Kumar’s pedigree is proven. He sparkled in England four summers ago taking 19 wickets and in his most recent Test series, against South Africa earlier this year, he produced some terrific spells (think back to day one at Newlands when he reduced the hosts to 12/3). But in his absence the onus will be on the likes of Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav, both with plenty of experience behind them, to step up.
India’s most capped member in the 18-man Test squad is Ishant Sharma. 82 Test matches old, the lanky Sharma is still not a certainty in every Test XI India fields. However, recent outcomes have been more encouraging. In South Africa Sharma picked up eight wickets in two Tests and before that against Sri Lanka at home too he pocketed eight in two Tests, indicating that he is finding some consistency at long last. In England, Sharma has tasted success before - 25 wickets in seven Tests including an unforgettable 7/74 in 2014 when he bounced the English batsmen to help India win a Test at Lord’s after 28 years.
Of late, Sharma’s role has been of the senior bowler who can contain the runs and work alongside Kumar and Shami as the third seamer. He may not quite swing the ball like Kumar but Sharma can hit consistent lines and lengths and the county stint at Sussex this year, where he picked up 15 wickets at a shade over 23 in four matches, will be an invaluable experience.
For Shami, the last few months have been a roller coaster with well documented family problems and fitness issues. He missed the Afghanistan Test in June after failing the Yo-Yo test but having cleared it now, Shami will be eager to get back to his best. Remember, he was the highest wicket-taker in South Africa, claiming 15 scalps in the three Tests, and an inspired spell in the Johannesburg Test when he took 5/28 in the second innings helped India win the dead rubber. Shami’s away swingers were a nightmare to tackle for the South African batsmen and with his ability to consistently clock over 140 kilometres per hour, he could be lethal in bowler-friendly conditions in England.
That brings us to the third cog in India’s wheel. Umesh Yadav was called the “most improved fast bowler” by the team’s batting coach Sanjay Bangar last year after his performances against Australia at home. Over the course of the season, Yadav bowled more overs than any Indian seamer in the past. Since then though he has been relegated to the bench most of the time with Kohli preferring his fast bowling colleagues to him.
Yadav didn’t set the world on fire in the white ball games when asked to step in for Bumrah and Kumar, and looks the likeliest to warm the bench as the Test series starts. Should India play with three seamers and two spinners as their preferred combination, Yadav may be forced to sit out but with his pace and the ability to get late swing, on his day Yadav can be a lethal addition to the pack.
How All-rounder Hardik Pandya responds to the demands likely to be placed on him with the ball will be eagerly watched. India will look to him to perform both a holding role as well as a partnership breaking one and if Pandya can provide that service adequately, India will play each game as a well-balanced unit.
Lastly, the uncapped Shardul Thakur completes India’s fast bowling line-up. Thakur, who has impressed only in bursts during his ODI and T20I appearances, has taken his 188 First-class wickets at less than 29 in his career. The Mumbai seamer will find himself as the last name in the pecking order but over a five-Test series, it is not unthinkable that Thakur gets a look-in.
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First Published: July 24, 2018, 4:22 PM IST