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Why Shami and Yadav need to change their line

Umesh Yadav could do worse than learn from his slower-bowling team-mate Bhuvneshwar Kumar about taking wickets AFP/Getty Images

It was in 2011, against England in a one-dayer, that Umesh Yadav, taking his baby steps in international cricket, bowled a ball that clocked 150kph on the speed gun.

I was on commentary then. I jumped up from my seat. An Indian fast bowler had just bowled a 150kph delivery. Wow!

When India hosted England and Australia in Tests last year and early in 2017, the Indian seamers collectively outbowled the visiting bowlers on pace - a fact I brought up in commentary many times. It was, after all, a dream come true for many Indians. At last we had bowlers who could not only match but also surpass the quicks of the world on pace.

The most frequent question I was asked when I was a player and then a commentator was, "Why can't India produce fast bowlers?" And then the follow-up: "If Pakistan can, why can't we?" Good questions both. I would just shrug my shoulders and say, "I don't know."

Now, in Mohammed Shami, Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah and a few coming through the ranks, we have bowlers who can crank up their pace, just like the Pakistani fast bowlers used to, and Indians are thrilled by this - as they should be.

There is so much optimism now when Indian fans talk about the team's bowling and its chances of winning overseas by unleashing seam bowlers on the opposition on those fast, bouncy pitches.

It was Harsha Bhogle who planted the seed of doubt in my head: "Yes, it's wonderful to see all this, but what about wickets? Are our fast bowlers getting enough wickets?"

Yadav has one five-wicket haul in 70 innings; his average is 35.90. I can foretell the immediate reaction to this: that the poor fellow has mostly bowled on dusty, turning pitches in the subcontinent, where there is nothing for the quick bowlers.

It's true. But here is the revelation. All the big names of seam bowling from the subcontinent have a better record at home than on foreign pitches. Zaheer Khan is the notable exception here.

So if the current Indian seamers have not picked up bagfuls of wickets in the last three years in home Tests, they have missed out, haven't they? And the track record suggests it's going to get tougher overseas.

Virat Kohli as captain keeps his seamers in the game, so even on rank turners the Indian seamers have had their fair share of bowling.

Shami has two five-wicket hauls in 52 innings, at an average of 30.77. Ishant Sharma has seven five-wicket hauls in 140 innings and an average of 36.55.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar has the most impressive record when it comes to running through sides, in the relatively few chances he has got in Tests. He has four five-wicket hauls in 33 innings, at an average of 27.18.

You would say it's because India pick him only when the pitch has a bit of life in it for seamers, but then why does he do better than the rest on such pitches?

It's because he knows how to get wickets. He bowls to take wickets, not to impress, which is the feeling you sometimes get with the other seamers. It's unfortunate that Bhuvneshwar is hampered by his own physical limitations, or he would be India's prime wicket-taking seamer in Tests.

Here is a recent example to illustrate my point. Like they do most of the time, Shami and Ishant bowled their hearts out in the final Test against Sri Lanka in Delhi. The match ended in a draw.

It was one of those rare Indian pitches where even on day five there was more assistance for the seamers than the spinners. Shami again put up an impressive show with his pace, and the commentators kept highlighting the 140-plus kph balls that he bowled repeatedly.

Along with the speed, there were spearing yorkers and intimidating bouncers. It was great to watch, but all Shami had to show at the end were three wickets in the match.

"Bhuvneshwar bowls to take wickets, not to impress, which is the feeling you sometimes get with the other seamers"

He was bowling to the weakest batting line-up in the world - shouldn't he have got six wickets as the main strike fast bowler and won the game for India? Instead, we gave him pats on the back for how he bowled.

This is perfectly understandable. India has been so starved for so many years for pace that we are satisfied seeing our fast bowlers bowl quick and aggressive.

What about taking wickets? Well, that's for Ashwin and Jadeja to do.

India can afford to look away from Ishant not getting enough five-wicket hauls because he is ideally the third seamer in the side, a support bowler who is often used to keep pegging away from one end and keep the runs down. And he does a very good job of that, which is why MS Dhoni always had him in his team overseas.

It's really up to Shami and Yadav now to be the five-wicket-haul bowlers for India, the ones who run through sides and win matches when the spinners can't. They are not newcomers anymore, so I think it's not unreasonable to expect this.

Sooner rather than later, Indian cricket must pin that kind of expectation on Shami and Yadav, that when they bowl, they impress with their returns and not by how they bowled.

And here's how I think they can do that.

Shami and Yadav, as the nominated strike bowlers in the attack to take wickets, must bowl more balls at the stumps. That's where you get your lbws and bowleds. They just don't do that enough now.

The problem with the "outside the off stump" line is that most balls are left alone. And when they are not, and the batsman attempts to play them, it's often play-and-miss.

We then applaud the bowler, saying, "Well bowled." But he hasn't got the batsman out yet.

If the bowler is in luck, the batsman edges it, but then there is a good chance the ball will not carry to slips to be caught - it just falls short. A frequent sight, especially on Indian pitches.

Again we praise the bowler, but we still don't have our wicket.

The best-case scenario, then, is that the ball is edged and it carries to slips, but there is another hurdle: there is only about a 50% chance that the ball will be caught by the slip fielder, because Indian cricket has a 50% success rate when it comes to taking slip catches off seamers.

So you can see that the outside-off-stump line is, simply put, a big investment for low returns (which are only marginally better overseas).

Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis were smart; they figured this out early in their careers. Pakistan's slip catching is even worse than India's.

More than half of Akram's wickets were either bowled or lbw and the corresponding figure for Waqar was 57%.

Remember "unlucky Ishant"? Once he changed his length, his luck also started to change. Shami and Yadav need to change their line.