For Indian cricket fans growing up in the 1990s, it was a painful sight whenever the ‘express men’ from across the border lit up the world of cricket with their pace and verve. The likes of Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Aaqib Javed and later Shoaib Akhtar ignited raw passion among fans with their cannon-ball performances, often enriching the tapestry of international cricket.
While these men hunted batsmen down, several of them Indians, the fans on this side of the border were left wondering why India can’t produce pacers like Pakistan does. The answer lay in focus and legacy. For long Indian cricket had worshipped batsmen and looked up to spinners as saviours. Apart from the lone wolf, that Kapil Dev was, India had failed to create a conducive environment for fast bowlers to grow and prosper.
Most youngsters who wanted to hone their ‘express’ skills were left frustrated and eventually balked at the idea of bowling fast as the surfaces in domestic cricket meant they were destined for toil and nothing else. But with India looking to win matches outside the sub-continent, pace became an agenda at the start of the century. The likes of Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Sreesanth, RP Singh and Irfan Pathan started a revolution of sorts under the patronage of captain Sourav Ganguly as India looked to beat the best with pace. But the treasured weapon was still a spinner, as the duo of Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble continued to top wicket-taking charts.
Things stagnated under MS Dhoni, especially in overseas conditions, but there were fleeting instances of pacers turning match winners that gave the Indian cricket fan some hope of change. It finally happened when Virat Kohli took charge in the whites. With Kohli looking to win matches and ready to play 5 genuine bowlers, India’s new crop of ‘express men’ finally got wings to their dreams.
A rejuvenated Ishant Sharma rose from the Ashes like a phoenix and the arrival of Jasprit Bumrah on the international scene changed Indian cricket forever. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav provided the supporting act whenever needed and it doesn’t end here.
India, today, have a battery of young pacers waiting to grab their opportunities – Khaleel Ahmed, Navdeep Saini, Deepak Chahar, Mohammed Siraj, Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Shivam Mavi, Avesh Khan… the list is endless.
On Sunday night, when Jasprit Bumrah made mincemeat of Windies in their own backyard, it was a massive payback moment for Indian cricket. Generation after generation of Indian batsmen bore the brunt of facing up to fearsome bowling attacks from West Indies, some nasty with their desire to spill the opponent’s blood. The trio of Bumrah, Ishant and Shami gave this new generation of Windies batsmen a dose of the tonic their predecessors had doled out. A collective average of 10.94 in the Test match for the three pacers was the best in any Test where Indian pacers bowled 50-plus overs. The previous best was 12.76 at Headingley in 1986.
The trio also accounted for 18 wickets in the match, the joint-most by Indian pacers in a Test in West Indies. Not just the numbers, it is performances on the pitch that shows an unmatched intent in this crop of pacers. India’s rich pace cupboard also means opposition teams are scared of providing green tops, often the bane of India batsmen outside the sub-continent. It is the beginning of a new narrative in Indian cricket, a narrative that might end in global domination of the sport by India.