Top row (from left): Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar Bottom Row (from left): Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin © AFP
Top Row (from left): Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar
Bottom Row (from left): Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin © AFP

India could afford to go into the Johannesburg Test leaving out two spinners whose figures are up with the greatest in the history of the game. And yet they won the match, because they have pacers with incredible records as well. Arunabha Sengupta writes that the Indian bowling riches have never been so overflowing.

Ravindra Jadeja did not appear in any of the three Tests in South Africa.

The man has 165 Test wickets at 23.73. A strike rate of 61.2. Those are incredible figures for a spinner.

Considering bowling averages, if we take the entire history of Test cricket into account, Jadeja stands fifth among left-arm spinners with more than 100 wickets. Of the four men who have better averages, only Johnny Wardle played his cricket after the Second World War, and he trails Jadeja based on strike rate. The others, Bobby Peel, Johnny Briggs and Colin Blythe played before the First World War.

Jadeja’s figures, as they stand now, are better than men like Hedley Verity, Tony Lock, Derek Underwood and Wilfred Rhodes. One has to pass still more names like Rangana Herath and Iqbal Qasim before one reaches the much-vaunted Bishan Singh Bedi.

Yes, Jadeja is that good. We better acknowledge it.

If we remove the left-arm criterion, there are four more spinners who sneak in above Jadeja. The great off-break bowlers Jim Laker and Hugh Trumble, legendary leg-spinner Bill O’Reilly and the Sri Lankan freak Muttiah Muralitharan. Jadeja remains comfortably ahead of Clarrie Grimmett and Shane Warne.

India’s venue of many memorable firsts: 5 Johannesburg Tests
India’s venue of many memorable firsts: 5 Johannesburg Tests

And just after Warne, there is the other Indian spinner who played two of the three Tests in the recent South African tour. Ravichandran Ashwin currently has 311 wickets in 57 Tests at 25.56 apiece. It places him 13th on the list of spinners with 100 or more wickets.

Only Warne and Murali have captured more wickets at a better average. Ashwin has a better strike rate than both of them.

India went into the third Test at Johannesburg without Jadeja and Ashwin. These two modern day champions sat warming the benches as five seamers were fielded pursuing the policy of horses for courses.

What is more, they won the Test.

Mohammed Shami did the star turn in the second innings with a five-wicket haul. Jasprit Bumrah, the youngest of the lot, got his maiden five-for in the first innings. And then there was the continuing brilliance of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who was superb throughout the Test. The unsung hero remained Ishant Sharma, hardworking and tireless, keeping one end tight, and picking up vital wickets.

Shami has 110 wickets from his 30 Tests at 28.90 apiece. It has gone practically unnoticed that in terms of average he now heads the small group of seven Indian pace bowlers who have picked up 100 or more wickets. Of them, only the great Kapil Dev has a sub-30 average, and at 29.64 it is just about under 30.

Of these seven bowlers, Shami has by far the best strike rate. His 51.2 is comfortably ahead of Irfan Pathan’s 58.8, and Irfan’s numbers were boosted by his record against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.

If we extend the criterion of qualification to Indian pace bowlers with 50 or more wickets, Shami does not top the group in terms of averages. He is pipped by Bhuvneshwar, whose 63 wickets have come at 26.09 apiece. Shami still has the best strike rate, but with 53.1, Bhuvi is not far behind.

It is early days for Jasprit Bumrah. But his baptism in Test cricket has been incredible. His 14 wickets in his first series have come at 25.21 apiece. Currently he picks up a wicket every 48 balls.

Three pace bowlers with sub-30 averages. Okay, if we leave out the small sample of Bumrah, we still have two excellent pace bowlers who have statistically significant number of wickets at very healthy averages.

It is little wonder then that India could leave out two spinners who have numbers among the all-time greats of the game and still end up winning a Test match in South Africa.

It may be difficult to acknowledge, or even to realise. But India has never had such bowling riches.

They have never had a pair of pace bowlers boasting under-30 averages after capturing statistically significant number of wickets. It is an entirely new dimension to Indian cricket.

India did have Bedi, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar and EAS Prasanna boasting under-30 averages for much of their careers, before the quick-footed Pakistan batsmen hit the last-named through the 30-threshold. However, all of them spent most of their careers hovering about in the late 20s.

Two spinners bowling in tandem for India both averaging in early to mid-20s is also something which has never happened before. In spite of the legend of the golden days of the spinners, India have never been this blessed in the spin department either.

And the Indians can afford to bench these two spinners and still win matches with some excellent pace bowlers.

The bowling treasures of the Indian team are overflowing.

We have had dreams in the past, absurd ones. Of Roger Binny and Madan Lal striking back blow for blow after the Holdings and Marshalls had wrecked our batting. But today it is not a dream any more.

If Kagiso Rabada, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel strikes, Bhuvi, Bumrah and Shami can indeed strike back.

This Indian team is unlike any other of the past. They can beat the world.