Ben Jones analyses the achievements of Umesh, Bumrah, Shami and Ishant.
Once again, Virat Kohli’s India have absolutely steamrollered a Test opponent. In the day-night Test in Kolkata, Bangladesh have been swotted aside by an innings and 46 runs, a huge margin of victory which entirely reflects the level of dominance from the home side. Once again, India have have smacked the opposition down, beaten them up, thrown them sideways and back again. In home conditions all the way across India, this team is as close to unbeatable as you can imagine. Seven wins on the bounce equals their longest winning run in the history of the format, and even with a strong and talented New Zealand side up next, you would be brave, bordering on careless, to bet against them extending that run.
There are lots of reasons for this streak. A core group of players who have played together around the world for a good few years now, supplemented by some fresh, exciting faces; a batting line-up with a brilliant blend of obduracy and aggression; a spin attack with the ability to compete in all conditions, attacking and defending, performing whichever role is asked of them.
Yet the real triumph of this side – perhaps of Indian cricket in its entirety – is the pace attack. This core of seamers that India have accrued is so varied, so excellent, that this year they have reached new and historic heights. A quarter of Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, and Jasprit Bumrah, have excelled to a statistical level few others can match.
In 2019, India’s seamers have averaged 20 runs-per-wicket. That’s clearly superb, by the metrics we used to measure individual bowlers, but when you extrapolate it to the entire attack, it is truly elite. India have played eight Tests this year – in the entire history of Test cricket, only two sides have played as many matches in a single year with a lower bowling average for their seamers.
That’s right. The only two seam attacks in history who have managed to surpass what Kohli’s India have done this year, the only two who compare, are an England attack from an era of uncovered pitches, and a West Indies attack comprised variously of Michael Holding, Patrick Patterson, Joel Garner, Malcolm Marshall, Courtney Walsh. Of course, you would be out of order to say any of India’s current team compare on an individual level to that great attack – though in the future, who knows – but as a collective, they are delivering similarly outstanding results.
The fact that they have done this with Jasprit Bumrah – the jewel in the crown, potentially the best player in the side, and the man with the lowest average in that scatter – injured for half of the matches this year, is astounding. Bumrah is still learning his red ball craft, but he is as destructive as they come in the current game, and the fact Kohli’s side have reached these levels largely in his absence is, frankly, terrifying for the rest of the world.
The wide ranging, versatile nature of the Indian pace unit is as important as any individual aspect, but the fundamental basis of the success of the attack is, well, that they attack. They take a wicket every 31 balls, a figure that in other words means a wicket roughly every 20 minutes of bowling. This is not a grind you down, bowl dry, wait for you to tie your own noose seam attack, but rather an ultra-attacking one who will come at you from the word go.
Whilst that overall ethic of aggression underpins all the success they have had, that versatility is key. India’s seamers this year have, on average, been the second fastest bowling attack in the world, a raw ferocity present in their work which has been absent from earlier iterations. And yet, that raw pace is backed up with skill; only the West Indies, a side regaining some of their earlier excellence, have swung the ball more than India this year. Not reliant on the hard and fast surfaces of Australia (the scene of their greatest triumph to date) nor the damp, grey conditions of England (the scene of their greatest frustration), this quartet have proven themselves capable of adapting to the conditions in front of them, emphasising the particular techniques and tactics which will see them succeed in whichever situation they find themselves.
This may all sound a bit sycophantic, but frankly the praise is completely deserved. India are on fire, and either through good fortune or careful planning have found themselves in possession of four absolutely top class fast bowlers who, on their day, each offer something unique and incisive to the cause. There is a general feeling beginning to swirl around this Indian side that history is theirs to make, that era-defining dominance could be around the corner. If – or when – they ascend to that level, then they can look back on this quarter of fast bowlers, and thank them for laying the groundwork.
Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.