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Direct, visceral, must-see: India's fast bowlers at home

Ashwin and Jadeja have been supreme, but since 2016, the quicks have been spectacular too

Sidharth Monga
Sidharth Monga
Indian spinners have always been good at home. If they have been as good as the combination of R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja or not is not the debate this piece wants to get into. That they have often been better than visiting spinners is a given. There has been one change over the last five-six years, though.
Far too often, the spinners' dominance reduced the fast bowlers to playing just as an insurance if they lost the toss and had to bowl on the first morning, to take the shine off in the second innings, and to field at fine leg in third and fourth innings. That one fast bowler would be Kapil Dev followed by Javagal Srinath followed by the flat pitches era where Zaheer Khan's reverse swing became a crucial part of India's arsenal.
In this era of Indian cricket, though, the fast bowlers are also proving to be a point of difference between India and the visitors, and not just with the reversing ball. India's fast bowlers running in, bowling high speeds, targeting the stumps, finding swing both reverse and conventional, finding uneven bounce, injuring batters, sending stumps cartwheeling, trapping them in front, is as essential a sight of Test cricket in India as Ashwin and Jadeja displaying their mastery.
This is high-adrenalin action. They know they don't usually have long to set batters up before the ball goes to the spinners only to come back once it starts reversing. There are no elaborate set-ups. This is just direct, visceral, highly attacking fast bowling, full and at the stumps.
You merely need to do a video search for Umesh Yadav on Twitter to feel this rush. It is just money shot after money shot after money shot. Although keep this to yourself because it can lead to unnecessary copyright strikes against people who are doing what the BCCI and the broadcasters should themselves be doing.
Since 2016, India's fast bowlers average 24.35 at home; no other travelling team gets into the 30s. This is a supremacy that can't go unnoticed. It basically disqualifies any talk around the pitches when your fast bowlers and spinners are both doing better than the visitors.
So on a pitch that the opposition spinner took 10 wickets, you couldn't really rule out an India fast bowler having the first say in response. Just like Umesh, Mohammad Siraj is already building up a mighty collection of jaffas. Add two from this Test.
Siraj's action, his angle, his fields all tell you to keep expecting the inswinger, but he has a mean outswinger that goes late, almost as if seaming off the pitch. The real beauty of it is, it still ends up on the stumps and is skiddy, leaving you no choice but to play at it. You can't leave it on line or on length.
Opener Will Young got it first. He was squared up, but was good enough to edge it to second slip. Although it was so quick, live time it looked like it might have got Young lbw.
"The way the spinners were dominating, I knew the most I will get is three or four overs," Siraj said. "I knew I had to put in a big effort in those overs and try to get a wicket or two.
"I just wanted to the end the ball on the stumps. If you are getting swing with those lines, it becomes even more difficult for the batsman. I saw New Zealand bowling, they were bowling outside off, so I decided I had to bowl at the stumps. And once I got the swing, it became dangerous."
To be fair to the New Zealand fast bowlers, they don't have the luxury that Siraj has, which is knowledge that the spinners will control the game even if they do leak a few runs going for the wickets in those three-four overs. They had to build up to dismissals, Siraj could just rush towards them.
If you are Ross Taylor, there is extra reason to expect the inswinger because that is what every bowler looks to do. Siraj was looking to do the same, but hey, he knows the window is small. Especially on this pitch, if the ball goes to the spinners, they will not leave any wickets for the quicks to take. So without a set-up, he just thought he would bowl the same: an outswinger that ends up within the stumps.
"For Ross Taylor, we had the field for inswing, because you usually look to hit his pad," Siraj said. "At the top of my mark, I thought let me bowl an outswinger. And I was in good rhythm so I felt confident about it. I just had to finish it within the stumps. It is a dream ball for a fast bowler."
Taylor's off stump gone, Siraj had three wickets and two jaffas in just 13 balls. The highlights reel of Indian fast bowlers' unplayable balls in India keeps on growing.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo