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Pacers flourishing under Kohli

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Pacers_fast_bowlers_seamers_India_Test_Cricket“Pacers need to start using their brains more.”

After being criticised mercilessly by former skipper MS Dhoni, India’s seam bowlers have found a refuge in Virat Kohli. The new captain is open in his praise and has repeatedly stated the importance of the faster bowlers in Indian cricket. Dhoni never let go a chance to toss aside his quicks, so the likes of Ishant Sharma and Mohammad Shami had become accustomed to the wicket-keeper’s harsh words that were directed towards them almost regularly.

It was no secret that the player from Ranchi preferred his spinners to lead the bowling attack, and often Dhoni had been found guilty of using his fast bowlers’ poor form to defend his own team’s dismal run.

However, a sweeping change in the attitude towards the fast bowlers has taken place after Kohli became Test captain. Realizing the importance of consistent and fit pacers overseas, Kohli has often been found defending the quicks after a tough day at work, which is in stark contrast to the biting comments by Dhoni over the last few years.

“We don’t play only spinners, we play fast bowlers as well. We understand their contribution is also important,” is something Kohli has said quite often. This faith has reaped rich dividends. In the recent tour to England, India’s pacers often outbowled their English counterparts; returning with an inspired showing which would have been unimaginable a few years ago.

The numbers show the massive rise of the quicks under Kohli

When the Indian pace attack arrived in the United Kingdom, it was by far one of the most balanced units to have represented from India. Shami, with his ability to swing the new and old ball with pace was always going to be a handful. In Ishant, India had a bowler who could trouble rivals with his round the wicket bowling. Jasprit Bumrah, with his awkward slinging action, was touted as the X-factor.

Even Umesh Yadav and Hardik Pandya, two players who were inconsistent, picked up 13 wickets among them. And all of this despite the absence of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, India’s best swing bowler who missed the series due to an injury.

In the series against South Africa earlier this year, the quicks had impressed by taking all 20 wickets in the last and final Test at Johannesburg. Right from Ishant’s five-wicket haul at Colombo in 2015, and Bhuvi’s five wickets at Kolkata against New Zealand in 2016, the quicks have transformed their performances.

They average 30.17 under Kohli’s captaincy. Just eight quicks have played since Kohli ascended to captaincy, picking up 298 wickets, which is in huge contrast to the average of 36.65 that the fast bowlers mustered up when Dhoni was at the helm.

 

 

Pacers under Dhoni

Pacers under Kohli

Average overs bowled per Test

82

71

Wickets taken

466

298

Average

36.65

30.17

 

The above table shows how the fast bowlers have bowled on average almost 11 overs fewer in a game under Kohli. They also have a slightly better strike-rate - 61.1, as compared to the strike-rate of 64 under Dhoni’s captaincy. By bowling fewer overs, their workload is manageable but their efficiency is much greater.

The pacers under Kohli have picked up 17 5-wicket hauls - the same number as under Dhoni. But while the feat was achieved in 60 games under Dhoni, it was achieved in only 40 matches when Kohli has been leading the team. These figures show that the quick bowlers have been more effective in the last four years than under Dhoni’s leadership.

The belief that the pacers have performed well only in favourable conditions also does not hold up under examination.

 

 

Under Kohli

Under Dhoni

Average in India

31.48

32.98

Average in Sri Lanka

28.53

61.84

Average in England

28.60

45.50

Average in South Africa

22.48

44.95

Average in Australia

64.13

40.76

Average in West Indies

24.96

21.78

 

Averaging 31.48 in India under Kohli and less than 29 in Sri Lanka, the quicks have risen to the occasion even when the conditions are not in their favour. Though the pacers under Kohli average almost 65 in Australia, the Indian team has played just 2 games under his captaincy Down Under, and it would be unfair to jump to conclusions. The upcoming tour to Australia in November, hence, will be pivotal in stamping Kohli’s authority as a leader.

Though the numbers are already vastly impressive, it could have been higher if luck had favoured the Indian side the last few years. The bowlers have constantly seen edges and nicks go past the fielders and even the prolonged absence of players like Shami and Bhuvi due to injury has affected the average, which by no means is below-par.

Reasons for success in the recent era

One major reason for the success of the pacers in all conditions under Kohli is because the leader has identified his core group of fast bowlers, and has backed them even on their off days. Under Kohli, India has fielded only 8 quicks, six of them being in the radar for England. Shami, Umesh Yadav, Bhuvi, Hardik, Bumrah and Ishant were selected to go to England, though Bhuvi was later ruled out due to injury.

Only Stuart Binny and Varun Aaron are not in the fray for selection recently. Both quicks played for India way back in 2015, and for three years, Kohli has stuck to a compact group, which helps them gel together better.

Dhoni, on the other hand, constantly changed and chopped his fast bowling pool, playing as many as 15 players in six years. He also had the tendency of playing medium pacers like Praveen Kumar and Sreesanth, whilst ignoring genuine fast bowlers Umesh or Aaron in Tests. This knack spilled over to the IPL as well, where he was seen giving chances to Rajat Bhatia whilst keeping Irfan Pathan on the bench for a major portion of his tenure.

By not setting attacking fields to them or by pulling his quicks away when they were in the middle of a fiery spell, Dhoni was guilty of not allowing the quicks to reach their full potential.

As Kohli prefers to field 5 bowlers, as against Dhoni who was all in for a 4-bowler strategy, the current strategy ensures that every quick is adequately rested between spells in a Test match. With a lot of focus on fitness, the pacers have gone miles ahead in improving their stamina, which, coupled with adequate backing and support, have enabled them to perform to their fullest.

*All stats do not consider India’s Test matches against the West Indies.



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