It is easy to get lost in the magic that is India’s batting in the limited-overs format, but to not pay heed to the evolution of India’s One-Day International bowling unit would be a travesty.
The young attack gave evidence of its prowess in the five-match series against Sri Lanka, gifting Virat Kohli with plenty of options as he looks to pick the perfect batch for the 2019 World Cup.
Let us start with the spinners. Eyebrows were raised when R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja were left out of the one-day squad, but in Axar Patel, Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal, India seem to have identified a promising spin unit, whether back-up or otherwise.
Axar provides probing accuracy and will only get better as he adds to his 34 ODI appearances. Of course, the 23-year-old from Gujarat is no Jadeja on the field, but with the bat in hand, he has shown in the past that he can be as efficient as the senior left-hander.
“I think the way Axar has bowled this series is outstanding,” said Kohli after India’s six-wicket win on Sunday (September 3) which ensured a 5-0 series sweep.
“If you can restrict batsmen even though you don’t have variations, it’s quite remarkable. He is a conventional spinner who varies his pace very well. Also, I think his height helps him get that extra bounce and his strong shoulder help him with extra pace.”
Ashwin is the greatest spinner India has produced over the last few years and his numbers, in Tests for sure, attest to that fact, but there is a feeling that the Indian management could be looking beyond him or at least trying to find back-ups for leaner times.
With the offspinner rested, Chahal and Kuldeep gobbled up their chance. Chahal, the legspinner, was the more successful of the two youngsters, picking up five wickets from four games at an economy of 4.70. Kuldeep played in the last two games and returned with three wickets for 71 runs at an economy of 3.80.
Tin the final one-dayer at the R Premadasa Stadium, Kuldeep and Chahal completed their full quota, giving away 40 and 36 runs respectively. More importantly, Kuldeep got rid of Angelo Mathews at a time when the former Sri Lanka skipper threatened to add to his half-century and carry the hosts to a healthy total. Chahal picked up the scalp of Akila Dananjaya with a neatly tossed leg-break to deceive the charging batsman with his dip.
“These guys were brilliant,” said Kohli, referring to Kuldeep and Chahal. “Being wrist spinners, they will always keep you in the game. I certainly felt that they were spot-on with attacking all the time. You might see changes in the bowling attack every now and then but these guys have grabbed the opportunity really well. It’s going to be a challenge among all the bowlers and the spinners that are going to be in the part of the bigger group to make it to the 2019 World Cup.”
India also have Kedar Jadhav’s part-time off-break to lean back on. Though he is in the side mainly for his ability with the bat in the middle order – case in point his 63 on Sunday — his clever use of the crease and angles of release may not always result in wickets but it does tie batsmen down often enough.
Now, let us take a look at the pace unit. India came into this series with Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah and Shardul Thakur as the frontline pacemen. Hardik Pandya, the allrounder with the ability to bowl at upwards of 140 kmph, is the other option.
Of the lot, it was Bumrah who sizzled. The Gujarat paceman picked up 15 wickets from 43.2 overs and gave away just 169 runs. His average was a remarkable 11.26 and his economy was an impressive 3.90. Sri Lanka would have hoped that India would rest him at some point in the series. To their misfortune, he played in all five games and tormented them, picking up the man of the series honour for his efforts.
“Jasprit has been our most effective short-format bowler in the last 18 months. He has really worked on his bowling a lot, especially his length ball has picked up more pace. That’s very heartening to see because it never lets the batsmen get settled. It’s not only about yorkers and slower balls anymore,” said Kohli on the now No. 4-ranked ODI bowler in the world.
“He can bowl a good length ball and nick you off as well, which I think is the biggest improvement in his bowling. Credit to him for shaping his game that way. Getting a man of the series award in the subcontinent as a fast bowler, it’s always a great thing to achieve. He bowled in really good areas and he deserves to be the man of the series. I hope he can continue the same way against Australia.”
If Bumrah is not enough of predicament, Bhuvneshwar is always around to bother you. Moving the ball both ways with remarkable control, he has found the right balance between speed and swing to put batsmen in awkward positions. He has also added a neat knuckle ball to his arsenal. Although he picked up only five wickets, all of which came in the last game, the Meerut-born 27-year-old has bowled some commendable spells.
Too little has been seen of Thakur, but if pace and deceptive bounce are what India are on the look-out for, his strong frame fits the bills nicely. In his two games so far, control has seemed an issue. Some playing time going forward could relax the nerves and get him in line.
With Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav rested, those included made use of their chances. Some were more successful, but that does not mean it is the end of the road for those who did not bulk up their numbers.
India have nearly 40 ODIs lined up before the World Cup and there is every possibility of injury and lack of form affecting those with seemingly established positions. Fortunately, Kohli has the appropriate piece to move into position for each of those slots. By his own admission, the Indian skipper could not be luckier.