The one great feature for India under Virat Kohli’s Test captaincy has been collective victories, even when individuals stand up and deliver that bit extra. This has allowed the team to make constant changes in the playing eleven forced by injuries.
With India playing all but six of the 20 Tests under his captaincy in the sub-continent — 10 at home — the spin attack, led by Ravichandran Ashwin, has dominated.
However, India’s pace bowlers have provided real value with their wicket-taking ability. No longer content with playing the support role to spin on slow pitches, pace bowlers, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma in particular, have showed they have come of age as a strike unit.
It is not that India pacers have not done well at home. Kapil Dev, Javagal Srinath and Zaheer Khan have produced crucial spells.
But the England series has shown the pace department has taken it to a different level.
In Mohali, India could easily have been left chasing a tricky target but for Mohammed Shami’s double strike in one over with the second new ball. Two perfect short deliveries induced awkward shots from Chris Woakes and Adil Rashid.
Shami bowled perhaps the ball of the second Test in Visakhapatnam, pitched up and swinging in to shatter skipper Alastair Cook’s off-stump.
Of the 20 games under Kohli, only two Tests in Australia in the 2014-15 series were played on pitches conducive to seam. The rest have been on slow tracks.
Shami and Umesh have consistently cranked up their pace to 140 kph plus on slow pitches. And Kohli has used them as attacking options, to provide breakthroughs and not just relief to Ashwin and Co.
Shami has been at his metronomic best since returning to the side in the West Indies, after more than a year out following knee surgery. In the Caribbean, his 11 wickets were only next to Ashwin’s series-leading 17.
Sharing the workload
In this series too, Shami’s 10 wickets again are only next to Ashwin’s 15 and level with Ravindra Jadeja. More importantly, he has bowled 103 overs and Umesh Yadav 94.5 overs, sharing the workload with the spinners (Ashwin 173.4 overs, Jadeja 161 and Jayant 50.3).
Umesh has only five wickets against England, but four catches were dropped off his bowling on a flat Rajkot pitch. Still, he accounted for Joe Root and Ben Stokes, England’s best batsmen so far in this series.
In Visakhapatnam, his dismissal of Jonny Bairstow broke a crucial partnership as England lost their last four wickets for 65 runs. That gave India a 200-run lead and a firm grip on the match.
The spinners may be carrying the day with ball and bat, but Indian pace bowlers have become an integral unit.