Virat Kohli ran out from the slip cordon to Ishant Sharma with a suggestion. Until then, Ishant was providing the person entrusted with highlights package with eye-popping visuals of balls curving away sensationally from the stumps, away from the left-handed openers. Aesthetically appealing stuff from round the stumps but the wickets column wasn’t populated. Kohli gestured him to bowl straighter at the stumps, and even signalled for the ball coming in with the angle and mimicked a left-hander’s prod. Until then, the curlers weren’t forcing the batsmen to play; bereft of the surprise nip-backer, they were letting everything go. The occasional ones that landed on the middle and off were still curving away and were pushed out to the off-side without much fuss.
The ball that comes in from around the stumps—with the angle that triggers some doubts in batsmen about not just that particular delivery but the subsequent away-benders— wasn’t a left-of-the-field suggestion but it was something Ishant wasn’t comfortable doing. Ishant nodded at Kohli and walked back briskly – a trait he picked in the county last year where his team’s coach Jason Gillespie felt Ishant’s slow trudge was stalling the game and hurting his momentum.
It turns out that Ishant had been working on that in-with-the-angle delivery with bowling coach Bharat Arun on Friday. “It’s something he started to do yesterday,” Arun would say later. But probably the confidence to try out in the middle wasn’t there or perhaps he wanted to wait a little longer—whatever may have been the reason, he course-corrected after the chat with Kohli.
The result came not too far after that. A surprised Shadman Islam, unsure of its destination, stabbed hurriedly at a delivery that tilted into thread the bat-pad gap and clatter the stumps. “I’m 31, bowling is taking a toll on my body but I am enjoying trying out different variations,” Ishant said later.
It’s in these little things that this Indian attack continues to evolve. Take Umesh Yadav for example. Last year, when he was out of the Test team and mopping around in domestic cricket, he was a bit down. Understandably so, of course. The fastest Indian bowler reduced to a home-conditions bowler. He has reverse swing and the pace to hurry the batsmen in slower spin-friendly Indian tracks but abroad the more skilful seamers were ahead.
So what does he do? He gets more control over the outswinging curler and makes it more venomous. It’s a perfect gut-buster for the left-handed batsmen, who now can’t push their front foot too far across to tackle the away-slanting deliveries that Umesh bowls a lot to them. Harried by a packed slip cordon, Imrul Keyes was worried by the ones that shaped away with the angle and wanted to get closer to the ball. Mistake. The moment he chose to press his front foot across was also the moment that Umesh chose to rip out the incoming curler. Boom. It crashed through the defences to leave a red stain on the stumps. No wonder it was Umesh’s “character” that stood out for Arun in this latest comeback.
Mohammed Shami has to be the most improved fast bowler in the world in the last couple of years. Barring Zaheer Khan, and probably Ishant Sharma to an extent, India’s pace bowlers have tended to wither as years rolled on. Shami, however, has gone to a different zone. Fitter and hence pacier through the day, he has developed immense control over his art. In Arun’s estimation, “Shami has the best seam presentation in world cricket these days”. And who can argue with that?
How many other pacers can skid the ball and also produce the ‘heavy ball’ that kicks up from back-of-length and hits the bat rather than the other way around? Skidder and hustler – double jeopardy that batsmen have struggled to handle. He skidded one from around the stumps to trap the Bangladesh captain Mominul Haque, easily the batsman who looked most compact and aware of his off-stump. So after testing out his GPS reading of the off-stump and finding it pretty good, Shami switched tracks, went round the stumps and skidded one in to trap his man.
Shami then produced the heavy ball and Mohammad Mithun, who was in an aggressive mood, having hit 4 fours, went for the pull but found the ball had not only climbed more than he thought but had arrived much quicker than he anticipated. The ball lobbed up to short midwicket where Mayank Agarwal pouched it. It was a good surprise option considering that until then Shami was trying to nail him lbw with the skidders like he had done him in the first innings. When that didn’t work, he effortlessly changed his options. “The more we get tired, the better fun we have, we push each other, and enjoy each other’s success,” Shami said about his pace colleagues.
No Bumrah, no matter
Such has been the searing bowling attack that India have achieved a hat-trick of innings wins without the help of Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
“It looks like a different pitch when they (Indian fast bowlers) bowl. Right now Jasprit is not a part of the attack, when he comes back, it will be one heck of an attack to counter, a dream bowling combination for any skipper,” Kohli said.
So much so that a question was shot at the press conference at Arun: “Is there a chance that someday India might go with all-out pace attack in Indian conditions?” There was no jest in the question and there were some smiles in the press room and even as Arun said something about the conditions helping the spinners a bit, the question swirled in the mind. For the first time ever in the history of Indian cricket, such a thought can even be allowed to escape the head. Rather, such a thought can even realistically pop in the first place.
Four men hurtling in, five men crouching in the slip cordon, the crowd screaming ‘India India’. Who would have thought of such a scenario even a couple of years ago? The land of Mankad, Bedi, Chandrasekhar, Prasanna, Kumble and you can go on and on, the place where underpaid curators would rake up the pitches to support the tweakers, is now contemplating an all-out pace attack. The world has gone deliriously mad – and as that line goes, what a time to be alive!