Australia v India, 1st Test, MCG, 3rd day December 28, 2011

'The best bowling attack I've played with' - Sehwag

India's bowling department has been over-reliant on Zaheer Khan in recent times, but Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav's impressive performances in Melbourne have given the attack a sense of completeness

At the end of the second day, R Ashwin, the India offspinner, set his bowling colleagues a lofty ambition. He spoke about the readiness of the Indian attack and how they would try to match the eagerness England's bowlers showed during the Ashes in Australia last season. "We saw in the Ashes the England team seemed, through the series, as though they wanted the ball in hand," Ashwin said. "That's the kind of impression a good bowling attack can pose upon an opponent. It's all about readiness and the belief that wickets will keep coming. If a couple of us can get five-wicket hauls early in the series then obviously you will see the effects on our team as well."

It is a good aspiration to have: to want to be constantly enthusiastic to bowl and take wickets. However, the Indian attack, hurt by injuries and lack of consistency over the past year, has had questions asked of the very durability Ashwin asked for. It seemed certain that a time would arrive during this tour when the bowlers would be asked to measure up to Ashwin's aspiration. That it would arrive a little over two hours of play after his statements was slightly unexpected. The Indian batting had collapsed by lunch on the third day, losing eight wickets for 68, and India needed something special from their bowlers. By the end of the day, Ashwin & Co. had the approval of Virender Sehwag. He said: "This is the best Indian bowling attack I have played with."

That's a tall claim, but perhaps Sehwag has seen something. The most striking aspect of this attack - albeit on the evidence of a small sample - has been that they have not been overly reliant on Zaheer Khan. Yes, Zaheer's experience has counted in his final spells on the first and third days, but Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav have been ready, have been quick, and have improved as the game has progressed.

Zaheer's importance is not always a tangible quantity of course; it doesn't always show in five-fors but only in the slump when he is missing. But you get the sense there is something to Yadav and Ishant's games. Usually, when India win Tests abroad - and this is by no means won - there is a sense of happenstance to the composition of the attack. There is a deliberateness about this set of bowlers. Yadav is young, fit and quick, and was punted on at the right time. Ishant has been around for a while, and while he may have gambled by not going for ankle surgery, he has not held anything back in this Test. Unlucky to have not picked up a wicket in the first innings, he bowled consistently in the late 140s in his first spell in the second, and once crossed 152kph.

It is rare for all three quicks of an Indian attack to look like they could take wickets in all of their spells. India desperately needed just that after the collapse in the morning. Helped in part by injudicious shot-making from the Australia batsmen, Yadav burst through the top order, and Zaheer and Ishant were not far behind. The trio showed they had learned from their first-innings mistake of bowling too short, and also from watching how the Australia quicks exploited the conditions.

Then there is Ashwin, who has brought freshness to the spin department. He has not over-reached on a pitch that is not helping spinners, but he hasn't been overly defensive either. He may have been guilty of bowling the odd short ball, but his opposition have acknowledged that he has made it difficult for them through changes of pace, angle and trajectory, and of course the carrom ball against the tail. Ricky Ponting said there was a lot Nathan Lyon, Australia's offspinner, could learn from Ashwin. The way Ashwin bowled over after over, going at well under three an over, allowed the quicks to keep coming back fresh.

The control Ashwin exerted meant Australia had not run away to a big lead by the time Zaheer came back for a final spell on the third day. On cue, he produced two wickets, reversing one away from Ponting, and then dismissing Brad Haddin from around the stumps. Ashwin then showed his effectiveness against the tail, and but for a drop off his bowling India might have been in an even better position by stumps. Zaheer, though, bowled only a four-over spell, feeling his hamstring during the fourth, walking off immediately, and then coming back to the field but not bowling. That was a reminder for Indians fans not to get too far ahead of themselves.

This is a long Australian summer, and anything could happen when it comes to the bowlers' fitness. One of the three fast bowlers might even need to be rested from a Test. In fact the MCG Test itself still has some way to go, but whatever happens here the bowlers can say they have done their job. Well, almost. There are still two wickets to get on the fourth morning.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Subash on December 28, 2011, 23:17 GMT

    Its only one game guys against not so strong batting lineup. Before we start labelling hhtem as the best fast bowling unit in the world lets wait for 10 series.

  • Oh on December 28, 2011, 21:33 GMT

    England are the world leaders who everyone is trying to copy. But sadly poor immitations will never replicate the great England side we currenty see!

  • Varnendra on December 28, 2011, 19:30 GMT

    Pragyan must play. Everyone is talking about Ashwin; OK; let him play but Pragyan must play; he brings the flight of a genuine spinner and is intelligent; he may not be an intelligent in conversations like Ashwin nevertheless he is very intelligent in his bowling. To save Zahir for the full series and stop Yadav and Ishant going tired Pragyan must replace Ghambir. Ghambir would never be really good against good bowling. Dravid open. Kohli one down.

  • Mech on December 28, 2011, 19:20 GMT

    Zaheer showed his class but somehow gives an impression of an up & down and lacking intensity. What I read though is the problem with his work ethic and I think its good that we're getting better seamers and reducing dependency on Zaheer. Ishant probably needs to learn to bowl little further up consistently and he will be rewarded. Yadav should be encouraged to just go flat out fast..

  • Dummy4 on December 28, 2011, 18:27 GMT

    Well done by Indian bowlers. They have always missed 3rd fast bowler and in this test this is not the case. Hopefully, their efforts result in a win for India.

  • Dummy4 on December 28, 2011, 18:09 GMT

    Good article....But I dont xpect all of these 3 to last throughout the 4 tests because of their tendency to break down at any time.....Thats when a good seamer in the reserve will come into play....The selectors have erred by selecting two military medium bolwers(Vinay and Mithun).....INDIA can select Ashok Dinda , who is currently the second highest wicket taker in Ranjis and has been in terrific form this season picking 5 fors on batting beauties....Whats more important he bowls in the high 130s , low 140 range....and what has been proved enough in recent times you need pace to rattle the oppostion unless you are skilled enough to move the ball expertly which comes only with experience and genuine skill(Zaheer , Pollock etc..)

  • Alex on December 28, 2011, 17:44 GMT

    Good bowling attack will have decent back up. We don't have wicket taking bowlers because BCCI don't spend money on finding Tall well built bowlers.

  • Charindra on December 28, 2011, 17:29 GMT

    I love Sehwag, both for his remarkable batting and honest interviews, but I'm afraid he has got carried away here. Zaheer is a shadow of his former self, Ishant is finding form for the first time since 2008, Yadav is impressive but just starting out, and Ashwin is more of a one day bowler for me. But most importantly, Sehwag has forgotten that this is not the famed Aussie batting line up of the '90s and 2000s. But hey, what do I know! :D

  • Dummy4 on December 28, 2011, 17:26 GMT

    But neither the TV Star Cricket nor cricinfo broadcasting the speed of the balls. Its quiet unfortunate to be kept in the dark :(

  • Alex on December 28, 2011, 16:54 GMT

    Yes it could be if all healthy. India don't win overseas because they don't take w20 wickets. If all 3 pacers healthy , india has as good chance as aussie pacers. So game is even. Now only the vaunted batting line up show their face and take a shot at 250+ lead. great opening stand will do it

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