Lack of fast bowling reserves a concern for Team India

back icon
safari
27 Sep 2019 | 01:13 PM
authorSomesh Agarwal

Lack of fast bowling reserves a concern for Team India

India's frontline pacers are world-class but where are the reserves?

heart

Share

Twelve-Test old, India’s prized possession, Jasprit Bumrah is yet to play a Test at home. The series against South Africa would have marked the inception of his career in his own backyard but a stress fracture in the lower back delayed his red-ball homecoming. 

The management has been pragmatic with Bumrah’s workload management, which is one of the reasons for restricting his red-ball services only to Tests outside Asia. Though India will miss his exploits in the series against South Africa, it will not give sleepless nights to the captain, Virat Kohli. With two world-class spinners in Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja who are nothing short of bullish at home, India can afford to go in without Bumrah. 

The current Indian team is an epitome of fitness. The standards are better than others across the globe let alone the Indian teams of the past. Injuries are unavoidable for a fast bowler and can often occur without a warning. However, if a similar injury had occurred on the eve of an away tour, would it have been followed by a similar sense of calm about the consequences? 

Under Kohli, India has demonstrated a renewed focus on Test cricket. One of the attributes of his captaincy has been the focus on the development of pacers. Even in home Tests, he expects the pacers to contribute considerably, a feature of his captaincy that is different from his predecessor who was never hesitant to give the new ball to spinners at home. 

Kohli took over India’s captaincy in December 2014, during the tour of Australia where the Indian fast bowlers had to toil hard against a rampaging Steve Smith and other Australian batsmen. Since then, India’s fast-bowling unit has been an entity that has exhibited constant improvement. The numbers since December 2014 suggest that as many as three pacers – Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami have matched the returns of the Top-10 leading Test wicket-takers during this period. 

article_image

Graph description: Indian seamers are compared to the weighted average of the bowling average and strike-rate of the Top 10 wicket-takers during this era. The weighted average is calculated to ensure that the average value factors in the wickets taken by each of the Top 10 bowlers. 

This is remarkable if we compare this with the period from January 2011 to December 2014, where India had six tours outside Asia and none of the fast bowlers came close to matching the returns of the leading wicket-takers during that period. 

In January 2018, India’s fast bowling unit turned a corner. Bumrah made his debut for India, the emphasis on fitness resulted in an improved version of Shami and a county stint under Jason Gillespie rejuvenated Ishant Sharma. Credit should once again be given to the captain and management for unleashing Bumrah on an away tour. 

Since 2018, four Indian seamers have returns in-line with the Top 10 wicket-takers during this phase.

article_image

Graph description: Indian seamers are compared to the weighted average of the bowling average and strike-rate of the Top 10 wicket-takers during this era. The weighted average is calculated to ensure that the average value factors in the wickets taken by each of the Top 10 bowlers.  

Although these numbers are inspiring, the aggregated nature of the data hides a couple of key aspects. Bhuvneshwar Kumar has played just two Tests in this period. A string of injuries and a notion of being lethal only when the ball is swinging has all but halted his Test career for the time being. 

Umesh Yadav is the other piece of the puzzle. The management has time and again made it clear that he is the preferred choice to replace any of the frontline bowlers (Bumrah, Ishant Sharma and Shami) in case of an injury or when there is a need to play four pacers (Johannesburg and Perth Test in 2018). However, his spells have returned a performance that is diluted in comparison to the front three. His performance against West Indies and Afghanistan at home skews the overall numbers in his favour. 

Umesh Yadav vs. West Indies and Afghanistan (home): Tests - 3; Wickets - 15; Average - 14.2; Strike Rate - 26.3 

Umesh Yadav vs. England and Australia (away): Tests - 2; Wickets - 5; Average - 43; Strike Rate - 73.2 

This leaves the management with only three reliable fast bowlers. While going with two pacers is a trend at spin conducive home pitches, a minimum of three fast bowlers are a necessity in Tests outside. As stated earlier, there will even be times when four pacers are needed in a Test outside Asia. India’s plan of building on their dominance in Test cricket will be forced to a backward arc in case of an injury to one of the three key pacers on an away tour. 

The next step for the management is to follow the footsteps of Australia and England in building a pool of five to six fast bowlers, ideally everyone of similar quality. The upcoming series’ against South Africa and Bangladesh is a good opportunity to groom at least one more if not two new fast bowlers. While Navdeep Saini is waiting in the wings, Mohammed Siraj is also a standout domestic bowler with 51 first-class wickets at a bowling average of 18.94 and a strike rate of 36.6 while playing 9 games for India A since 2018.

article_image

Graph description: Bowling reserves for each country is assessed by comparing the reserve bowlers with the frontline bowlers. The Top 3 wicket-takers for each country during this period are considered as the frontline pacers and are represented in blue. The bowlers with average in the range or lower than the frontline bowlers are represented in green. Bowlers with an average higher than the frontline bowlers are represented in red. For e.g. for Australia, Cummins, Hazlewood and Starc are Top 3 and hence are in blue. Jhye Richardson’s average is within the range of Top 3 and hence represented in green. Marsh, Pattinson and Siddle are in red as their average is higher than the range of Top 3 

While Australia, England and West Indies have their fast bowling reserves sorted, India, New Zealand and South Africa (due to retirements and Kolpak) face a similar issue of having only three bowlers with experience and returns that match the international standard. Given their domestic cricket is built around pacers’ exploits, the quest to develop reserves will be easy for South Africa and New Zealand whereas, to find a World-Class fast bowler in the dust bowls of India is equivalent to laying your hands on a goldmine. 

Barring an injury, India’s front three are as good as, if not better, than any other fast bowling unit in the world. In a country that largely struggled to find decent front line pacers for away tours, it is an illustration of the improvement the team has undergone that we are now discussing the development of reserves. Nevertheless, in an era where the Indian captain is determined on Test supremacy, adept reserve pacers will save them from an untoward situation in a big game on an away tour.  

heart
shareGray Share
Tags
India's Fast Bowling ReservesBumrah out of South Africa TestsBhuvneshwar KumarUmesh YadavMohammed SirajNavdeep Saini

Related Articles

safari
ANALYSIS
How good is Stuart Broad?
While it may seem preposterous to question the credentials of someone who has taken 491 wickets in a Test career spanning 139 Tests, a closer analysis may paint a different story
userRavi Venkat
21 Jul 2020
safari
OPINION
If India plays a Test and a T20I on the same day
An analysis of the ideal squad for India’s Test and T20I team for an unlikely scenario of India playing both on the same day
userSomesh Agarwal
26 Jun 2020
safari
OPINION
A tale of two captains
Twelve years to this day, Dhoni took the field as India’s Test captain. The side has become the number one ranked Test team in the world thrice since.
userSomesh Agarwal
11 Apr 2020
safari
YEAR END REVIEW
Test Team of the Year, 2019
Here is an XI acknowledging the best performers in Test cricket this year
userCricket.com Staff
31 Dec 2019
safari
ANALYSIS
Bangladesh’s away woes stem from quest to win at home
Bangladesh's contrasting fortunes home and away
userRohit Sankar
22 Nov 2019
safari
ANALYSIS
India vs Bangladesh Second Test - Fantasy Preview
Here are some tips for selecting your fantasy XI for the first-ever day-night Test
userCricket.com Staff
21 Nov 2019
safari
ANALYSIS
India's newly found strength with pace
Who would have thought that India will have the greatest of pace attacks
userShubh Aggarwal
20 Oct 2019
safari
ANALYSIS
Bumrah - a generation’s dream now a superhuman reality
The pacer’s ability to be a quick learner has turned him into a force to be reckoned with
userSomesh Agarwal
29 Aug 2019
safari
ANALYSIS
Resurgent West Indies clash against top-ranked India
It's the first match for both teams in the inaugural ICC World Test Championship.
userNitin Fernandes
21 Aug 2019
safari
ANALYSIS
India arrive in England as overwhelming favourites alongside hosts
Kohli and company seem to have ticked all boxes ahead of the marquee event
userAvijit Dutta
29 May 2019
logo
Cricket like never before
Follow us on
FacebookTwitterLinkedin
@ 2020 cricket.com | All rights reserved