The pace duo of Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav have been the talking points of the Test series against South Africa, and with good reason.
In the series against South Africa, they picked 24 wickets compared to 10 that their South African counterparts got, and painted a clear picture of how superior they’ve been and are more than just backups for Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
THE SECOND INNINGS TRUMP CARD
Since 2018, Shami has played 18 matches and picked up 67 wickets at a stunning average of 24.62 with a career-best 6/56. But what stands out is his second-innings average of 22.58. At home, it is a mind-boggling 17.34.
So why is he so lethal in this period of the game? One reason is the way he consistently targets the stumps, allowing him to use the uncertain nature of Indian pitches.
An upright wrist position ensures the ball mostly lands on the seam, and then when he gets the ball to reverse swing (on an invariably worn out wicket), it makes him a scary prospect to face.
A lot of his wickets have come from hitting the stumps. Of his 164 wickets in Test cricket, 30 per cent have been bowled, and of the 18 fast bowlers to have taken 100 or more Test wickets since Shami’s debut, only West Indies’s Shanon Gabriel has a greater percentage of bowled dismissals.
His method of attacking the stumps doesn’t mean that he is always full and straight. A lot of times he deceives the batsmen with length, leaving them rooted to the crease, moving neither forward or back.
THE FIRST OVER KING
Umesh Yadav replaced Jasprit Bumrah just ahead of the series after India’s top fast bowler suffered a stress fracture. Grabbing the opportunity with both hands, Yadav has had an outstanding series with the ball, picking up 11 wickets at an average of 12.18, which is even better than fellow paceman Shami (14.77).
In recent times, Yadav has been simply phenomenal at home. He is now the second pace bowler after West Indies’ Courtney Walsh to take three wickets or more in five successive Test innings in India – 6/88 & 4/45 vs West Indies at Hyderabad in 2018; 3/37 & 3/22 vs South Africa at Pune; and 3/40 and 2/35 at Ranchi.
These aren’t the statistics of a backup bowler.
In the Ranchi Test, he struck with the new ball in his first over in both innings, making Quinton de Kock his bunny. A fiery bouncer got the better of de Kock in the first innings while a good length delivery in the second made the batsmen play down the wrong line, only to be clean bowled.
What stands out though is the manner in which he removed South African captain Faf Du Plessis.
At the stroke of tea, the Vidharbha pacer reminded everyone present at the ground about his fierce pace when he bowled a ripper to floor South Africa’s opening batsman, Dean Elgar. It was a vicious bouncer that hit Elgar’s helmet leaving him injured and preventing him from taking part in the match.
But despite such a memorable outing, it remains to be seen whether Yadav fits into the Indian playing XI once the likes of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah return.
The performance of the two fast bowlers is what prompted West Indies great Brian Lara to say that the current Indian fast bowling attack is similar to that of the West Indies in the 1980s and ‘90s.
“When you look at the quality – [Mohammed] Shami, [Jasprit] Bumrah, [Umesh] Yadav, they are unbelievable. And the guys that you have on the sidelines, it reminds me a little bit of what the West Indies had back in the ’80s and ’90s… the reserve strength is very important in assessing a team’s ability. If your reserve strength is very good – Bhuvi [Bhuvneshwar Kumar] and all these guys are sitting on the sidelines – then it means that your attack is quality,” he told reporters last week.