First Ravi Shastri, now Alastair Cook. The England batsman feels India's fast-bowling attack has the kind of "strength and depth" he hasn't seen from them in the past. Ajinkya Rahane, the Indian vice-captain, in turn said the attack can "disrupt" England if the bowlers stay patient, and they can influence the result of the five-Test series if they believe themselves to be world-beaters.
In an interview with ESPNcricinfo, Shastri had said that the fast bowlers' ability to consistently take 20 wickets put the team on equal footing with England as contenders in the series. India's quicks showed that ability during the three-match Test series in South Africa in January this year, and they are hopeful of repeating that in seamer-friendly conditions in England.
Cook, who struck a double-century the last time the two teams met at Edgbaston, in 2011, pointed out that it was a bit "unusual" to find this kind of variety in Indian fast bowling. Ishant Sharma leads the pack that comprises Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah and Shardul Thakur, along with Hardik Pandya, who doubles up as an allrounder. All of them are capable of touching 140kph and upwards, with some, like Shami and Umesh, also possessing the ability to swing the ball at those speeds.
Cook said that it would be a good challenge for him and England, but how good India's fast bowlers really are can only be determined over the coming six weeks. "They seem to have a good variety of bowlers - pace bowlers - which is probably unusual," Cook said at a media conference, two days before the first Test. "And strength and depth in their pace bowling. Certainly in the last 10 years, since I have played against them, they haven't had the option of playing five or six different types of seamers. That strength and depth in their seamers is different to what I have experienced in the past, but we will see over the next six weeks."
According to Rahane, the past experience of bowling in England, something that Ishant and Shami possess, and the unprecedented success that the fast bowlers enjoyed in South Africa earlier this year, when they accounted for 50 of the 60 wickets across the three Tests, should make them capable of doing the job in more helpful conditions in England. "We have an attack that actually can disrupt (the) opponents," Rahane said. "But, yes, it will be a challenge for them to bowl patiently and bowl in the right areas for a long period of time."
Despite the weather being hot across England over the past month, something that is forecast to last over the next few weeks, Rahane said the fast bowlers would need to keep their focus. A good ploy would be to create pressure at one end instead of trying to take wickets from both sides, he said. "It is a very good opportunity for the bowlers to come here in England and prove once again that we can take 20 wickets (in a Test match). No one expected them to do that in South Africa. One thing I will point out is they should not put extra pressure on themselves. They should just look to enjoy the moment. They need to back themselves and believe that the bowling unit we have is the best in the world."
Doubts have been raised over whether India's Test players have had enough practice with the red ball. The Indian think tank snipped a day off the originally scheduled four-day match to the chagrin of the locals at Essex, opting instead for an extra day of training at Edgbaston. The idea was that the players could get into the Test mode quicker that way. However, unexpected showers poured water over India's aspirations, forcing them to stay indoors.
Rahane, however, felt that India were well-equipped in the skills aspect and that the true test would be of their mental character during the Test matches. "It important that rather than thinking about our skills, it is all about our mindset, playing especially here in England. What your mindset is and how quickly you adjust and how quickly you handle the situation - that is more important than thinking about your skill. Skill-level (wise), both teams are on par. It will be a test of our mind and our character."