In the sodium gleam of the night, the Rodney Bay Mall square looks solemnly electrifying and alluring. So three young men set out for a stroll. The taller one was carefully reading the menu hung outside restaurants. The other plays the tourist, absorbing the street life in his SLR. The youngest of them was mostly star-gazing. For nearly an hour, they traced every inch of the street, before they finally found what they were looking for—an Indian restaurant.
It’s not a rare sight to see Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar move together, for pace bowlers are strongly bonded and generally stick together. Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson were as inseparable as twins.
So were Michael Holding and Joel Garner, Merv Hughes and Craig McDermott, Darren Gough and Andy Caddick. They were men from different backgrounds and with diverse tastes, dissimilar wave lengths and perspectives.
Same as India’s trio. Ishant is from urban Delhi; Bhuvneshwar is from downtown Meerut; Shami is from rustic Amroha. They speak different dialects of Hindi. Ishant married recently; Shami has a daughter; Bhuvneshwar is a bachelor. Only Kapil Dev and Zaheer Khan have played more Tests than Ishant; Shami and Bhuvneshwar have featured in 15 and 13 Tests respectively. Ishant relies on bounce and seam movement. Bhuvneshwar on clever late swing. Shami on pace and swing, both conventional and reverse. In this series, he has found a new ally in bounce as well.
Bowling can be a solitary occupation but within that it can also be collaborative, bouncing ideas from one another and communicating them to the skipper. A week after their nightly stroll, they collectively orchestrated to help Virat Kohli become the only Indian skipper to win two Tests in a series in the West Indies. There was Ishant steaming in with vigour and purpose, ejecting first West Indies’s most experienced batsman and the second-innings firefighter in Kingston, Roston Chase.
He seemed to be the enforcer-designate, raking up aggression, getting awkward bounce and inward movement, occasionally snarling and gnarling at the batsmen, softening them up, before they were snaffled by either Shami or Ashwin, or in the first innings of the third Test, Bhuvneshwar. Shami provided the first breakthrough in the second innings here and returned to terminate Shane Dowrich and the Darren Bravo. Shami has been the conductor of India’s fast bowling show. Bhuvneshwar seized his break and showed the utility of having a quality swing bowler in the side.
The fast bowlers combining with such efficient smoothness eased the pressure on the spinners too, furnishing them the freedom to experiment and enterprise, unlike in the past wherein they were overburdened even abroad. Coach Anil Kumble can vouch for that, and how proudly, and maybe a little enviously too, he’d be watching his bowlers collude with each other. Envious because he never had such support system back in his days.
Kohli couldn’t stop thanking his bowlers more. Throughout the post-match press conference, he kept praising how trustworthy Shami is, how Bhuvneshwar optimised his break and how bankable Ishant is.
As much as their combined effectiveness is a requital of the trust invested on them by Kohli and the team management, Kohli knows he has at his disposal the bowling resources few other predecessors of his could lay claim to.
Seldom ever has India claimed a series with such a concerted bowling effort, where every body was a hero at one point in time or another. Ashwin and Shami had been prolific throughout. Umesh Yadav whipped off the tail in the first innings in Antigua. Bhuvneshwar turned the match around in St Lucia. Ishant furnished valuable breakthroughs in Kingston and St Lucia.
Ravindra Jadeja showed his utility when afforded a chance. Amit Mishra was unfortunate in Antigua. The variety and versatility they offer is immense. While it can be argued that West Indies are just an ordinary side that played ordinarily on the last two of the Tests, it can’t dim the glow of their achievement.
Kohli’s predecessors, from Sourav Ganguly to Rahul Dravid and Mahendra Singh Dhoni would testify that. When Ganguly’s army toured these shores, West Indies were a side in disintegration. They still had Brian Lara, Carl Hooper, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and a young Ramnaresh Sarwan, but there were instances wherein India frittered away their ascendancy because they lacked depth in bowling.
For example, in the first innings of the first Test in Georgetown, they were 44/3 with Lara also back in the pavilion, they helped themselves to 501. A cursory glance of the bowler India used will tell you why. To support Javagal Srinath, Zaheer Khan and Kumble were Sarandeep Singh, Sanjay Bangar, Sachin Tendulkar and Ganguly himself. The trio bowled 53 overs in total.
Rahul Dravid had a more promising bunch of pacers — a still-pacy Munaf Patel, a still-swinging Irfan Pathan, besides the new wunderkind S Sreesanth, a promising VRV Singh and of course Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh.
By that time West Indies cricket’s disintegration was near complete. It was Lara’s farewell homes series and they still had the services of Chanderpaul, Sarwan and Chris Gayle. India had them wriggling beneath the carpet in two of the first three Tests, but Dravid had to wait till the third day of the last Test to become the second-ever Indian skipper to win a Test series in the West Indies. In Antigua, India were left stranded by the last-wicket pair. In St Lucia, the lower-order conspired again, with substantial help from rain. They were just three wickets adrift.
When Dhoni took his men out into the Caribbean sun, West Indies cricket were searching for new depths to plummet. Lara had retired, Gayle and Sarwan were not in favour. Only Chanderpaul remained of their batting legions.
Reliance on four bowlers
Hopes of a series-sweep were abound. India won the first, but they were again denied by their lower-half and Darren Bravo in Bridgetown, and in Roseau, they ran into the familiar barricade of Chanderpaul. The bowling firm then comprised Ishant, Praveen Kumar, Harbhajan Singh, Abhimanyu Mithun, Amit Mishra and Munaf Patel. Ishant, Praveen and Harbhajan all had a profitable series, but Dhoni was always let wanting for a fourth bowler who could complement them. Part of it had do stubborn belief in a four-bowler theory.
All these instances demonstrate and put in perspective the magnitude of Kohli’s accomplishment, and how well his bowlers have bowled in this series. West Indies is no longer an intimidating region to tour, but apart from Australia and South Africa, teams haven’t beaten them so conclusively since the turn of the century. England haven’t won a series here since 2004—their last two expeditions ended in a 1-0 defeat and a 1-1 draw last year. So have Pakistan and Sri Lanka in this century. New Zealand were blanked 2-0 in 2012 and scraped to a 2-1 win in 2014.
So Kohli’s bowlers succeeded where the likes of Anderson and Broad, Gul and Ajmal, Muralitharan and Vaas failed. Hence, Kohli has legitimate reasons to raise a toast for his bowlers.