Arguably, if there is only one missing component in India’s pace attack for the World Test Championship final against New Zeeland and subsequently for the Test series against England, it is a proven ‘left-arm’ pacer. Yet, very few can disagree with the assessment that never ever such a potent squad of fast bowlers has been assembled for a Test series by India. Of course, the quartet of Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah and Umesh Yadav were instrumental in India winning its first-ever series on Australian soil in 2018 but now with the addition of Mohammed Siraj who can win a Test on his own makes this bowling attack ‘potentially the best ever’ in the history of Indian cricket.
The current Indian pace attack collectively has over 700 Test wickets and is quite extraordinary to see Indian cricket. The last time when Indian attack had a force of nearly 700 wickets or so, was in the late 1970s when the famous spin quartet of Bishan Singh Bedi, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, Erapalli Prasanna and Srinivas Venkataraghavan were ruling the world.
The emergence of Kapil Dev as a world-class pace bowler revolutionized Indian cricket once the spin quartet faded away and yet until a few years ago, India would still struggle to field four quality pacers in a Test XI overseas. Not anymore. In fact, nobody could have imagined that India could win a Test series in Australia in 2020 without Ishant(ruled out before the series started), Shami, and Umesh(both came back midway after getting injured). Bumrah too didn’t play all the four matches on the tour. And that is where the sensational rise of Siraj was such a marvelous story of the Australian tour. Siraj may be the least experienced among the five pacers but he has shown that he has got the pace of Umesh, the guile of Shami, and temperament of Bumrah(to be a leader of a pace attack without much international experience). And, if he can spend enough time with the experienced quartet, who knows he may last as long as Ishant(who has played over 100 Tests now) has.
While Ishant and Umesh are in their late 30s, Shami is the link between the new generation of pacers like Bumrah and Siraj who are in their late 20s. A 30-year-old Shami may not be the leader of the attack but perhaps is the one central figure that can connect seamlessly across the generations.
It will be a dream comes true for any of the pacers to feature in the final of the World Test Championship against New Zealand. All of them have been successful and have got a fine reputation. Doubtless, Bumrah will be the first pacer in the list when Virat Kohli selects his final playing XI even if numbers suggest that no one has got more wickets (85 wickets in 23 Tests) than Shami amongst pacers since 2018. So, there is little doubt that who is going to be the preferred partner for Bumrah. Even if Yadav’s strike rate (35.1) is better than Ishant (43) since 2018, the Nagpur pacer will have to wait in favour of the veteran. Even if Ishant didn’t play any of the Tests on the victorious tour of 2007 in England, he was part of the squad (not officially as a net bowler but someone to be groomed for future).
Ishant had a great start in 2011 before he got injured and also won a Test on his own (a match-winning 7/74 at Lord’s in the second innings) in 2014. Effectively, the Delhi pacer has been touring England for one and half decade with every Indian team. And, that experience can only help his team-mates.
Despite having so many world-class pacers at his disposal, Kohli must be keeping his fingers crossed. It is still a month to go before team India departs for England. In the Covid time and bio-bubble life, one can never be a hundred percent certain for the availability of all the pacers with so much happening off the field. Yet, if all the pacers remain fit and are raring to go in the month of June, not only Kohli but Indian cricket will be blessed to witness such an assembly of pace bowlers for a very important series.
Never since the days of Caribbean dominance in the late 1970s and the Australian juggernaut at the beginning of the new century, has a team possessed such a wonderful pace attack. If this attack can help India win a Test championship final and also a Test series win in England after a gap of 15 years, this will truly be the coming of age for the Indian pace attack.