Steyn, Anderson, Gillespie and McGrath have shown that fast bowlers can do well in India

Fast bowlers who played pivotal roles in their team’s successes in India. (From left) Dale Steyn, James Anderson, Jason Gillespie and Glenn McGrath © Getty Images

By Nishad Pai Vaidya

Reputations can often be misleading — more so in a game of immense uncertainties like cricket. Indian pitches are said to be a spinner’s haven and graveyard for fast bowlers. Visiting teams get carried away by these notions and overemphasise on preparing their batsmen to face spin and train their spinners for increased workload. But the fact is that pacers are a vital component to the setup whose importance cannot be underestimated.

With all the talk about the importance of spinners, the role of the fast bowler has been almost pushed into oblivion. The spinners are crucial given the assistance they will get from the conditions, but recent records suggest that fast bowlers can also make an impact on the supposedly unhelpful Indian surfaces. Pure fast-bowling skill has made life difficult for the batsmen in India as numerous overseas pacemen have proved in the recent past.

Below are the records of the most successful foreign fast-bowlers in India in the last decade:

Bowler T W Overs Ave SR BBI BBM 5WI 10WM
Dale Steyn 5 26 149.5 20.23 34.5 7-51 10-108 2 1
James Anderson 7 22 230.5 29.81 62.9 4-40 6-79 0 0
Mitchell Johnson 6 21 244.4 37.23 69.9 5-64 5-93 1 0
Jason Gillespie 4 20 132.5 16.15 39.8 5-56 9-80 1 0
Andrew Flintoff 5 18 189.0 30.11 63.0 4-96 4-82 0 0
Makhaya Ntini 5 18 159.2 27.77 53.1 4-112 6-62 0 0
Glenn McGrath 4 14 141.0 25.42 60.4 4-55 6-94 0 0

Note: Since February 19, 2003.

Some of the men in the list played pivotal roles in their team’s successes in India. Dale Steyn’s figures reflect his true class as he has brought out his best in testing conditions — against a batting line-up that is prolific at home. South Africa haven’t won a series in India in the last few years, but Steyn has won them a few games to put India on the backfoot.

As the Aussies commence their challenge this year, they would be encouraged by the exploits of two of their former fast bowlers. The legendary Glenn McGrath and the dangerous Jason Gillespie were a potent combine on the 2004 tour. Mitchell Johnson, too, hasn’t done too badly. He returns as a senior bowler this time around.

For a comparative analysis, let us have a look at the performances of foreign spinners in India in the same time period:

Bowler T W Overs Ave SR BBI BBM 5WI 10WM
Danish Kaneria 6 31 367.4 39.58 71.1 6-150 7-173 2 0
Monty Panesar 8 28 380.0 38.25 81.4 6-81 11-210 2 1
Graeme Swann 6 28 286.2 28.96 61.3 5-144 8-113 1 0
Muttiah Muralitharan 6 25 310.3 43.48 74.5 7 -100 8-218 1 0
Daniel Vettori 5 19 339.3 44.47 107.2 5-135 6-199 1 0
Shane Warne 3 14 140.0 30.07 60.0 6-125 6-125 1 0
Paul Harris 5 13 221.0 54.23 102.0 3-76 4-115 0 0

Note: Since February 19, 2003

A comparison between the two tables would reveal that the fast bowlers seem to have done better than the spinners — particularly when you see the average column. The spinners have obviously bowled more overs compared to the pacers. However, the Indian batsmen play spin very well and these foreign tweakers haven’t posed too many problems. Only Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar had their way around, in the recently-concluded series.

John Buchanan, the former Australia coach’s recent statement to the Sydney Morning Herald sums it up, “You don’t take spinners just for the sake of taking a spinner. Indians are so used to playing spin bowling, there is no guarantee they are going to make an impact in a series.

Considering these numbers, the Australian selectors have done well to pick a balanced squad with a host of options. In Glenn Maxwell they have an off-spinning all-rounder and Moises Henriques is the fast-bowler who also bats well. Steven Smith can bowl leg-breaks, but hasn’t been used a lot off late. The genuine spinners in the line-up are: Nathan Lyon, Xavier Doherty and Ashton Agar. The fast-bowling pack comprises Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle, James Pattinson, Jackson Bird and Mitchell Starc.

To pick the right bowling line-up is a tricky proposition as it would have its implications on the batting as well. Lyon is the first-choice spinner and would be partnered by either Doherty or Maxwell. Picking fast-bowlers is even tougher as Johnson and Siddle are the senior men with experience on their side.

Then you have promising prospects in Pattinson, Starc and Bird.

Australia will have to be judicious in picking their bowling personnel. As Buchanan rightly said, the pace-bowling attack is the key to success in India.

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst, anchor and voice-over artist for the site’s YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He has also participated on live TV talk-shows on cricket. Nishad can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nishad_44)