Updated: March 25, 2017 7:40:26 am
Whoever said Test cricket was about watching grass grow was not too far off the mark. And he would have been bang on the bull’s eye if he could add “watching the grass being cut” too. For that seems to have been the case in Dharamsala over the past two days. On Thursday, the pitch was shorn of any grass that might have existed there. On Friday it had grown back only to be scraped off by the brushes of the groundstaff. Still, it retained a smattering, prompting Steve Smith to acknowledge: “The pitch seems to have a bit of a grass on it, but it’s still pretty dry.” He though was quick to add: “I am not good at assessing pitches.” How it actually turns out remains to be seen, but traditionally, Dharamsala has assisted fast bowlers. As was pointed out in this space earlier, in the last two Ranji matches at this venue 77 wickets out of 80 were snared by the pacers. And two of the remaining three were run outs. That was perhaps the reason the Indians, and the Aussies, bowled with their tails up in the nets (if that is any indication, all the practice pitches were green). It’s a good time then to take stock of India’s fast bowling options, in case the pitch stays true to its character.
As they have done all season, in this series, the Indian pacers have quietly made their mark. The Australians had budgeted for the spinners during their much-reported outing in the Middle East, in the process they perhaps forgot the other threat: the Indian pacers. Consequently, Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma, between them, have taken 15 crucial wickets in the series. And it hasn’t just been against Australia, it’s been the case all season: be it New Zealand, England or Bangladesh. Here’s taking a look at their performances:
Umesh Yadav (12 wickets): Fast but often erratic and expensive, Yadav has been on the target while retaining his pace this season. He has given crucial breakthrough early on, while turning deadlier with the old, reverse swinging ball. In this series, he has taken bulk of the wickets and often important ones: like, in Bangalore, taking out Steve Smith in the second innings and Shaun Marsh in both the first and the second.
Ishant Sharma (3 wickets): His wickets columns might not do justice to the impact he has had. Ishant is a bowler driven not by his head but heart. Whenever he has run in full of emotions, he has looked like taking wickets every ball. Like he did in Bangalore, where egged on by Virat Kohli and the crowd and probably himself, he took out Mitchell Marsh in the first Matt Renshaw in the second innings. On both occasions, when he ran in, there was a certain amount of inevitability the wickets that he got.
Mohammad Shami: Perhaps India’s finest fast bowler going around, he has the raw pace and the mind too to harness it. He took 10 wickets against England in three Test matches, but has been out of international action since due to a leg injury. Shami proved his fitness in the Vijay Hazare trophy, taking four wickets in the final, and has bowled in the nets here. If he is fit, he bolsters India’s chances, no matter how the pitch behaves.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar: If Shami is not fit, India might be tempted to include Bhuvneshwar Kumar in the mix. The chances for Kumar this season have been few and far between, but he has impressed whenever he got a chance. In the only previous pace-assisting pitch of the season, in Kolkata against the Eden, he got a five-for. When he returned against Bangladesh in Hyderabad, Bhuvneshwar bagged another fiver before being overlooked for the Australia series. He bowled beautifully in the nets here, generating as he does a good amount of swing. In early morning conditions at Dharamsala, he can prove a handful.
Australian fast bowlers have outperformed the Indian counterparts in terms of wickets, taking 16 in three matches. But that could be because their spinners haven’t been as effective.
Josh Hazelwood (8 wickets): The metronomical bowler has the single most impressive figures for a fast bowler in the series, but that six-for in Bangalore ended up in a losing cause. He has pulled his length back a bit for India and honed in around the off-stump line, making it difficult for the batsmen to get away.
Mitchell Starc (5 wickets): Was all over the place mostly, when he found his radar, he was unplayable. Unfortunately for Australia, he didn’t last too long.
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