Life on the Earth has different forms. And those variety of life forms thrive the best in different geographical locations and conditions which are the most suitable for them to grow. Similarly, the game of cricket also has different types of players and each type has been known to have thrived best only in particular geographical conditions since the inception of the game. Accordingly, Pakistan have always been known for producing the best breed of fast bowlers in the world. The cricket world has been blessed by the emergence of fast bowlers like Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar from that country. And the trend has continued even today with bowlers like Mohammad Amir, Wahab Riaz, Junaid Khan and others keeping their country’s reputation intact.
Fast bowling had always been India’s Achilles heel
However, for India, fast bowling had always been the Achilles heel. Fast bowling used to be almost an alien term for Indian cricket till the last decade. Bowlers bowling at speeds of over 140 kph seemed to be a distant dream. And whenever a couple of such players would pop up from nowhere it would be nothing less than a miracle. The beginning of the 21st century saw the emergence of Indian bowlers like Irfan Pathan, Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra who had the rare ability to consistently notch up that kind of speed.
However, injuries brought them down and they were forced to convert themselves into medium pacers. There was never a time when someone would dare to rate the Indian fast bowling unit better than that of Pakistan; not even in the dreams of a crazy Indian cricket fan. Whenever the arch rivals would lock horns with each other, it would always be a contest between the Indian batsmen and the Pakistani fast bowlers.
Indian fast bowlers have evolved with time
The time has changed now. Indian cricket has undergone a huge transformation in terms of fast bowling in the last decade. Pacers like Mohammad Shami, Umesh Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar have arrived on the scene and they can give the Pakistani pacers a run for their money in Champions Trophy 2017. Merely the names of the current Pakistani left-arm quicks Junaid, Riaz and Amir are enough to intimidate any opposition. And if you add to that the conditions in England which are perfectly conducive to their kind of bowling, one can only imagine the storm that the Pakistani trio would bring with themselves. However, the Indian pace battery consisting of the likes of Shami, Yadav, Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar will ensure that their neighbours don’t steal all the limelight in the highly coveted tournament.
Is India really going into this tournament with a better fast bowling unit?
So what’s all the fuss about the Indian fast bowlers? Why are they being rated better than bowlers from the neighbouring nation which has a reputation for producing the best crop of pacers? There are a lot of reasons actually that will support the fact in favour of India.
Indian pacers are more suited to limited overs format
The Indian pacers are more suited to the limited overs format than the Pakistani pacers. There is no doubt that the Pakistani pacer-bowling trio is an absolute nightmare for any batsman in the longer format of the game. They enjoy bowling with the red cherry in Test cricket that offers more swing than the white kookaburra in limited overs cricket.
Moreover, bowling in Tests may not require the whole new arsenal comprising slower deliveries, yorkers, knuckle balls and other things. The Pakistani trio is pretty one-dimensional with none of them being known for the new limited overs tricks that other bowlers from the world have accepted and pretty much mastered as well.
However, the Indian pace battery has a lot of variety. Shami is a conventional bowler who is most lethal with the new ball and a master of the reverse swing. Umesh is all about pace, fiery bouncers and sometimes defence-breaching yorkers. And add to that the Indian version of Lasith Malinga, Jasprit Bumrah, who is a trickster with his bagful of deliveries consisting of toe-crushing yorkers and well-disguised slower balls. Last but not the least, there is Bhuvneshwar who is the most complete bowler among the four. He can bowl at any stage and anytime in the innings; just summon him to bowl and he will show the same effectiveness both at the start and at the death of the innings.
Inexperience and mental blocks in plenty for Pakistan
Junaid hasn’t been on the international scene for Pakistan for quite a long time which isn’t the case for any of the Indian bowlers. Such a long absence can really be a mental block for him and also his team. The other pacer who is in the Pakistani squad apart from the trio is Hasan Ali. He has played most of the ODIs for Pakistan in the last one year and has been successful, picking up 29 wickets in 16 matches. He has a mean slower ball and also bowls at express pace; probably the only bowler with variety in their squad. However, he is pretty inexperienced and hasn’t played much against the stronger nations yet.
None of the Indian bowlers are short on international experience and have also shown what they can do against stronger teams like Australia, England, New Zealand and others. Also, all of them have played for India more often than not in the past couple of years and there is nothing called mental block for them as is the case with Junaid. So, the Indian bowlers have an edge over their Pakistani counterparts in this respect as well.
Pakistani pacers are inconsistent while Indian pacers are not
One would rate Riaz as the most dangerous bowler in the Pakistani side – both for the opposition and his team. The reason being he can destroy the opposition single-handedly when he is at his best but can also go for a lot of runs when he is not. As much as he is remembered for his memorable spell against Shane Watson in the 2015 World Cup, he is also remembered and cursed by fans for the expensive spells that he bowls from time to time.
Amir is the most disciplined bowler in the side but in conditions against his type of bowling he will find it hard to bowl to quality batsmen. While we are yet to see how Junaid delivers, Hasan’s career economy touching six proves that he is pretty indisciplined.
The only weak link in terms of consistency in the Indian team appears to be Umesh who has a career economy rate of over six. However, he has revealed himself as a bowler with much control in the past couple of years and hence has reaped the rewards as well. And there is nothing to say about the consistencies of Bumrah, Shami and Bhuvneshwar as there is hardly anyone who does not know their kind of bowling. So, the consistency factor is in India’s favour as well.
Indian cricket has evolved but Pakistani cricket has remained stagnant
It can be said that the 2010 match-fixing saga in England, terror attacks on visiting cricketers in the country and various other political reasons pushed Pakistan cricket much behind time. It failed to keep pace with the fast evolving modern format of limited overs cricket and hence it paid the price. The result is in front of us. From the bowling perspective, it can be said that the evolution has been quite slow for them. The fast bowlers still have things to learn which will help them to survive in this age of cricket. With the old techniques they are still effective but can’t be lethal any more.
The Indian bowlers, on the other hand, have always been one step ahead of time during this period. They can now easily compete with the best bowling attacks in the world and can give opposition batsmen nightmares with bouncers being bowled at over 140 kph. No one can write them off now as a weak bowling unit. What they have now is something that they never had – the belief that they can! And they are cherishing, living and enjoying every bit of it at the moment!
(This article first appeared on Firstpost on June 03,2017)