For the first time, India have a well-rounded pace attack
Right from the days of Kapil Dev, India have had at least one world-class fast bowler in the playing XI. And each of those bowlers has had a bowler of high ability partnering them. Kapil had Manoj Prabhakar, Javagal Srinath had Venkatesh Prasad, and Zaheer Khan had Ajit Agarkar. And that leaves out a number of other decent fast bowlers. But none of those lead bowlers had the same quality of seam bowling from the other end as they themselves provided.
They say that fast bowlers hunt in pairs, but India in the past have not had a pair quite as menacing as Wasim-Waqar, McGrath-Lee and Donald-Pollock. That's where this current Indian team is different. They don't have just one or two wicket-taking, match-winning bowlers but a proper pace quartet. It is an attack that takes 20 Test wickets outside the subcontinent on a regular basis. And the best bit isn't just their efficiency but the different variations they bring to the table, despite all of them being right-arm bowlers.
The man with one of the most unorthodox actions has been the find of Indian cricket since 2016. Soon after his introduction to international cricket he became one of the best operators in white-ball cricket - ODIs and T20s alike.
There were some reservations about his efficiency in Test cricket, for the length he bowled was ideal for limited-overs cricket but was considered a little too short for the longest form of the game. Also, when he first came on the scene, he would only bring the ball back in to right-handers, and that made him a little predictable.
Bumrah has corrected those shortcomings remarkably well. First, he changed his wrist position at the point of release, which enabled him to not just make the ball hold its line but also to move it away from right-hand batsmen. Secondly, he has shown enough control to bowl a touch fuller without losing efficiency.
His biggest strength is his ability to hit the deck hard, make the ball move sideways after pitching, and hit the bat hard and high. This is an asset when you play with the Kookaburra ball and when the ball or the pitch are worn out, for that's when the release bowlers tend to struggle.
Bumrah's new-found ability to make the ball move both ways in the air has made him a viable option with the new ball, but he is best used with the older ball and in the second innings - more so because India's other bowlers aren't as effective in those conditions.
For every Bumrah, there needs to be a Bhuvneshwar at the other end: while you require someone to keep pushing the batsman backwards with extra pace and disconcerting bounce, you could also do with someone who drags the batsman forward by pitching the ball fuller and swinging it.
Bhuvneshwar is a typical release bowler who relies on lateral movement in the air. Since he isn't hitting the deck hard, the movement off the surface is either negligible or easily negotiated. His strength is the wrist behind the ball, which in turn allows him to release it with the seam bolt upright - but facing either fine leg or first slip when he needs it to.
Bhuvneshwar is the toughest bowler to play with the new Kookaburra, and with the Dukes when the conditions are ripe for swing bowling. He bowls from close to the stumps and so maintains a fourth-or-fifth-stump line that isn't easy to either leave or play.
He does lose a little bit of his sting when the ball gets old, and in the second innings of Tests, but that's where others need to step up.
Ishant's biggest strength is the extra bounce he generates after pitching, courtesy his height and his high-arm action. Since he established control over his wrist, he has been able to swing the ball back in to right-hand batsmen too. Earlier he used to be your typical second-innings old-ball kind of bowler, but now he's equally effective with the new ball - especially against left-handers, for the angle at which he bowls (when he goes round the stumps) makes the batsman feel that the ball is coming in, but often it holds its line or goes away slightly. It's not a coincidence that Ishant has dismissed left-handers as many times as he has done in the England series.
He is also someone who could be efficiently used if you're planning a bouncer trap from either over or round the stumps. There aren't too many bowlers who are equipped to bowl to the field set for a bouncer trap, but Ishant is one such.
Also, it must be noted that he has what it takes to succeed even with the Kookaburra ball.
He's one of the most gifted bowlers in the current set-up, and has a number of things going in his favour. His wrist position, the backspin he imparts on the ball, and the seam position are perfectly aligned to make the ball move late in the air. And it's not just the movement in the air that troubles the batsman, for Shami can make the ball move laterally after pitching too.
There's a subtle difference between the cutters that most fast bowlers bowl (by imparting pressure with the index or middle finger at the point of release) and the way Shami extracts movement off the surface. His method doesn't make the seam scramble, and if the seam isn't wobbling, the absence of visual cues means the batsman has less chance of preparing for exaggerated sideways movement after pitching.
Shami's pace is ideal for swing bowling but he isn't your typical release bowler, for he can be equally effective with the old ball.
Last but not least, he's your man when the ball starts reverse-swinging, for his high-arm action and pace in the air make the ball tail in or move away very late.
He does need to be more disciplined if he is to realise his potential, though.
While there are a lot of things going in favour of this pace quartet, there's one thing that needs improving, they need to get better at getting rid of lower-order batsmen. It's obvious that they are capable of asking probing questions to the best of batsmen across the world, but it's also evident that they are yet to master the skill of dismissing the lower order. Perhaps that's their next challenge.