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Rise of Indian Pacers in Test Cricket

Written by: Bhawana Jarwal

An article may not justify the continual story of the rise of Indian pacers in Test cricket, which compels me to carve it out as a story that had its beginning with the captain who changed the course of Indian cricket, none other than the country’s small-town boy, Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

The rise of Indian pacers has been like the life of a tree, the seeds of which were sown by MSD during his captaincy days when the traditional combination of 2 pacers and 2/3 spinners was replaced by 3 or 4 pacers and 1 or 2 spinners. The likes of Ishant Sharma, Md. Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Varun Aaron, etc. received ample support from the then Indian captain and witnessed the dawn of Indian pacers in test cricket. However, the change was not an immediate success for India as the results were not favorable in away matches. Despite India climbing at the no. 1 spot for the first time ever in Test cricket, during MS’s reign, the position of Indian pacers was still a sapling that required proper support and light to nurture, which was then provided by arguably the best captain of Indian Test Cricket Team – Virat (King) Kohli.

When the test baton was passed on to Virat suddenly by MSD midway during Australia Tour in 2014, the Indian pacers did leave a mark during the series, especially Ishant, Shami, and Umesh who shared 35 wickets amongst them during the 4 match series.

The era of pace and attack

When the man from Ranchi left the Test captaincy, India did slip to the 7th position in ICC test rankings, the prime reason of it being the Indian bowlers, especially pacers’ inability to take all the 20 wickets in a test match. Indian team reclaimed the no. 1 spot when Virat was at the helm, but there was a remarkable difference, and that was the red hot Indian pacers who attacked from the front in every test match. From taking all the 20 wickets to winning in SENA countries, India made everything possible during the captaincy stint of Virat, where credit did go to his attacking captaincy, but on the grass-root level, credit belonged to the Indian pacers who made it all achievable.

During the growth years of the Indian pace attack, rose a new bowling star and new opening pace bowling duo for India viz. Jasprit Bumrah and Md. Shami. With the experience of veterans Ishant Sharma and Bhuvi, the new bowling spearheads of India crushed every batting unit that faced them.

The first fruits

– Time came for an India tour of South Africa in 2017-18, where the Indian pace attack comprising of Ishant, Bhuvneshwar, Shami, and Bumrah took 47 wickets in the 3 test match series as India bundled out SA in every match (let alone wickets from Ashwin and Hardik). However, victory still eluded India in the first 2 matches; eventually to be snatched by India in the 3rd test played at Johannesburg, on the back of fire breathing spells of the pace quartet.

Johannesburg witnessed the first-ever incident of Indian pacers picking up all the 20 wickets in a test match as India played an all-pace bowling lineup, and it was the first test match victory in South Africa for the pace quartet, a real one to savor.

– The ever-testing tour of England was up next with 5 tests under its hood where India could manage to win an only match played at Trent bridge courtesy of the 5fers from Hardik and Bumrah in respective innings. In the first and fourth match, win slipped narrowly from India’s grasp while the pacers did their job commendably to provide the batters an un-seized opportunity to clinch the series 3-2 by bowling tight lines and picking up 61 wickets.

– The Border Gavaskar Trophy 2018-19 and 2020-21, India clinched the series on both occasions by defeating Australia by 2-1 score and breached the Gabba fortress as well in the latter year. Not to forget the carnage spread by Bumrah at the MCG in 2018-19 when he recorded the best figures by an Indian pacer in Australia with 09 wickets for just 86 runs. The evolving pace front of India made sure to restrict Australia below or near 250 in most innings of the test matches played during both series. This augmented consistency of the pacers allowed the Indian team to defeat the Aussies in their backyard during consecutive series’.    

– India’s tour of West Indies 2019, Bangladesh’s tour of India 2019 – the likes of Ishant, Shami, and Umesh crushed the opponents on home soil, as well as on foreign soil to whitewash the series’.

With these wins all around the globe, Kohli’s team India was established as ‘multidimensional’ with pace being their ‘wildcard’. India did reap the rewards for their continued support towards pace bowlers where new branches grew in the form of Md. Siraj, Navdeep Saini, Shardul Thakur, as all played their part in the sensational Border Gavaskar Trophy win in the last year.

The pace attack still needs nurturing to make India formidable in tests. With Kohli stepping down from the helm of red-ball cricket in an unforeseen event, and its shockwaves creating enough turbulence, the team needs to find an apt replacement to fill his shoes- A proper bowlers’ captain. And to hold things together without any hiccups, the BCCI needs to groom and support the likes of Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Shivam Mavi, Prasidh Krishna, T. Natrajan, Kartik Tyagi, etc. so that they become the branches of this continual growing tree to shower winning fruits for the nation going forward.

Hopeful of India and its pace attack to remain dauntless and bring more glory in the future.