Virat Kohli and His Speed Merchants

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Virat Kohli and His Speed Merchants
© Provided by News18 Virat Kohli and His Speed Merchants

The trailblazing story of Virat Kohli making an altogether tactical shift to a virtually all out pace attack in Test cricket, and getting rewards is amply manifest in the success of India’s pace spearhead Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma in the overseas terrains of Australia, England and South Africa.

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Some twelve years ago in 2010, Kohli, just into the fledgling years of international cricket — having played in limited overs format of the game, but not the exacting multi-day Test variety — had in the course of an Interaction with this reporter for sportstar magazine, put mind over matter while responding to questions on junior cricket, Ranji Trophy and his personal and team ambitions. In 2008, he had demonstrated the captaincy nous while leading India to a a fine triumph against South Africa in the ICC Under-19 World Cup final in Kuala Lumpur. Kohli was all clarity and said he was ready to play many Ranji Trophy matches in order to get enough first class experience under his belt before looking to play Test cricket.

Four years later in 2014, he was already the captain of the senior Indian Test team in Australia. As a hyperactive and thinking person he would have perhaps realised the limits to which spinners can deliver the goods in Australia, England and South Africa and the necessity to build a competent fast bowling edifice with the ultimate objective of engaging the three countries in a tussle in their conditions and score wins. It can said Kohli has largely met with success.

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On the 2014-15 tour of Australia – when Mahendra Singh Dhoni gave up Test match captaincy and Kohli led in two Tests, India’s pace pack in Shami, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Varun Aaron and Bhuvneshwar Kumar took 41 wickets as against the 16 wickets taken by off spinner Ravichandran Ashwin (12) and leg spinner Karn Sharma (4).

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On the next tour to the antipodes for the 2018-19 series, the picture changed dramatically even further with India’s pacemen accounting for 50 wickets with Bumrah taking 21 wickets. India achieved a major breakthrough winning the series 2-1.

But before this tour, India’s quicks took 61 wickets on the tour of England in August / September 2018. And on the following tour last year India’s fast bowlers took 61 wickets with the fifth Test scheduled to be played in July this year at Edgbaston.

Ever since Kohli took over the mantle of captaincy in 2014, India’s speedsters and theirs ilk have captured 480 wickets overseas with Shami leading the tally with i26 at 26.85, Bumrah 109 at 22.51, Ishant 91 at 25.59, Yadav 46 at 40.22, Mohammad Siraj 30 at 32.23, Shardul Thakur 26 at 20.69. There has been 19 five wickets hauls with Thakur’s 7 for 61 recently at Johannesburg being the best.

India’s fast bowlers have taken 2249 wickets overseas as against 1665 by the spinners. The numbers clearly indicate that a country that deploys its spinners to notch wins at home has used its seamers extensively abroad. Kapil Dev has 215 victims overseas, Zaheer Khan 207, Jawagal.Srinath 128 and 14 other bowlers between 30 and 73 wickets.

So what has been the significant difference between the fast bowlers of the past and the current lot? “Now there are half a dozen or more who can bowl consistently at speeds in excess of 135 kmph. Earlier India had swing bowlers until Kapil Dev arrived. The likes of Kapil, Jawagal.Srinath and Zaheer Khan changed the dynamics of fast bowling. We have plenty of fast bowling takent. Then, these days batters are inclined to play shots in Test match cricket. And that’s because of white ball cricket and bowlers get wickets. But as Dean Elgar (South Africa captain) showed in the second Test at Johannesburg, patience pays. Conditions abroad favour fast bowlers and their ilk. Shami and Bumrah are India’s best now,” said Balwinder Singh Sandhu of the 1983 World Cup fame.

Workload management of the present lot — even at net sessions – has largely contributed to keep the fast bowlers fresh for Test matches. Bumrah has not figured in 28 ODI matches after his debut and Shami has not figured in 99 matches after his ODI debut. Bumrah has also not figured in 38 Twenty20 internationals after his debut and Shami in 87.

Karsan Ghavri, who along with Kapil Dev took 89 wickets in 24 Tests (from 1978) as a new ball operating pair said: “You have to keep the fast bowlers like Bumrah and Shami fresh; these two should be preserved for Test cricket. There was a time when India’s best fast bowler was Ramakant ‘Tiny’ Desai and maybe Dattu Phadkar to an extent. Then came Kapil, a great fast bowler, great allrounder, great cricketer and a great athlete. We did not have fast bowlers in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s till Kapil came. Imagine Nawab of Pataudi and Sunil Gavaskar bowling with the new ball!”

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Ghavri, who took 109 Test wickets bowling left arm medium pace further said: ” Thanks to the MRF Pace Foundation and the BCCI’s National Cricket Academy there is a steady supply of fast bowlers and this will continue. Today India has 6/7 who bowl at 135/140 kmph plus speeds. You have to choose the bowlers for a match. Look what happened in the recent series in South Africa. There was pace, bounce and seam movement and only the fast bowlers took wickets. In the 1970s and 1980s, except for Kapil we did not have quality. Today we are a fast bowling powerhouse. They are all quality fast bowlers.”

Shami has sent down 10413 balls in 57 Tests Bumrah, 5830 balls in 27 Tests and Ishant 19160 balls in 105 Tests. Shami and Ishant are India’s best pair, taking 130 wickets in 61 innings and Shami and Bumrah are the second best with 125 wickets in 41 innings. These are remarkable numbers and truly Virat Kohli must get some credit for encouraging and developing these two as a formidable fast bowling pair and shaping India’s fast bowling department as a real force in the last seven years.

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