Get your jaws off the floor before debating if Shami, Bumrah, Siraj, Kuldeep, Jadeja form India's best-ever bowling unit
Whether Shami, Bumrah, Siraj, Kuldeep, Jadeja are India’s all-time best or not, this quintet is certainly the best bowling unit at the World Cup 2023.
In 1998, when cricket was introduced at the Commonwealth Games for the first time, India’s national selectors were confronted with a huge dilemma. The Kuala Lumpur bash straddled the Sahara Cup, a five-match One-Day International showdown against Pakistan, in Toronto. The selectors had to play a delicate balancing act – select a team that would contend for a medal in the Malaysian capital, as well as pick a squad that would challenge Pakistan on equal terms in the Canadian cricketing outpost.
Their task wasn’t made any easier when Suresh Kalmadi, the president of the Indian Olympic Association, insisted that the ‘best’ team be picked for the Commonwealth Games. Until, upon prodding, he said that the ‘best’ team was the one that included Sachin Tendulkar. If only the definition of ‘best’ hinged on such simplicity and uncomplicatedness!
In the last week or so, ‘best’ has been invoked numerous times in the context of Indian cricket. More specifically, in the context of the Indian bowling group that has been working wonders at the World Cup. Is this the best Indian ODI attack ever? Has any other bowling unit had the same impact on such a grand stage?
Unfortunately, not even Kalmadi will be able to help this time around. Or maybe he will, and outright call this bunch – Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj, Mohammed Shami, Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav – the best of all time. He can do that, you know?
Lest we forget, this attack has come together entirely by accident. It wasn’t India’s first-choice combination, not when Hardik Pandya was available with his brisk fast-medium, when Shami warmed the bench and Shardul Thakur filled in as the fourth seamer because, at No. 8, he could also provide handy batting depth. It was only when Pandya pulled up short with an ankle injury that has since ended his World Cup that India were compelled to string this group together. What wonders that has worked.
Shami is India’s leading wicket-taker, with 18 wickets from four outings. The other four have played in all of India’s eight victories -- Bumrah has 15 scalps, Jadeja 14, Kuldeep 12, Siraj 10. No other set of bowlers from any other nation at the tournament has even mildly comparable numbers. Whether they are India’s all-time best or not, this quintet is certainly the best bowling unit at the World Cup.
The argument that they are India’s best ever has gathered force since India embarked on a demolition job against England in Lucknow on October 29. The defending champions, chasing 230 for victory, were battered into submission, shot out for 129 in 34.5 overs. The mayhem continued in Mumbai three nights later, Sri Lanka decimated for 55 in 19.4 overs. The carnage spilled over to Kolkata, when South Africa collapsed to 83 all out in 27.1 overs. In three matches, India’s bowlers had taken 30 wickets while conceding 267 runs in 81.4 overs. That’s right, now get your jaw off the floor.
All these came bowling second, when the dew is supposedly a factor, when gripping the ball is hard for pacers and spinners alike. So what did India do? Kill off all three chases in the first Powerplay. England were 40 for four after 10 overs, Sri Lanka 14 for six, South Africa 35 for three. Dew? What dew?
In each of these three outings, a wicket looked imminent every time Bumrah walked-ran in, every time Siraj set off on his long run-up, every time Shami thundered in like the wind, accompanied by a sustained roar that could be felt before it was seen. Under lights, they made the ball do this, and then that. Nip here, swing there, a nasty bouncer, a mean yorker, a beautifully nuanced slower one. Each ball was an event, a nightmare if you were a batter.
In the first five games, bowling first in grand batting conditions, India hadn’t conceded more than 273. That was as commendable as what followed subsequently, though not as glamorous. And that’s what this bowling group has, more than any in India’s history – great GQ, or Glamour Quotient.
At the 2003 World Cup, Javagal Srinath, Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra combined for 49 wickets between them when India reached the semis. In 2015, when also they made the last four, India bowled out all seven preceding opponents before losing to Australia, that attack comprising Shami, Umesh Yadav, Mohit Sharma, R Ashwin and Jadeja. They all didn’t have the GQ, did they? This one, led by Bumrah most certainly does. Whether it is the best ever or not, that’s less straightforward.
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