India are taking along six frontline pace bowlers to England © Getty Images & PTI
After India toured England in 2011, they returned with their tails truly between their legs with a 4-0 defeat. Shiamak Unwalla analyses whether the excess baggage of fast bowlers is overkill for a short-of-confidence Indian Test team.
The last time India travelled to England, they arrived at the British Isles as the best Test side in the world and the recently crowned ODI champions. By the time they left, after over a month, they were battered and broken after losing all four Tests and three out of four completed ODIs (the other was a tie). They didn’t recover from the psychological scars for a very long time, and have not won a single Test match overseas since that series.
In that series, Zaheer Khan bowled 13.3 overs on the first days play and picked up two wickets. He then limped off the ground with an injury and had to return to India to recuperate. RP Singh was called up after India lost two games, and started off his comeback match with a wide ball aimed at where the seventh stump might have been.
Perhaps as cover for such an eventuality, India have gone to England with a shockingly high number of medium pace and fast bowlers. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Ishwar Pandey, Ishant Sharma, Varun Aaron, and Pankaj Singh are the six frontline pace bowlers in the Indian side. Then there is the medium-pace bowling all-rounder Stuart Binny.
Now, what is interesting is that each of these six pace bowlers are entirely different from each other. Bhuvneshwar Kumar is someone who likes to swing the new ball at a fairly decent clip. Mohammad Shami is much quicker, and gets good bounce while reverse swinging the old ball. Ishwar Pandey is someone who gets steep bounce while moving the ball at a fair pace. Ishant is someone who can really not be classified, as he ranges from the sublime to the pathetic in a single series. Varun Aaron is quick but wayward. New man Pankaj Singh is a very exciting prospect. He’s tall, gets good bounce and can generate movement off the pitch.
While this much variety may seem like a mouth-watering prospect, the fact is that India plays five tests in England. It would be unfair — and unwise — not to give a bowler a longish run of at least two or three matches. However, assuming India plays three bowlers in each game, playing six different bowlers will be practically impossible as that would not allow any of them to settle and as a group — pace bowlers invariably “hunt in packs” remember — they would not be able to find any consistency.
Imagine this scenario: Bhuvneshwar with his swingers bowls with the new ball with Mohammad Shami, with Ishant Sharma coming in first change. Each of these three have played together at least in ODIs. They would know how each one bowls and they would have some chemistry between them. Now, assuming hypothetically that one or two of them don’t perform, and say Ishant makes way for Ishwar Pandey and Bhuvneshwar makes way for Varun Aaron. These guys haven’t bowled very much together and might not be able click together, which may in turn cause say Mohammad Shami to be replaced by Pankaj Singh. Again, this may cause the new pack to not click together.
Of course, this is all hypothetical and maybe the pace attack will go on to win the series for the Indians — that will make many people very, very happy — but the fact is that by taking so many pace bowlers to England, the message that is passed loud and clear is that India does not have a lot of faith in its pace bowlers — be it form or fitness.
A 17-member squad might be overkill, but it is the reality of the Indian team that will tour England. Whether such a large selection pool will help India’s cause or hamper it, only time will tell. Hopefully a better result than 4-0 will await us.
(Shiamak Unwalla is a reporter with Cricket Country. He is a self-confessed Sci-Fi geek and Cricket fanatic who likes to pass his free time by reading books, watching TV shows, and eating food. Sometimes all at the same time. You can follow him on twitter at @ShiamakUnwalla)