:
“When Ashwin last toured Australia, he bowled too quickly, too short, and he struggled. 46% of his deliveries were above 88 kph, and just 22% were pitched full. Today, he’s bowling fuller (33% pitching full) and slower (only 25% above 88kph) – and it’s working.”
Ishant was his usual frugal self but he gave little away either. He got the ball to tail in during his initial spell and then settled into a consistent line that gave nothing away. Earlier in his career, he was often a bit too short but over the last few years, he has been full and that has got him wickets as well.
Bumrah started with a little uncertainty, giving away 24 runs in his first five overs. Given that it was his first tour of Australia, one could make an allowance for him. But then he came back brilliantly in his second spell which read 15-9-10-2. At one point, he bowled six maidens on the trot. The control was something many other Indian skippers, especially Mahendra Singh Dhoni, would have cherished.
Shami, the final piece in the puzzle, is also the most unpredictable one. He bowls wicket-taking deliveries and is a streaky fellow. His best spells of late have been in the second innings of Test matches – no particular reason for that but that’s how it has been. He was the weakest of the lot today – ending with bowling figures of 16-6-51-0. But even he got a fair number of deliveries to beat the bat. In fact, Shami drew a false shot with 21% of his deliveries this Test, the most of any Indian bowler.
So who does the opposition target and how?
Ashwin didn’t quite have an answer for that but it is quite clear that the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.
“We don’t isolate it as a fast-bowling or a spin-bowling pack, we identify it as a bowling unit together because one cannot exist without the other,” said Ashwin at close of play on Day 2. “But definitely, we have been working on it and have done really well over few tours as a bowling unit and today was another perfect attritional Test cricket day for us. I thought we really bottled them up, soaked the pressure and got the wickets and that’s what we have always asked for as a bowling unit and we have been doing it on a consistent basis.”
And that consistency allows India the luxury of having expectations from them. Their job isn’t done yet – Australia trail by 59 runs with three wickets in hand. Travis Head has been brilliant for the hosts and his wicket will be key. India will go now back to the drawing board to make some plans, confident in the knowledge that their bowlers will execute the plans to perfection.