India today has one of the most effective pace attacks in the world, because of which it is generating hope of becoming a formidable foe in foreign conditions as well.
How times have changed! We as cricket fans in the seventies grew up suffering from an inferiority complex due to India’s lack of genuine fast bowlers. While Indian spinners ensnared the best of batsmen in their web of deception, the absence of quality pacemen stymied our all-round strength.
The one-eyed Tiger Pataudi had the vision to realise that it was a waste of time to scout for fast bowlers in a country where slow, low wickets discouraged even the strongest from hurling the ball at a great velocity. While we rejoiced at a Chandra, a Bedi and a Prasanna foxing the most nimble-footed, our opening bowlers were meant only to wear the shine off the ball.
Whenever a mention of fast bowling was made, the reference went back to India’s nascent entry into the Test arena in the 30s and 40s, when Mohammad Nissar and Amar Singh bowled in tandem and struck fear among Englishmen.
Then in 1978, India discovered a strapping, lithe youth from the geometrically designed city of Chandigarh; one who promised to fulfil the void that India was so desperately struggling to fill.
Kapil Dev was no ordinary cricketer. He could bowl quick, move the ball both ways, and bat like a millionaire on a reckless spending spree. His hunger for a fight and desire to prove his talent in the most demanding of situations was the perfect balm for a wounded Indian attack.
For a country whose opening attack had been a joke for a substantial period of time, the emergence of Kapil as a match-winner had a cascading effect on subsequent generations.
Javagal Srinath — the genial giant from Karnataka who is perhaps among the fastest India may have seen so far — was to take on the mantle from Kapil. Not always as accurate or lethal as the master, Srinath at his best was as quick as anyone in the world. In combination with Venkatesh Prasad, the formidable pair served India well.
The fast-bowling revolution that Kapil had started had by now spread far and wide across the country. With better grounds, training facilities, and coaching techniques, India were to suddenly discover that instead of searching for fast bowlers, they had to pick from among a large number of genuinely talented bowlers.
Zaheer Khan is the best example of how India had now become home to some of the best pacers in the world. Had he not been plagued by injuries and fitness problems, Zaheer may have been one of the leading all-time bowlers.
Today, if India believes that it can become an invincible outfit — even away from home — a lot of it has to do with its diverse range of fast bowlers.
Umesh Yadav, like no bowler in the past, can bowl at speeds unheard of, that too for long spells. Mohammed Shami is not just quick, he can also swing the ball even in not-too-conducive conditions. Bhuvneshwar Kumar has shown phenomenal improvement after injuries had forced him out of the team. In Jasprit Bumrah, India has a pacer whose unusual action, accuracy and mastery over yorkers has befuddled the best. Someone like the gangling Ishant Sharma may not have fulfilled the promise he had shown, but he is still lurking in the background and trying to make an impact.
For long, India has been hoping to find another Kapil. Though it will be heresy to compare anyone with the original genius, there is little doubt that in Hardik Pandya, India may have unearthed a jewel who could be the all-rounder it was so desperately in search of. Pandya’s emergence lends the team the balance it lacked so far, as it makes a serious bid to become the most formidable in the world while playing away from home.