A fan’s view on sports affairs : A tale of Indian fast bowling: Where it all really started?

A fan’s view on sports affairs : A tale of Indian fast bowling: Where it all really started?

As a kid, I used to listen to
the stories of the fearsome fast bowling quartet West Indies had in 70’s and 80’s
and of brilliant spin bowling quartet that India had in 60’s and 70’s from my parents. 

I myself grew up watching likes of Brett Lee and Shane Bond terrorizing batsmen
with their genuine pace and watching Kumble and Harbhajan spinning web around
batsmen as well.
I always dreamt about Indian
Cricket team having best fast bowling attack in the world, but never actually
thought this would become reality so soon.
This doesn’t mean India
never had good fast bowlers before, but we never had 4-5 fast bowlers together
at their peak with level of fitness, consistency, discipline, attitude and pace
that the current crop has. We had Kapil Dev in 80’s, then Srinath in 90’s and
Zaheer Khan in 2000’s- these three were consistent and played for long time,
others played for brief periods of time and perished. Some due to lack of
fitness, some due to lack of pace, some due to their antics.
We could not have imagined
in our wildest dreams about Indian fast bowlers taking 20 wickets on Indian
pitches. Virat Kohli deserves a lot of credit for seeing this dream about India
having best fast bowling attack and instilling it in his bowlers, backing them
and getting best out of them and thereby taking the pitches, conditions and
tosses out of equation and playing like champion side in any conditions.
Ishant Sharma, JaspritBumrah and Mohammad Shami together took 142 wickets in 10 test matches between
2018 and 2019 and it is world record. Their averages and strike rates were also
brilliant. Umesh Yadav’s numbers at home in last two years have been
exceptional- 43 wickets in 9 tests despite being in and out of the team.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar is struggling with back pain at the moment, but he’s been
around for a while and in conditions conducive to seam and swing bowling, he’s
as good as anyone in the world.
In addition to these top 5
bowlers, there are players like Navdeep Saini, Shardul Thakur and Deepak Chahar
waiting in the wing. Young lads like Kamlesh Nagarkotti are coming through the
ranks. Very promising picture overall- one thing that bothers me is except for
Khaleel Ahmad, we haven’t really found left arm fast bowlers in recent years.
In last decade we had 4 left arm bowler- Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, RP Singh
and Irfan Pathan. There is nothing wrong with playing all right arm bowlers,
but having left arm bowler add variation to attack and gives more attacking options.
We are lucky to witness this
era of genuine fast bowlers coming from India and it leads me to one question-
where it all really started?
If we open the history book
of Indian fast/medium pace bowlers, it will take us back to pre-independence
era. We had two notable bowlers back then- Mohammad Nissar (who, in his first
game, had dismissed legendary English batsman Herbert Sutcliffe) and Amar
Singh. In 60’s we had genuine fast bowler in Ramakant Desai, who had given
legendary West Indian bastmen like Rohan Kanhai run for their money.

These stories do make us
proud, but if we have to name one bowler with whom the revolution started- it
is Kapil Dev. 

He was truly great and world class fast bowler. Let alone his
batting-fielding prowess and all-rounder status, even if he was just a
specialist bowler, he could have walked into any of the Indian teams ever played till
date and arguably in any team in world as well. He had pace to hurry batsmen
and had genuine beautiful out swinger as well. He retired with 434 test
wickets- which is still a record for Indian fast bowler and probably will
remain for a long time, because for a fast bowler to remain fit for as long as
he did is very difficult, he was natural athlete.
There was one more important
thing that happened in same era that gave impetus to fast bowling revolution in
India- MRF Pace foundation started in 1987 under tutelage of Australian legend
Dennis Lilee and now guided by his compatriot Glenn McGrath. A lot of bowlers
have come through it over the years and some of them have gone on to play for
We had medium pace bowlers
like Roger Binny, Madan Lal, Balvinder Singh Sandhu in 80s along with Kapil Dev
and they were effective too. We have had genuine swing bowlers like Ajit
Agerkar, Praveen Kumar, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, R P Singh over the years and they
did produce some important performances. Some bowlers like Irfan Pathan and
Shantakumaran Sreesanth had genuine pace when they first burst onto the scene
and they also had ability to swing the ball both ways. Who can forget Irfan’s
hat-trick vs Pakistan with scoreboard showing 0-3 and Sreesanth dislodging
stumps of Gilchrist and Hayden in semi-final of T20 WC 2007 or his steamy
bouncer that woke up Jack Kallis from his sleep and made him arc his back like
a cross-bow. He also had one of the best seam presentations and beautiful out
swinger that you rarely see these days. Point is promise was there, but with
whatever reasons they didn’t become the world class bowlers we thought they
could. Ajit Agarkar had record in white ball cricket, but he could not reflect
that in red ball cricket except for that 6 wicket haul in Adelaide. RP Singh
too had great run in T20 WC in 2007, but he too disappeared quickly. Ashish
Nehra had so many injuries that meant he did not play regularly, but he
produced one of the best performances in ODI cricket with that 6 wicket haul vs
England in 2003 WC, but again could not reflect that in test cricket.
For a long time, Zaheer Khan
was a lone warrior on fast bowling front. He had genuine pace when he started,
then as his pace declined with age he added other skills in hir armour, he
could swing ball both ways, he developed knuckle ball, and he used to hide the
ball in other hand to deceive batsmen. He was first bowler after Kapil Dev and Javagal
Srinath to have equally good record in longer and shorter formats of the game.
In 2007-08, came Ishant
Sharma, who started his career by giving nightmares to Ricky Ponting. He didn’t
have control initially and frequently drifted onto the pads of right hand
batsmen due to his natural wrist position and despite his efforts he didn’t get
as many wickets and often relied on bowling short and hitting the deck hard, it
did get him wickets, but not as many as he should have. He still produced
memorable match winning spells like the one in 2014 Lord’s test 4th Innings.
The Ishant Sharma 2.0 that we are seeing right now is completely different. He
is disciplined, he has control, he doesn’t give anything away, he pitches the
ball on good length and even fuller if conditions are conducive, he’s leading
the young bowlers like an experienced campaigner that he is.
Another bowler who had pace,
but didn’t have control was Umesh Yadav. He actually has one of the most simple
and uncomplicated bowling actions, he could move the ball both ways. He was
very unlucky on some occasions with bad slip fielding or umpiring errors, but
more than that he didn’t get as many wickets because he didn’t produce as many
wicket-taking deliveries. He too has changed in last 2-3 years. He often
remains on bench and is picked if someone is injured, but whenever he gets
chances, he reaps wickets. Especially on Indian pitches, he has been absolutely
Then comes a bowler who
probably has the best seam presentation in the world, can move ball both ways,
can hit the deck hard, produces more wicket taking deliveries than anyone else
and now with the desciplined attitude, he’s literally taking wickets in bulk.
His name is Mohammad Shami.
Now last but not the least-
Jasprit Bumrah. This awesome journey of Indian fast bowling has now reached its
peak with bowler who is genuinely world class, has discipline and consistency
like a machine, has genuine pace, has impeccable control over line and length
like no one, can take wickets, can stop runs and within 3 years he’s
established himself as best bowler in the world across all 3 formats. If he
remains fit and let us everyone wish that he will remain fit for a long time,
he will go on to become one of the greatest fast bowlers in the history of
world cricket. He’s already impressed West Indian fast bowling legends Andy
Roberts and Curtly Ambrose with his ability. In his first season of test
cricket he’s taken 62 wickets in 12 test matches with an average of 19 which is
unthinkable for Indian fast bowler. He’s played those 12 games in 4 countries
overseas and managed to take fifers in all 4 countries. He is yet to play a
home test. When he first came in lime light as rookie fast bowler with awkward
action playing for Mumbai Indians in IPL, no one would have thought this guy
would go on to become best bowler in the world, but within few years he broke
into Indian limited overs team and inevitably into the test team. He’s to
bowling what Virat Kohli is to batting. He has got that hunger and fire in his
eyes. He does not say anything to batsmen, he smiles even if catches are
dropped and gets back to his mark and bowls again until he gets wicket. He
recently had his first long injury break and now he’ll be back and raring to
go. I can’t wait to see him in action.
Through this article I don’t
mean to undermine the contribution of Ashwin and Jadeja towards Indian test
cricket. They have been world class and their work has been invaluable! They
have taken over 550 test wickets between them and won India so many matches.

But, as Indian cricket fan
watching current Indian test team winning games on home turf without any
significant contribution of spinners is refreshing, not that they could not
contribute, they didn’t even get chance as fast bowlers finished things
quickly. This might be due to lack of quality batting in SA and Bangladesh, but
you can’t take away anything from Indian pacers. 

It will be interesting to see
how India’s fast bowlers perform against the Australian team that now has Steve
Smith and Marnus Labuschagne. But, we will have to wait for almost a year to witness that. 
With T20 WC coming up towards the end of this season, there is not much of test cricket lined up for India except for 2 tests against New Zealand.

I have praised current Indian pace attack so much and mentioned some greats in past, but to be honest- contribution of each and every medium pace/fast bowler who had played for India was important. As they say next generation is better because they stand on shoulders of previous. There is no summit without the base.
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