NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Having spent frustrating decades envying Pakistan’s endless supply of fast bowlers across the border, India’s excitement around their current pace attack is palpable but they would do well to temper their sunny optimism in Australia.
For a nation that traditionally built their bowling attack around crafty spinners who operated as if their life depended on it, India have finally acquired a versatile pace attack, which helped them claim 20 wickets in all but two tests this year.
India captain Virat Kohli pleasantly finds himself spoilt for pace choice, a luxury none of his predecessors in the job had, and is naturally upbeat about winning the four-test series Down Under, something the previous Indian teams could not manage in 11 previous attempts.
In Mohammed Shami, the tourists have got a quick who can move the ball both new and old. It was hardly a surprise that the Indian board limited his workload to 15-overs-per-innings in the domestic Ranji Trophy prior to the series in Australia.
Among others, Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s prodigious swing, Umesh Yadav’s consistent pace and Ishant Sharma’s extra bounce make them real assets.
Cherry on top is Jasprit Bumrah, whose sling-arm action and awkward release point along with his ability to bowl yorkers almost at will adds an X-factor to the unit.
When coach Ravi Shastri was asked in August if this was the best Indian attack ever, the former test player gushed, “By a mile, by a mile. No (other India) team comes even close.”
South Africa captain Faf du Plessis concurred, having had a first-hand experience against them earlier this year when his team prevailed 2-1 in an intense home series.
"... for the first time, they've got three or four seamers in their squad that can bowl 140(kph)-plus and are very good bowlers," du Plessis told www.cricket.com.au recently.
“Obviously when you come to conditions like South Africa, Australia, England, you need pace bowlers and in the past they might have had one or two, but now they’ve got three or four.
“And when they travelled in South Africa (earlier this year), we felt like that was the best pace (attack) that they’ve had.”
Considering they will be operating against an Australian team shorn of two of their best batsmen — the banned duo of Steve Smith and David Warner — India have reasons to be optimistic but the challenges are substantial.
For starters, it is going to be a different ball game, quite literally.
Unlike the SG or Dukes balls they usually wreak havoc with, the old Kookaburra in Australia does not really swing or seam, which could substantially defang the Indian quicks, especially Kumar, who is unlikely to be fielded for the series opener in Adelaide from Thursday.
The lack of sideways movement from the firm surfaces will also mitigate the threat Shami or Yadav would otherwise pose bowling elsewhere, while the heat will challenge them to maintain their pace throughout the day.
Sharma will be looking forward to the extra bounce as he chases redemption in arguably the cruellest place for a touring bowler where each wicket has cost the touring bowlers 47 runs since 2000.
In his 10 tests Down Under, the gangly quick has managed only 20 wickets with an embarrassing 62-plus average - worst by a full-time bowler who has sent down a minimum of 2000 balls in Australia.
The team could still benefit from the experience of the 30-year-old, believes former India pace spearhead Zaheer Khan.
"Ishant leading the attack on his fourth tour (of Australia) now, that's heaps of experience which is very important," Khan told www.cricbuzz.com.
“You need not look at the numbers all the time... the experience of playing in Australia is going to play a huge role.”
Editing by Sudipto Ganguly