Even as they were getting hammered in the fifth and final ODI in Wellington last week, the Indian pacers quietly busted a myth as they clocked speeds significantly faster than the Kiwi bowlers.
For long, the quintessential Indian pace bowler had been more a master of swing looking to bowl a testing line and generating movement, than a merchant of speed steaming in and leaving the batsman quaking in his boots. They may not be Shoaib Akhtars of the world quite yet, but the military medium perception may soon change.
The pre series talk was about Adam Milne, who did bowl over 150 in the first one dayer in Napier but couldn’t finish his quota of overs as he pulled his abdominal muscle. Varun Aaron too touched 150 in the final game, and unlike Milne walked back on his two legs fit and fine.
In that game at the Westpac stadium, the fastest New Zealand bowler was debutant Matt Henry who bowled occasionally at 143-144 kmph, roughly equal to what Mohd Shami was bowling at.
It was, therefore, quite an achievement that the Indian bowlers outpaced their Shane Bond-coached New Zealand counterparts. But if this achievement wasn’t recognized as such, it was because Aaron and Shami had conceded 60 and 61 runs, respectively, as against 38 in 10 overs by the new lad Henry. And between them, they took one wicket less than Henry’s 4.
Pace therefore isn’t enough. If it were, Shaun Tait would have been an all time great.
But combined with line and length, and it becomes a singular weapon. Aaron and Shami weren’t done in by their speed, but by their erratic line and length. It’s pretty much like driving a car, if you go fast and don’t mind your line, accidents are bound to happen.
Pace for pace
Aaron has gone back home after the ODIs, but the average pace of the Indian attack is unlikely to suffer as his replacement is a pound for pound one, Umesh Yadav. He is erratic too, but the nature of Test cricket is such, unrestrictive, it should liberate him (should he play) and his colleagues.
The pitches will respond more. The field placements will be to their liking. There will be, too, lesser pressure to deliver instantaneously. Starting Thursday, they can work on their prey. Set traps and lay in wait.
It happened in South Africa. After being taken to the cleaners during the ODIs by Quinton de Kock and Co, the medium pacers hit back in the longer format almost immediately. In the first Test at Wanderers, Ishant Sharma, now the butt of all ridicule, looked deadly in the first innings as he ran through the South African top order with the kind of incisive in cutters that once sliced through Ponting’ s defence.
After Ishant, Shami took over the baton and finished the job. It also helped that both the bowlers had the calming influence of Zaheer Khan to fall back on. They didn’t have too look to the dressing room for advice, just a glance to mid off would do.
It was not the case in the ODIs. It will be the case this week at Eden Park.
Of astroturfs and Auckland
Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Co, who attended an official party last night, skip an early morning open media session. No causation implied here. A few speculate anyway. Too hung over, perhaps, quips a colleague.
Dhoni attends the mandatory afternoon presser. He looks a bit tired and sleepy. The three-day break in Auckland seems to have done him not much good.
Will he use his fast bowlers for longer spells like he did in South Africa, asks a fellow journalist. They bowl longer spells because they don’t take wickets quickly enough, he jokes. Or is he serious?
Asked about the Kevin Pietersen sacking, he sidesteps. On Tendulkar’s felicitation, he waxes lyrical. Not quite eloquently. In typical wry Dhoni fashion. “What new can I say about him. If I say something about him, I will keep repeating myself.” Then he repeats himself.
Brendon McCullum doesn’t shy away from the KP issue. ‘Bowlers of the world, rejoice!’ he says. Or perhaps something to that effect. I can’t say for sure as I miss his press conference due to a freak incident. A man has apparently created a big ruckus on the train ahead, delaying it by half an hour. It duly and correspondingly affects my train. The dog eats my homework.
In the evening, the former Olympian Jude Menezes, who is now with Black Sticks as their goalkeeping coach, invites me to a training session. It’s at a girls’ school. The facilities here are out of this world. Or at least the world that we belong to. They include pretty much all outdoor sports that you can possibly think of. But let’s stick to hockey. There is blue astroturf. In India, we don’t have even have a regular green astroturf at schools or most centres. There are at least 15 such schools in Auckland that Jude says he can think of. No wonder they beat us in hockey, I think. But they beat us in cricket as well, I further think.
It’s dark as we drive back. From the Harbour Bridge, Auckland’s illuminated Central Business District looks surreal. The Sky Tower towers above other skyscapers. It looks like a giant spinning top, a super-magnified version of the totem that Leonardo di Caprio’s character in the movie Inception uses to test if he is awake. I simply pinch myself.