India have been in a superb form this season, winning almost everything thrown their way. They came out victorious in a packed home season against top sides including England, Australia and New Zealand. Since the appointment of Virat Kohli as the ODI skipper, India are yet to be beaten in a bilateral series. To manage the workload of a packed home season, India regularly experimented with young guns and different team combinations. It was a successful strategy, as during 2017 India won 19 out of the 26 ODIs they played with their win/loss percentage of 3.16 coming second only to England.
While batting has traditionally remained India’s strongest suit in limited over’s cricket, it’s the bowlers who have been winning India matches more often. Since the change of captaincy, a visible shift in the bowling department has been witnessed with India going in with three seamers alongside two spinners, with Hardik Pandya serving as the fourth fast bowling option.
Under Dhoni, the combination was two seamers and two spinners with ten overs shared by the part-timers including the likes of Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina and Virat Kohli among others. But Kohli has preferred going in with five to six genuine bowlers. The emergence of Hardik Pandya as an explosive middle-order batsman and a pacer who regularly clicks north of 140kph has proven an invaluable addition to the side.
In 2017, India have bowled out the opposition six times. The ratio was almost the same under Dhoni as well, but the thing that has changed under Kohli is the fact that fast bowlers are leading the wicket charts now as compared to the spinners during the former’s era, despite having played most of their games at home.
Jasparit Bumrah, Hardik Pandya and Bhuvneshwar Kumar top the list with 35, 27 and 25 scalps each. Young spinners Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal follow the three seamers, while the Ravi Ashwin and Jadeja have mostly been rested in the ODIs giving youngsters ample chance to prove at the top level.
Following the 2011 World Cup win till the 2015 World Cup, India stuck with two frontline pacers with Ravi Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja being the two spinners, while Dhoni managed the rest from the part-timers. The reliance on spinners is evident from the numbers as they dominate the charts during this period.
The change in strategy towards relying on fast bowling comes at a time when India’s pace stocks look brighter than ever. In the recently concluded series against Australia and New Zealand, India had five fast bowlers in their squad – Mohammad Shami, Umesh Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Hardik Pandya – who can all bowl past 140kph.
Although Kohli is just five series into his captaincy, his departure from the established norms of the Dhoni's era is obvious. And it is delivering results as well. India leave for South Africa in six weeks for a full-fledged series. With the ODI bowling attack settled of sorts, it will be interesting to see how Virat approaches the Tests where spinners have been the dominant force even in his era.
India’s packed home season still includes a series against Sri Lanka, which will give them more time to rest and try new players and combinations for the upcoming stiff tests away from home against the mighty sides including South Africa, England and New Zealand next year. And that is where Kohli’s real test lies. India bowling stats in these countries have been relatively poor over the years, and it will be a litmus test of the current bowling attack. Success in these countries will ensure that India have entered a golden era of fast bowling.
The writer tweets @khaledumair