On such a pitch as Dharamsala, with widening cracks and bounce and two fiery Australian fast bowlers making it seem a bit like WACA, what emotions, as a batsman, would you feel when you see Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood steaming in towards you? Fear or excitement?
As India’s No.9 swayed out of harm’s way as Cummins dug one short on Monday morning, it’s possible that he felt both. India had just about taken the lead, and the bowler in Bhuvneshwar Kumar would have been smacking at the lips in anticipation while the batsman in him acted in self-preservation.
The same for No.11 Umesh Yadav, who was padded up in the dressing room. They would have liked to prolong the Australian bowlers’ misery, but at the same time, in an odd way, couldn’t have waited for the innings to get over and take hold of the shiny red ball.
For all through this season, the Indian fast bowlers have toiled on unhelpful tracks, doing the menial jobs and playing second fiddle to the spinners. It’s another matter that they have surpassed expectations. Now here was a track that was made for them. They were in the leadership role for the first time in six months. When Kuldeep Yadav swept Nathan Lyon straight to Hazlewood in the deep, the Indian innings ended with a 32-run advantage. It was a neither here, nor there kind of lead. The onus was on Yadav and Bhuvneshwar to make it look big.
Learning to survive
What bowling on unhelpful tracks has done for the Indian pacers is to find ways to survive. They have had to be smart and accurate. None more so than Umesh. In the past, he has been guilty of spraying it all over the place, squandering the gift of pace. Often he has taken wickets, but had also leaked away too many runs. Not this season, however. He is a changed bowler who has realigned his target. He always had the speed, now he also has the accuracy.
Bhuvneshwar, on the other hand, always had the accuracy, but lately he has added pace to his arsenal, without compromising on swing that he generates. He has had few chances in the season, but whatever little has come his way, he has grabbed it by both hands.
He came out charging. After beating Matt Renshaw with his swing in the first over, he bowled the bouncer of the innings in his second as he landed one on the crack and made it fly. It hit a hopping David Warner flush in the chest. A shaken Warner nearly fell on the next, jabbing at an away going ball, but Karun Nair dropped him.
It set the tone. Yadav would scoop a softened up Warner soon after, cramping him up and making him edge to the keeper. He would also hit Renshaw on the shoulder, before squaring him up. “Today with Warner, it was a straight delivery that got his edge. That was the breakthrough. We got a bonus and already had the upper hand with the 32-run lead. The momentum shifted in our favour,” Ravindra Jadeja remarked at the end of the day’s play.
The in-form Steve Smith came out with an aggressive intent and smacked both the pacers for boundaries, but Bhuvneshwar removed him as he tried to play a pull shot from outside off, without getting into a position and chopping it onto his stumps. The dangerman gone, and Australia three down for -1, the pacers exposed the opposition’s soft belly for the spinners to plunge the knife in: as they have done all season.
“Sometimes, even a 32-run lead is big enough with uneven bounce and the ball swinging and deviating after hitting the cracks,” Jadeja said, praising the pacers. “As you saw, they had lost three wickets before wiping off the lead, so it was crucial.”