Mohammed Shami will be making a comeback into the Indian XI after a gap of more than six months after a fracture in his forearm had forced him out of the team during the Adelaide Test Down Under in December 2020. Shami will join Jasprit Bumrah and Ishant Sharma and the trio will be seen together in whites for India for the first time since February last year when they played against New Zealand at the Basin Reserve in Wellington. A confident Shami stated that the Indian pace unit was more potent and threatening than their New Zealand counterparts and will pose a bigger threat during the final of the World Test Championship starting in Southampton on the 18th of June.
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Let us compare the trio of Bumrah, Shami and Ishant with the New Zealand trio of Trent Boult, Tim Southee and Neil Wagner and see which fast bowling unit poses a bigger challenge in English conditions in what would be early summer.
New Zealand Pace Unit Has A Slightly Better Overall Record
Southee, Boult and Wagner have a combined experience of 199 Tests in which they have picked 802 wickets at an average of 27.82 and strike rate of 55.6. On the other hand, Bumrah, Ishant and Shami have played a collective 170 matches and bagged 566 wickets at an average of 29.29 and strike rate of 55.79. This suggests while the overall wicket-taking prowess of the two pace units is similar, the New Zealand bowlers are more restrictive in terms of the runs they concede per dismissal.
However, these numbers are incomplete and need to be dug deeper in terms of form, conditions and contribution in wins.
India and New Zealand might well play a seamer as their fifth bowling option as conditions in Southampton in the early English summer may assist the fast bowlers more than the spinners. In such a scenario, there is a strong chance of both Umesh Yadav and Kyle Jamieson making it to the respective XIs - both of whom have played an integral part in their team’s success in the run up to the WTC Final. Thus, we extend the analysis to compare the form of the overall pace unit of New Zealand with India.
India’s Pace Unit The Most Threatening In The World Since 2018
One of the major reasons for India dominating the Test format is the presence of four world class fast bowlers in their armoury. India have always boasted of great batsmen and spin bowlers but the real differentiator for them ending as the number 1 team in the ICC Test Rankings for five years in a row is the quality of fast bowlers at their disposal.
The Indian pace brigade has the best average and strike rate in the world since 2018 - and that is some achievement. It basically means that the quartet of Bumrah, Shami, Ishant and Umesh is the most lethal pace attack in the world - better than the Australian attack of Cummins, Hazlewood and Starc. The combined bowling average of the Indian pace unit in this time frame is 22.8 and strike rate 45.6 - both the best in the world. The corresponding numbers for New Zealand are 25.24 and 54.8. There is a significant difference in the strike rate which suggests that the wicket-taking propensity of the Indian fast bowlers is what really separates them from the others in the last three years.
It is during this time that India recorded two of their greatest triumphs in history in Test cricket - the successive overseas wins in Australia. While Bumrah and Shami led the charge with the ball in 2018-19, it was Mohammed Siraj who was the leading wicket-taker for India in the absence of the main bowlers in 2020-21.
India’s Pace Attack A Bigger Contributor In Wins
India has won 18 matches since 2018 in which at least one of their pace quartet has featured. The combined average of the fast bowlers in these 18 matches is 17.07 and strike rate 35.4. The corresponding numbers for the New Zealand trio of Boult, Wagner and Southee are 21.39 and 46.7 - again the major difference being in the ability of the Indian pace attack to pick more wickets.
The Indian bowlers have picked three or more wickets in an innings on as many as 31 occasions in these 18 matches. The New Zealand fast bowlers have bagged three-plus on 40 instances in 14 matches but the main reason for that is the presence of two world class spinners in India in R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja who share the Bowling Impact with the pace bowlers. New Zealand does not have any renowned spinner in Test cricket and thus all the damage is done by their seam bowlers only.
The Indian bowlers have dismissed the opposition for a total of less than 200 on 10 occasions outside of India since 2018 - it is the Indian pacers who have played the leading role with the ball in these matches. The New Zealand team has achieved the feat on 12 occasions but 9 of these have been at home and only three overseas (in Abu Dhabi and Colombo). New Zealand have toured Australia in this period but failed miserably.
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The Australia Comparison
The Indian fast bowlers picked 92 wickets in 8 matches in Australia over two tours at an average of 27.21 and strike rate of 56.4 with three five-wicket hauls. They bowled out Australia for less than 250 on six occasions in 13 innings.
The New Zealand fast bowlers picked 39 wickets in 3 matches in Australia in 2019-20 at an average of 33.3 and strike rate of 71.2 with one five-wicket haul. Only once in 6 innings did they have Australia in trouble.
The Impact of The Indian Pace Trio is Higher
Bumrah, Shami and Ishant have played 11 matches together in which the Indian fast bowlers have picked a whopping 162 wickets at an average of 22.34 and strike rate of 47.2. India has won 6 of these matches.
Boult, Southee and Wagner have played 36 matches together in which the New Zealand fast bowlers have picked 566 wickets combined at an average of 26.21 and strike rate of 53.5. Since 2018, they have represented New Zealand in 12 matches in which the pace unit has bagged 212 wickets as a collective at an average of 24.32 and strike rate of 50.9 - again impressive numbers but a touch below their Indian counterparts. Although New Zealand has won 9 of these 12 matches all these have come at home.
Numbers in England In New Zealand’s Favour
Ishant Sharma is the most experienced of the fast bowlers on either sides with respect to playing in English conditions. He has picked 43 wickets in 12 Test in the Old Blighty at an average of 33.9 and strike rate of 61.3 with two memorable performances - Lord’s 2014 and Birmingham 2018.
Bumrah had a decent outing in 2018 and returned with 14 wickets in 3 matches at an average of 25.92 and strike rate of 57.1.
The only disappointment for India has been the performance of Shami in the country. He has bagged just 21 wickets in 8 Tests in England at an average of 47.04 but given his form in the last few years Shami 2.0 might well be a different prospect with the new red cherry.
Overall the Indian pace trio have picked 78 wickets in 23 Tests in England at an average of 36.01 and strike rate of 64.73.
The New Zealand pace battery has better numbers in England with 48 wickets in a total of 11 Tests at an average of 29.7 and strike rate of 59.16. Boult has a fine record there with 21 wickets in 4 matches at an average of 23.14 and strike rate of 52.
Given conditions in England will be somewhat similar to the one’s back home, this is one parameter where the New Zealand bowlers have an advantage over their Indian counterparts.
Taking all the factors into consideration, the Indian bowlers might edge out the New Zealand unit in England. Their collective form, recent wicket-taking prowess and the standout performances in Australia make them a potent force in comparison with their New Zealand rivals who only have the advantage of conditions with them.
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