“Best pace attack in the world.” It sounds like an unreal tag for those tracking India in World Cups from the 1970s. For a very long time, that tag was reserved for the West Indies. Then it was Pakistan’s turn to take over the mantle.In due course, the pace bowling crown shifted to Australia, but come the 13th edition, there’s a strong belief that India’s pace battery – consisting ofMohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj – is the best in the business.
But the big question is whether the Indian team management itself believes in the theory. In the lead-up to the World Cup, India have shown the tendency to use only two of these three brilliant pace bowlers together. Instead of unleashing the terrific trio who are completely different bowlers, Rohit Sharma and Rahul Dravid have preferred to use two – with Hardik Pandya doing the third pacer’s job. The think-tank, one felt, had decided before the Asia Cup that Kuldeep Yadav had to play with Ravindra Jadeja, with Axar Patel filling the spinning allrounders spots.
But a few things have happened since then. Axar has been ruled out due to a quadriceps injury. Ravichandran Ashwin made a more than impressive ODI comeback against Australia and Bumrah, Shami and Siraj have looked magnificent in most of the games they have played. While Bumrah hasn’t gone wicketless in a single game he has played since his comeback from injury, Siraj’s 6/21 against Sri Lanka at the Premadasa turned the Asia Cup final into a no-contest. Shami, on the other hand, got a five-wicket haul in the first game against Australia and has looked at his lethal best.
Such performances have sparked the narrative that India should go in with these three pacers together. In addition to that, the ICC has given a directive to the centres to leave a bit of grass on the pitch, so that there is enough life for all parties concerned. Then there’s also the dew factor which may make it difficult for the spinners to grip the ball under lights.
“Conditions notwithstanding, India should play these three pacers together in the big games like England, Australia, Pakistan and New Zealand. Rotate them in the other games if there is an issue of preserving them in such a long tournament, but there’s no point holding them back in key games. Together they make the best pace attack in the world and why compromise on your strength,” former India pacer Lakshmipathy Balaji told TOI.
The former Chennai Super Kings bowling coach feels it is the trio’s ability to take the pitch out of the equation that should give them the nod. “There’s no better containment policy than taking wickets and these three guarantee you wickets at any time of the game. While Bumrah is the most astute pace bowler in the world in limited-overs, Shami’s use of the seam and his high-arm action are absolute assets. And Siraj is the real wild-card who has hit a brilliant patch and is at the peak of his confidence. And all three have genuine pace,” Balaji explained.
But there could be a problem with the combination if the three have to play together. India, like most other teams in the World Cup, are absolutely hell-bent on having players who can bat well till No. 8. If India are to play Shami, Bumrah and Siraj together, they will have to leave out left-arm wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav. “Yes, the batting cover is necessary and Ashwin will provide that at No. 8. With Ravindra Jadeja and Hardik Pandya also picking themselves in the XI, the Indian team will truly have all bases covered,” Balaji said.
But then, the Chepauk pitch, where India play their first match against Australia on Sunday, has traditionally been spin-friendly and it will surely leave the Indian think-tank divided on how to go about it. Kuldeep has been in the form of his life and it will need a lot of convincing to leave the left-armer out of the XI.
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“Australia have three left-handers, England have four. Against these teams Ashwin will get the job done. The likes of Kuldeep and Shardul can be used when necessary,” Balaji argued.
We will know in six days’ time if the team management truly takes this bold call and looks to rattle the Aussies with pace and set the tone for the tournament.