If you were watching the final innings of the Pune Test, you may have noticed Aiden Markram’s second duck, Dean Elgar’s reckless hoick, Umesh Yadav’s lucky wicket, Keshav Maharaj’s and Vernon Philander’s resistance and maybe even the fact that the Indian pacers took as many wickets as the spinners in either innings.
What you probably did not notice, or perhaps what was less evident, was a handing over of mantles.
At home, at least, India have been riding on their spinners to intimidate opposition and win Test matches. So ruthless they have been that in the last decade, India have lost only four home Tests.
That they win at home more often than not is a well-known fact. That they win with their spin attack too is known. That their pacers even compete neck-to-neck with overseas pacers on greener tracks is known as well.
But at Pune, in the second innings, India opted to enforce the follow-on, perhaps backing their spinners on a fourth day wicket to do the job. Instead of throwing the spinners at South Africa straight away with the new ball – this despite Ravichandran Ashwin’s commendable record with the new ball in Tests – India bowled pace for 11 straight overs.
Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav bowled five apiece upfront followed by one over from Shami before Kohli brought in Ashwin to give his new ball bowlers a breather.
There’s nothing refreshing about this if you aren’t a keen follower of cricket, especially cricket in India. But on the dustbowls in the country, India are usually content giving their spinners the new ball to run through non-Asian sides in the second innings when the pitch starts cracking up.
Here, they were banking on their seamers and Umesh and Ishant justified the call by reducing South Africa to 21/2. After the middle-order collapse, when Maharaj and Philander yet again put up a resistant show, it was once again pace providing the breakthrough for India. Umesh prized out Philander and Kagiso Rabada in the same over to put India on the brink of a series win.
India’s Fast Bowling Revolution
India’s pacers are no longer just making up the numbers in this part of the world. That they out-bowled South Africa’s own pace attack twice in two Tests at home is enough evidence to suggest that the Indian fast bowling revolution isn’t just a phenomenon that happens on greener pitches abroad. At home, even without the aid of reverse swing or lateral movement, India’s pace attack is effective.
South Africa, for one, has never faced a more potent pace attack in Asian conditions in a series.
Pace bowlers have taken 16 of the 40 South African wickets to fall this series and the returns have come at a strike rate of 43, the best by any pace attack (min 10 overs of pace in the series) in a series against South Africa in Asia.
The confidence in India’s pace attack is emphasised by the 11 overs Virat Kohli gave to his pacemen with the new ball in the second innings.
Make no mistake. It isn’t a one-off.
After losing to Australia at this very venue in 2017 on a crumbling, turning wicket that the ICC termed ‘poor’, India went on to win the series. In their next home Test against Sri Lanka at Kolkata, India had a green top and some fiery Lankan bowlers to fight. Bowled out for 172 in the first innings, India conceded a 122-run lead.
In the second innings, they put up 352 on the board before declaring in an attempt to force a result. With rain having washed out most of the first two days, this Test was unlikely to have a result. The spinners were going to be ineffective anyway, but here was an Indian captain making a strong statement by declaring – chase down 231 but we have the pace attack to silence you.
Silence they did. Sri Lanka were reduced to 75/7 as Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav shared the spoils. India did not win the Test, but like at Pune here, Kolkata in 2017 was a statement-making effort from the Indian pacers.
While South Africa came fearing a repeat of 2015 where the Indian spinners roiled them over in the first three days on questionable wickets, they have been handed a reality check by India’s seamers. The pitch question – a pertinent one before the series began – has taken a back seat with even the opposition captain acknowledging after the Vizag Test that the pitch was “ideal”.
It isn’t the spinners that have given South Africa a mighty headache. Sure, Ashwin and Jadeja have been effective and dominating as always. But South Africa have walked in to face spin with some of their better batsmen already dismissed to pace, a less than ideal situation if you are looking to win in the sub-continent.
As such, this tour is perhaps treading down a worse path than 2015 for the Proteas. Then, they had the pitch, India’s unassailable spinners and batsmen’s inexperience with spin to blame. This time, they have been outplayed by a fantastic bowling attack led by pacers and ably supported by spinners. It must be remembered that the most effective of those Indian pacers in the last year – Jasprit Bumrah – has played no part in this series.
(Rohit Sankar is a freelance cricket writer. He can be reached at @imRohit_SN.This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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