“To win a Test match you need to take 20 wickets” – that is something we have heard multiple times over the years, with the likes of Steve Waugh making it a point to stress that it’s the bowlers who win a team Test matches. It’s not that India didn’t have great fast bowlers earlier, but cricket is a team game and individual brilliance can make you win battles (small passages of play), but not the whole war.
Things started changing for the better towards the turn of the century when India started winning abroad regularly and also maintained their stranglehold at home. Indian spinners made touring batsmen dance to their tunes on dust-bowls to remain a formidable force at home. Indian pacers used to bowl with the red cherry just to take the shine off the ball and make it ready for the spinners to go for the kill. In the process if the pacers used to get any wickets, then it would be considered a bonus. Touring batsmen who were adept at playing spin, used to be successful with the willow.
But things are changing. The trend over the last few years has been one of Indian pacers joining the party that is India enjoying prolonged long spells of Test wins at home. The two Test series win vs Sri Lanka recently was India’s 15th consecutive Test series win at home.
Let’s analyze this closely, taking the Tests India have won over the last few years as the benchmark.
The first period we considered was from January 1, 2013 to December 31, 2016. In this time period Team India won 16 of 18 Tests played at home, with 2 draws
If we look at the overall number of wickets taken in Test wins from January 1, 2013 to December 31, 2016, the numbers tell us that the pacers took 68 wickets, while the spinners took 242 wickets.
Stats credit: Rajesh Kumar
Now, let’s dive into deeper analysis and compare those numbers with the number of wickets taken by pacers and spinners in home Test wins from 2017 till now.
So how has the trend changed?
The table below shows that since March 16, 2017, India have played 21 Tests on home soil, winning 16 (same figure as from January 1, 2013 to December 31, 2016) and losing only one Test (against England at Chennai in February 2021 ). 4 Tests ended in draws.
Stats credit: Rajesh Kumar
If we go back to March 2017, the trend shows that Indian pacers have begun hurting opposition teams much more. As the table below shows, in those 16 Test victories at home since 2017, pacers have contributed significantly in Indian Test victories.
The following graphic gives you a break-up of the wickets taken by pacers vis-à-vis spinners in all the 16 Test wins at home from 2017 till the last Test played by Team India (second Test vs SL in Bengaluru). There have been instances where the pacers have taken the same wickets as the spinners and in fact in some cases, even more than the tweakers.
Stats credit: Rajesh Kumar
In the pink ball Test against Bangladesh at Kolkata in November 2019, Indian spinners Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin couldn’t take any wicket. Ishant Sharma took 9 wickets and Umesh Yadav scalped 8 in the match. In the Bangladesh first innings, Ashwin was not even required to bowl and Jadeja sent down only one over. And all that without Jasprit Bumrah, who missed the Bangladesh series due to a lower back stress fracture. Yes, a greenish track was prepared at the Eden Gardens, but that showed the tremendous self-belief the Team India think-tank had in their pacers.
So what are the overall numbers like?
The table below shows how overall, in those 16 Test wins since 2017, Indian pacers have taken 118 wickets, which are 50 more than what the Indian pacers took in home Test wins from 2013 to 2016 (68), while spinners have accounted for 194 scalps in the Indian Test victories on home soil – which is 48 wickets less than the earlier period we considered.
The period from 2017 till now has also of course coincided with Team India boasting a world class pace attack, across formats. Gone are the days when the team had to rely almost solely on the spinners to win them matches. Indian fast bowlers now regularly trouble the best of batsmen in all conditions.
Over the years Indian cricket have had match winning fast bowlers like Kapil Dev, Manoj Prabhakar, Javagal Srinath, Venkatesh Prasad, Ajit Agarkar, Irfan Pathan, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra and others – but they were usually lone sparks, often separated by different eras and decades.
Over the last 4-5 years Team India has a pace bowling arsenal which is often called the best in the world. It can trouble the Aussies in Australia, the English in England and the Kiwis in New Zealand, among other venues.
In fact India now have a strong bench of fast bowlers as well – a second string which can step in and perform whenever needed and one that almost continually pushes the first choice picks.
So while the likes of Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj, Umesh Yadav and Shardul Thakur are picked regularly for Tests (also Ishant Sharma till very recently) – the likes of Navdeep Saini, Prasidh Krishna, Avesh Khan, Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Shivam Mavi and others are waiting in the wings for their chance.
Interestingly, current Team India pace spearhead Jasprit Bumrah took his maiden five-wicket haul in just his third Test (against South Africa at Johannesburg in January 2018). The recent pink ball Test against Sri Lanka in Bengaluru was Bumrah’s fourth Test on Indian soil and he registered his maiden five-wicket haul at home to underline the remarkable rise of Indian pacers on home soil.
Also interestingly, Virat Kohli’s tenure as India captain saw a renewed push to develop and nurture more and more pace bowling options.