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India’s promising young fast bowlers are fortunate to have a mentor in the highly-experienced Zaheer Khan during the tour of South Africa. Abhijit Banare explains why he is optimistic about India’s fast bowling department.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni hailed Zaheer Khan as the “Sachin Tendulkar of India’s bowling” sometime around September last year when the fast bowler was going through a rough phase. Zaheer has since taken great pains to get himself fit and has fought his way back into the Test squad. Dhoni, however, has ensured that Zaheer’s wisdom is there for the young fast bowlers during the One-Day Internationals as well by getting the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to fly down the paceman to South Africa as a mentor for the likes of Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohit Sharma and Umesh Yadav.
South Africa happens to be the same opposition against whom Zaheer made his first comeback in 2006. His inclusion, at age 35, may seems a short term plan, but the time he will spent with the young players will be hugely beneficial for Indian cricket in the long run.
Even though Bhuvneshwar is relatively senior to Shami, he is yet to prove his mettle by troubling the batsmen with the old ball — especially in Tests. Shami’s success against the West Indies has slightly overshadowed Bhuvneshwar, but he is skilled enough to share the new ball with Zaheer. His ability to move the ball both ways will test the South African batsmen. During the third One-Day International (ODI) against the West Indies, Bhuvneshwar beautifully set up Johnson Charles with his swing movement. Not only he display his skills, but he also reaffirmed his smartness under match situations — a skill which Zaheer has honed over the years.
On the other hand, Shami is moving from strength to strength. His rhythm and accuracy have been very well complimented with consistent speed of 140kmph or more. With as many as nine bowled dismissals to his name, he is already in the zone of being a threatening fast bowler.
Wasim Akram says you can keep pitching the old ball in one place and every single time the ball will reverse, unlike the wayward swing you get with the new ball, if not controlled. This is visible in the way Shami bowled to someone like Shivnarine Chanderpaul, consistently making him play and reversing the ball to great effect during the Test series last month. One can understand how crucial his success would be if India have to cheaply get rid of Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis.
South African batsmen will be a different challenge. At home, West Indies looked totally out of sorts while facing reverse swing and remained stuck to their crease. Moreover, Shami’s ability to pitch the ball back of length and get it nip in seems to be an added weapon, along with the traditional reverse. Shami’s accuracy is evident from his numbers in just two Test matches. Out of the 11 wickets, Shami has hit the stumps on seven occasions.
Mode of dismissals
With Zaheer’s experience and the abilities of Shami and Bhuvneshwar, India can certainly be a force to reckon with in South Africa. Pace may not be India’s strength, but the ability to get their line in control can still be enough to make an impact. Zaheer and Shami, being good exponents of reverse swing, can be dangerous maintaining the pressure from both ends. Hence, even if India don’t bag quick wickets early on, there is always an opportunity around the corner — something which the Indians didn’t have earlier.
One must remember the abilities of Umesh Yadav, who makes a noticeable impact with his pace. On the sidelines from the playing XI in recent matches he is a strong back-up option for the skipper. With the assistance that is on offer, Dhoni will be tempted to include him ahead of Mohit Sharma in the ODIs and an assessment of his performance will decide whether he will be the apt as a fourth seamer in Tests.
The Ishant conundrum
Ishant Sharma’s inclusion itself created a huge discussion after the poor form, followed by the exclusion from the national side for series against the West Indies. It indicated that he might be left out from the tour of South Africa. But the Delhi pacer clawed his way back with good show in the Ranji games. Bounce is something Ishant will cherish in South Africa, but whether the length will be accurate enough is a big question mark. At present it looks unlikely that he will feature in the playing XI. But going by Dhoni’s record of backing his players, Ishant can be optimistic.
For a long time, fast bowling has not been India’s strength. However, the promising start made by the present lot has given India a lot to be hopeful about. Having bowled well in subcontinent pitches (without assistance to the fast bowlers) with fruitful results, the next six months will be a wonderful opportunity for the pacers. High on form, they move into bowling-friendly pitches of South Africa, New Zealand and England in mid-2014. A successful run on these tours will go a long way in building their respective careers.
(Abhijit Banare is a reporter at CricketCountry. He is an avid quizzer and loves to analyse and dig out interesting facts which allows him to learn something new every day. Apart from cricket he also likes to keep a sharp eye on Indian politics, and can be followed on Twitter and blog)
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