India have had a stellar last couple of years: the team has won eight consecutive Test series under skipper Virat Kohli, which has catapulted them to world number one in the ICC rankings.
But even though the Indian team has done wonderfully well over the last couple of years, everyone knows that their real test will begin later this year when they embark upon another round of overseas tours.
The young Indian team without experience went through a similar cycle from 2013 to 2015 without much success. Even though the team did not win many games, the core of the present team was formed during those tours. The team since their 2015 tour of Sri Lanka has gone from strength to strength and has now finished their run with a crushing 3-0 away win against Sri Lanka.
The biggest issue the Indian team had during their previous overseas stint was their pace bowling. The bowlers, though talented, weren’t consistent enough and most of the time failed to maintain the pressure on the opposition. After Zaheer Khan the Indian bowling attack also lacks the leadership they so badly need for the tours abroad.
Over the last two years since the start of the Sri Lankan tour in 2015 the Indian pace bowlers have been a great support cast for the spinners. Virat Kohli has used them well and has bowled them in short bursts throughout, getting great output from the pacers.
The biggest challenge for the pacers would be when they go outside subcontinent, when they would be expected to take the lead. If we look over the last couple of years Umesh Yadav has bowled the most number of overs among the pacers – he’s bowled 558 overs in 42 innings during that time, which gives him an average of 13 overs an innings.
Umesh Yadav also was India’s best pacer during that time and also got 51 wickets. The rest of the pacers bowled under 400 overs during, averaging between 12 and 14 overs an innings. During the same period of time Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja averaged 25 overs per innings.
Another important statistic to note is that, except for Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ishant Sharma, there have been no five-wicket hauls by fast bowlers over the last couple of years.
When India tour South Africa later this year the roles are going to be reversed and the fast men on average might have to bowl up to 20 overs an innings. The biggest challenge for the pacemen would be to make that jump and to also have the fitness to complete a full tour – India’s best pacer over the last couple years has been Mohd Shami and his fitness has been a constant worry for the team management.
Even though there has been a marked improvement in the consistency and accuracy of the fast bowlers, they would be tested to the fullest when they play outside subcontinent. They would not only be expected to take wickets but would also be expected to keep the pressure on the opposition.
India would be hoping that Mohd Shami takes the task of leading the attack and remains fit throughout. It will be very interesting to see how the fast bowlers respond to being the leader of the attack rather than just being the support cast on the subcontinent. The answer to that question will determine India’s success over the next year and a half.