India v Australia, 4th Test, Nagpur, 5th day November 10, 2008

No more spin-reliant

India's fast bowlers comprehensively out-bowled their Australian counterparts played critical roles in both the victories that sealed a 2-0 series win

Zaheer Khan bothered Matthew Hayden with several away-going deliveries before nipping one back into him © Getty Images

Ishant Sharma has achieved what no Indian fast bowler has achieved since Kapil Dev in 1983 - he won a Player-of-the-Series award at home. The skill with which he and Zaheer Khan used the new, and particularly the old, ball ensured that pace played as crucial a role as spin did in regaining the Border-Gavaskar Trophy from Australia.

Ishant finished the four Tests with 15 wickets at an average of 27 while Zaheer's 11 cost 43 each. They aren't outstanding stats but India's fast bowlers comprehensively out-bowled their Australian counterparts - who averaged nearly 47 per wicket - and played critical roles in both the victories that sealed a 2-0 series win.

Ricky Ponting singled out the third day of the Nagpur Test as the passage during which the match turned in India's favour. Australia were 189 for 2 and looking to score quickly but Zaheer and Ishant bowled with tremendous discipline to back up Mahendra Singh Dhoni's restrictive eight-one field. Their lines seldom wavered from wide outside off stump and their lengths rarely allowed Australia the freedom to cut or drive. They sustained their accuracy and maintained high energy levels for long periods: Zaheer and Ishant bowled nine-over spells on the third morning and a total of 31 out of 53 overs in the first two sessions. Australia ended up scoring only 166 in 85.4 overs and lost eight wickets.

Zaheer's stock ball to the left-handers is the one that comes in, while Ishant attacks the batsman with pace and bounce. India's strategy on the day allowed neither of them to do either. "They curbed their natural instincts according to the requirements of the team," Dhoni said. "They didn't stop after four overs, usually you see fast bowlers stopping after four or five-over spells. They wanted to bowl more. I think it was the fast bowlers that really did it for us."

They did it for India in Mohali too and helped their team take a 1-0 lead. They used the conditions at the PCA Stadium to telling effect and got the ball to reverse-swing as early as the tenth over, nearly 60 overs before the Australians managed similar movement.

Ishant had shown the ability to adapt to conditions quickly in Bangalore where he used the slower ball on a sluggish pitch as a surprise weapon to pick up wickets. In Mohali he bowled cross seam with the new ball in order to roughen it up as soon as possible - the first step towards achieving reverse-swing. The deliveries with which Ishant bowled Ponting and trapped Shane Watson lbw in the second innings were among the best of the series. Zaheer used the movement with brutal effect on the final morning, when he bowled full-length deliveries to annihilate Australia's tail.

Ishant Sharma troubled Ricky Ponting through the series © Getty Images

Perhaps Zaheer and Ishant's most significant contribution to India's campaign was the manner in which they neutralised the threat posed by Australia's two most dangerous batsmen. Matthew Hayden and Ponting had only two scores of above 50 in the series.

Zaheer troubled Hayden with several away-going deliveries before nipping one back into the left-hander, dismissing him early in the first three innings of the series. As a result, the visitors had only one 50-run opening stand in four Tests. Ponting wasn't allowed to orchestrate Australia's innings like he usually does at No 3. Ishant was often brought on when Ponting began his innings and he succeeded in either dismissing the Australian captain - on three occasions - or denying him the momentum with which he likes to start an innings.

Once upon a time Indian fast bowlers were used primarily to take the shine off the new ball in home Tests. On a Mumbai dust bowl in 2004, India named only one fast bowler in their XI against Australia. Those times have passed. Zaheer and Ishant are a force in varying conditions; Munaf Patel and RP Singh are awaiting their turn; and somewhere Sreesanth is striving to regain his fitness. India are not spin-reliant at home anymore.

George Binoy is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dheeraj on November 11, 2008, 18:00 GMT

    Ishant Sharma and Zaheer Khan are Indias best new ball attack currently. We also have good back ups in RP Singh, Munaf Patel and Sreesanth (injured). Although Irfan Pathan is out of form with the ball, and has probably lost a bit of pace and swing i still reckon that he will be back soon as India dont have a all-rounder and he is India's only choise. Praveen Kumar's bowling style is not suited for Indian conditions.

  • Aabhas on November 11, 2008, 16:02 GMT

    Totally agree with George. One concern though - is the bench strength good enough? Munaf, RP, Irfan and maybe Sreesanth (but who knows with his fitness problems and mannerisms). Got to remember that Zak is over 30 already. Bowling such long spells might actually cut short his career.

  • Coolest on November 11, 2008, 9:22 GMT

    I see nobody here mentioning Parveen Kumar. Remember Parveen Kumar ? He is the guy who won us the ODI series in Australia. How can you guys forget him already ? He swings the ball a lot more than Irfan Pathan, who has lost his pace n swing. So I do not think Irfan will be playing for India any time soon.

  • Jairam on November 11, 2008, 8:38 GMT

    I agree with Rajesh we should not go overboard in our euphoria. It was a professional hard-nosed performance to beat the Aussies 2-0, but let's bear in mind that the rub of the green went our way with the toss, injuries to the Aussies in the 4th Test and Ponting's crazy captaincy. The England team will be no push-overs either in the ODIs or the Tests, Pietersen and Flintoff can be unstoppable, their spinning strength is certainly deeper than the Aussies and remember what Jason Krejza achieved in his debut against us. So, let's hope our boys stay focused,play ruthlessly and also hold on to catches. Also, Rahul, do the honourable thing and retire before the Test team is chosen.

  • Aditya on November 11, 2008, 4:36 GMT

    Irfan Pathan has a big heart. He will be back as India's number one bowler some day. It is for the selectors to realise his talent. India must rotate their fast bowlers in the upcoming one day series to save them from injuries and fatigue. Well done boys!!!Q

  • Michael on November 11, 2008, 3:33 GMT

    Sharma has done wonderfully well and much will be expected of him in future - so far he looks like he will be a world-beater for some time to come. With Zaheer, India have the makings of a good pace attack. However, the combination of two pacers and two spinners will not suit all conditions, so to be successful outside the subcontinent on a regular basis India will be hoping that one or two of their other pace bowlers will step up to support. Recently Pathan, Sreesanth, Munaf Patel and RP Singh have been in and out of the side - these guys will want to improve their consistency to ensure India are a threat both home and away.

  • Shantanu on November 11, 2008, 0:36 GMT

    Who knows? We will have the Aussies moving to spin and India going for pace .. :)

  • Dean on November 10, 2008, 23:40 GMT

    The first thing I thought of when I read the last paragraph of this article (probably most like Katri) was that there was no mention of Irfan Pathan. He is one of my favourite players to watch and has troubled the Aussies and various other countries with his successful use of reverse swing. He is also a handy top-middle order batsmen, and India could use someone like him with the loss of so many senior players, especially in the batting department. I hope he regains his spot because he is an exciting player to watch and brings people to the ground. Good luck Irf, hope to see you soon!

  • Cool on November 10, 2008, 22:52 GMT

    Finally We are here and we should continue to maintain our fast bowling standards consistently now-onwards. It's really dream come true seeing Indian fast bowler getting man-of-the-series when they're total 8-9 legend players playing this series. Not only we have great fast bowling strength, we have even bench strength. We have now Ishant, Zaheer, RP Singh, Munaf, Sreesanth, Irfan and few second tiers Ajit Agarkar, VRV Singh, and list goes on...

  • Saif on November 10, 2008, 21:53 GMT

    I agree, but have to give all accolades to both Ishant and Zaheer; i do think they were they key difference between the 2 sides...wicket taking fast bowlers. All the batsmen had some what of a say and the spinners...well its india :)

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