India v Sri Lanka, Champions Trophy, semi-final, Cardiff June 20, 2013

Ishant, Kumar, Yadav find pack mentality

India's three seamers clicked as a unit for the first time in Cardiff to great effect

West Indies were the pioneers of the fast bowling pack mentality in the 20th century. England have been the flag bearers of that method in the new millennium. It is a strategy where three or more fast bowers operate in tandem and work with each other to a pre-set plan. The batsmen get no respite. They are bombarded not only by short-pitched balls, but also tested with cunning swing, while being lured into playing a false stroke by length deliveries. Within quick time the deadly pack has successfully cast a spell over the batsmen, who are clueless and their end comes in desperation.

On Thursday, Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Umesh Yadav operated with that bowling pack mentality for the first time since they have been playing together. Such was their dominance that India had the match in the bag after just 22 overs. In those 108 minutes, the trio had punched their opponents with such ferocity that Sri Lanka could hardly stand up to the count. The Sri Lankans were not physically wounded but had been mentally disintegrated - not with words, but with balls of fire.

Cardiff woke up to overcast weather as was forecast days ahead of the match. Thankfully, apart from the early morning faint drizzle, Sophia Gardens remained mostly unaffected. But it was perfect weather for a fast bowler: overcast and humid with a light breeze. If you failed, you were not a fast bowler.

A good start was the key. Like he has done on every occasion this tournament, Kumar remained precise. Not even 6-feet tall, Kumar possesses a supple and straight wrist, which he uses cleverly by maintaining a tidy length. Allied to good pace in the region of 85 mph (135 kph), Kumar has the priceless ability to swing the new ball both ways. Coupled with the angles and the fuller lengths, he pushed the batsmen on the back foot straightaway. Kusal Perera did not last long as he chased a delivery that left him. Even an accomplished batsman like Kumar Sangakkara played out a maiden, circumspect to the movement Kumar was generating.

At the other end Yadav was his usual self, bowling fast and hitting the deck hard. In the group stage Yadav had failed to maintain a firm grip over the batsmen due to an inconsistent line and length. But today, he recovered fast after being punched by Tillakaratne Dilshan for couple of successive boundaries in his second over. His immediate response was an accurate bouncer, which beat Dilshan for pace. The next ball was a perfectly aligned yorker, which Dilshan dug out, but only just. Later Yadav bowled two maidens to Lahiru Thirimanne.

It was now Ishant's turn. His form had been patchy. In the tournament opener, against South Africa, he had been short and was the most expensive bowler. But he came back in the next match against West Indies by bowling an aggressive line, but once again leaked runs in the victory against Pakistan. But today he remained accurate throughout. Mainly he stuck to pitching short on the off stump, posing a lot of questions to Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene with balls that were pitched short of a length and seamed away late.

"If you are bowling in good areas then no batsman can threaten you."
Ishant Sharma

With the first ball of his fourth over, Ishant bowled from slightly wide of the crease. Jayawardene knew the plan: the ball was going to come in and then leave him. Yet like a snake charmer, Ishant got Sri Lanka's best batsman out of his comfort zone, forcing him to play at a delivery that opened him up before nearly taking an edge. Jayawardene scolded himself for getting tempted.

Ishant maintained the control when he returned for his second spell late in the innings when the pitch had become flat. He continued banging it in hard and made a mockery of the hard-hitting Thisara Perera, who remained muted against the short-pitched delivery and was caught in the deep going for a duck.

"If you are bowling in good areas then no batsman can threaten you," Ishant said. "That is what we have done in the last five games. And that is what we will do in the final."

Discipline is a key component behind any successful bowling pack and the Indian fast men have never been consistent for long periods of time. Today the first extra came in the 20th over. Such high standards convinced MS Dhoni to set Test-match like 7-2 fields. But for such a plan to work the bowler cannot falter as a loose ball down the leg side, even by an inch, releases all the pressure created in the preceding over. Perhaps Joe Dawes, the Indian bowling coach, can enjoy a nice drink tonight, considering he had focused individually with each seamer on Tuesday on getting the right lengths in the nets.

Yet it is easy to get carried away. Obviously the conditions were favourable in the morning. And for the bowling pack to succeed it is imperative that every bowler understand the plan and works collectively towards that. To succeed there are some rules: you work for each other; you make sure you understand each other and each other's strengths; you carry forward the good work of your partner.

Variety is the other key factor behind a successful pack. Take England's fast bowling group in the 2005 Ashes. Andrew Flintoff hit the deck and seamed it, Matthew Hoggard swung the ball, Steve Harmison added height and pace and Simon Jones became an expert in reverse-swing. Their relentless attack subdued the otherwise dominant Australian batting. Today Sri Lanka suffered the same fate.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Muthuvel on June 22, 2013, 17:27 GMT

    one department of the Indian game that will stand the test in any condition no matter how swinging or seaming or dead track with no the new strength of this team. Their fielding, ground and catching. They are a dominant fielding side.

  • Dummy4 on June 22, 2013, 14:06 GMT

    @dravid_gravitas - why are u worried about his pace - his control over is swing and ability to ball at different angles is so good that even if he loses pace it won't make a lot of difference, provided he maintains his swing. At death if he can learn slower ball, yorker and reverse swing he can be very effective in all 3 formats. He can be the Indian version of Vaas - I haven't seen Kapil so Indians don't kill me I am only 17. @testcricmaniac - why are u hammering Praveen Kumar - he bowled very well in England got injured, and after being inconsistent in CB series he got dumped which to me is very unfair. Not Raina, not Jadeja (I am talking about early 2012 so before I was proven wrong about him), but Praveen Kumar. Even his injury was like the first in 3 years. So the topic of persisting with non performer doesn't apply to him because they never persisted with him in the first place.

  • PeterJerome on June 22, 2013, 7:50 GMT

    We have to thanks our legendary cricketers for the Indian Cricket team that we see today. Players like Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble, Sachin Tendulkar & VVS were the guys who set the foundations of the current team. The structural changes were implemented by them and better by the current lot. I see a good team overall for a long period of time to follow, not based on performance in the CT but bcos of the structure of this team. Dhawan, Pujara, Virat, DK all look good players of the short-pitched stuff. Dhoni Raina will get there surely with time.

  • Manesh on June 22, 2013, 6:31 GMT

    @ mark2011. I just saw Yuvi should be in the 11 instead of Dhoni. Different people have different opinion. Lot of people asked for Board's head after their first match and now?

  • Dummy4 on June 21, 2013, 19:37 GMT

    Indian attack has looked good for some time now. Its good to see Ishant maturing, he had been on the receiving end of lots of criticism from a long time, but he seems to have atleast worked on his errs. Bhuvi is a genius, should he build some muscles in the coming future, an added 5-10 yards per hour will make him as lethal as any bowler around the world. Those criticizing Umesh for his lacked pace in the last match didn't see that he was focusing on swinging the ball rather than hitting the deck hard. Harsha Bhogle pointed that out too. Last but not the least, the coaching staff needs to be congratulated too. Eyebrows were raised when the tenure of Duncan Flecher was increased, but the captain and the management knew that good things were being done. Duncan couldn't have changed much about the aging Sehwags, Gambhirs, Dravids, Zaheers or Harbhajans. Skills belong to the player but look at the discipline that has been brought in terms of lines, lengths, consistencies and the fielding.

  • N on June 21, 2013, 18:59 GMT

    Not sure about these guys hunting as a pack yet. India's pace bowling is still its weakest link. But I'll tell you who hunt in packs - the fielders in the inner ring - Raina, Kohli, Jadeja, Rohit and DK. They are a menace to any batting side.

  • Nasser on June 21, 2013, 17:59 GMT

    The conditions were ideal for bowling. It was, as quite often is the case,a good toss to win. While the signs are encouraging, India has to prove itself when they play REAL cricket i.e test cricket. This is where all restrictions are removed and performance has to be sustained over the full 5 days of bowling and batting. As a Pakistan supporter, I do wish India well and look forward to their winning the ICC Champions Trophy on Sunday.

  • testcricmaniac on June 21, 2013, 16:09 GMT

    I feel it is all because of new Selection Committee. Srikanth was just awful in that representation from every zone was being taken care of without concerns about the national team. During his time I had always felt Dhoni wasn't getting what he wanted as the selectors were so insecure to drop names like Sehwag, Bhajji, Gambhir, Yuvi, Zaheer, Sachin fearing that failure by the team with the inclusion of young blood would make them look stupid. Dhoni had been hinting at unfit players leaking extra 25-30 runs but the selectors were blind. Sandeep Patil at the helm corrected all these. It almost feels like Dhoni and Sandeep are in complete harmony here. Given this perception to myself, I could guess the complete team for CT. Only place i went wrong was DK's as i thought he would make a great pair with SD. Instead Rohit got the opening slot. Kudos to the selectors for purely trusting in talent and performance and not including players like Bhajji, Piyush,Yuvi, Sehwag, Gambhir, Praveen Kuma

  • Srinivas on June 21, 2013, 15:53 GMT

    If BK doesn't drop his pace further, he'll go places. He is accurate, unrelenting and skillful, working up decent pace. He just needs to maintain this. If any, add some pace. If he can't do that, he can just leave it as it is. Umesh needs to maintain some consistent lines. Ishant needs to pitch it up a little further. He is too short most of the times making him a perennial 'unlucky' bowler in the wickets column. Pitch it up futher if he doesn't want to be that 'unlucky' bowler. With Shami, Mohit, Rahul Shukla and other pacers in the domestics, the pace department looks safe and good if not great. Combine these good bowling stocks with great batting stocks and excellent fielders, I don't see how India can be pushed aside easily in international cricket for the next couple of years to 4 years. Keeping my fingers crossed.

  • rishi on June 21, 2013, 15:35 GMT

    I think ishant is a good bowler but not good enough to handle critical phases of match when batsmen are in an attacking mode and he lacks the temperament and aggressiveness of a fast bowler and do not offer enough in the field.After playing so many matches he is not good enogh and lacks consistency.He is a weak link in this Indian side and should be replaced by a better bowler like Mohit sharma.