Every tour to England, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand primarily hinges on India’s batsmen. ‘Our batsmen versus their pace bowlers’ has always been the theme of these away tours.
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This time, when Virat Kohli sits down to finalise the XI for the first Test against South Africa in Cape Town on Friday, he won’t be faulted for believing this series could be about ‘our pacers versus theirs’.
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No other Indian Test captain has enjoyed a more complete, resourceful and in-shape fast-bowling attack on an overseas tour. The numbers, compared to the ones boasted by the rival camp, might not always support this notion. Yet, a rundown through the two attacks reveals an uncanny man-to-man similarity.
A hit-the-deck bowler, a steady and nippy accurate medium-pacer, a pacey out-swinging bowler and a fiery attacking-the-batsman fast man. In Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami, India have – on skill sets – prospective answers to South Africa’s Morne Morkel, Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn and Kagiso Rabada.
Efficiency and experience becomes the key in such a scenario. The career averages of all the four South Africans are under 30, with only Morkel having more than 25. The strike-rates are astounding too. On an average, each of them has the ability to take a wicket every seven overs, in stark contrast to the Indian Pacers.
Indian fast bowlers’ exploits in previous away sojourns have not been flattering. Their numbers actually improve in India, which has more to do with their form over the last year and a half. Competing with the South Africans can’t be about just aping their modus operandi. Former India left-arm pacer Ashish Nehra puts things in perspective.
“As much as it is important to start well with the new ball, it is equally important to contain,” Nehra told TOI. “It is difficult for Indian pacers to control the new Kookaburra ball. There is no harm in having a deep point. The pitches in South Africa and Australia become very flat. The likes of AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock can take you for five or six runs per over. Controlling the run-rate is equally important to stay in the match.”
Another determining factor is the pitch. “In any case you need Ishant and Shami. Ishant, like Morkel, serves the role of bowling long spells and keeping the batsmen in check. Shami could be likened to Rabada who will bowl in five-over bursts. Hardik Pandya can only play as the fourth pacer, or India could go in with two spinners if the pitch allows,” said Nehra.
“If you compare the bowlers man-to-man, Umesh bowls like Steyn. But since he hasn’t had a great last few matches, it will be a tricky call. Jasprit Bumrah is more like Chris Morris, which could be a surprise weapon,” he adds.
India’s record overseas since the start of this century has raised expectations. The record, however, has been primarily built on the awe-inspiring class of batting and the quality of former spinners Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh. The pacers have capitalised only on very seamer-friendly pitches.
Ishant Sharma, for one, has made those minor changes in his bowling which is likely to bring wickets at a better strike-rate. He has spent the Ranji Trophy season with former India allrounder Manoj Prabhakar, and according to Prabhakar, has got a tad closer to the stumps and a bit fuller. As Nehra said, “The result could go either way but the real challenge will be if the Indian pacers can keep the South African batsmen on a tight leash for 65 overs a day.”
Source : timesofindia