BY THE time David Warner faced up to Umesh Yadav in the 27th over, he and Matt Renshaw had played 23 overs of spin already, and survived. That included 13 from Ravichandran Ashwin, Australia’s much-dreaded nemesis, who was supposed to run through them on this Pune pitch. In many ways, Warner and his young partner had seen off the biggest threat. Now, would be the time to cash-in.
That would have been the case in the past anyway. But as Warner and Australia were to find out, things don’t quite work out like that anymore in Indian cricket. For, there is no leeway.
Umesh needed only three deliveries to see off Warner. It was a more or less a routine Umesh delivery pitched up and skidding in with the angle. And the Australian opener just pushed his bat at it with no real intent only to see his stumps knocked back following an inside-edge. It was also a shot of a batsman who’d just focused his entire attention for a whole hour solely on keeping out the Indian spinners with soft hands.
So for once, it was a spinner who had played a big role in building up pressure on a batsman with the new-ball to set up a wicket with an older ball for a fast bowler. And Umesh made the most of it by pitching it right up to Warner.
A game-changing trend
It’s been a game-changing trend of India’s amazing run at home over the last few months. It’s not to say that Indian seamers haven’t made the most of the old ball before in home conditions. Zaheer Khan made a career out of doing that. But never before has an Indian bowling attack actually hunted in a pack, which includes both spinners and pacers, with the same potency. For, the Indian pace department is no longer just a part of the appetisers section of India’s bowling menu, they hold their own as part of the entrees.
Just for the record, out of 18 opposition innings during the season, only twice has an Indian fast bowler not taken a wicket and let the spinners hold complete sway. Yes, Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja have snared 111 wickets between them and understandably had spells where they have individually run through some hapless visiting batting line-ups. But the fast bowlers have chipped in often enough, and even turned matches on their head. Mohammed Shami was doing it on a routine basis before he got injured. Yadav has now taken over that role, be it on the second morning at Mohali against England or on the morning of the third day against Bangladesh in Hyderabad.
What it’s done is allow Virat Kohli to have multiple game plans under his sleeve on the field. Even if he is picking three spinners more often than not, his seamers provide him with enough wicket-taking options for him not to be overly dependent on Ashwin & Co.
Thursday was probably a testament to how well-rounded this Indian attack is where they had a fast bowler lead the way on a rank-turner. And Umesh could still end up with his first five-wicket haul on home soil. Warner’s dismissal wasn’t the only time he struck as soon as Kohli threw him the ball. He came back for a later spell and broke a potentially dangerous stand between Matthew Wade and Matt Renshaw by having the wicket-keeper lbw with his trademark reverse-swing.
It was the start of a spell where he would drive a wedge through the Australian lower-order, adding two more victims. One of them of course he had Wriddhiman Saha to thank for after the wicket-keeper pulled off an astonishing catch — where he put on a cape and took a catch of ‘is it a bird, is it a plane, no it’s Saha’ proportions by diving a couple of meters to his right and grabbing the ball one-handed.
“He has improved his balance in the crease, his stride has got a bit shorter, and also his wrist position has gotten better. Since his lengths are far fuller, he is able to extract that reverse swing,” is what batting coach Sanjay Bangar had to say about Umesh’s improvement as a fast bowler.
That he’s played in nine out of 10 Tests this season — only missing out to Bhuvaneshwar Kumar in Kolkata because of the greenish wicket there — not to forget him running in at full-tilt in every spell under the steaming Pune sun is, meanwhile, an ode to his fitness. And like Warner and Australia found out, no visiting team can take it easy once they have seen off the Indian spinners, for often, it only gets tougher.