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Sharda Ugra

India have amazeballs fast bowlers? Surely I'm dreaming

An Indian fan accustomed to the gentle speeds of Indian quicks of the '80s and '90s struggles to comprehend that her team now has a fearsome pace attack

Sharda Ugra
Sharda Ugra
Shami how it's done: Mohammed Shami's deadly accuracy has even astounded his own bowling partners  •  AFP/Getty Images

Shami how it's done: Mohammed Shami's deadly accuracy has even astounded his own bowling partners  •  AFP/Getty Images

At the end of the Indore Test, Ishant Sharma asked a question of Mohammed Shami that belonged to the ages. Okay, our ages. Certainly that particular age when mournful Indian fans addressed opposition fast bowlers on their TV screens with Ishant's question to Shami: "What are you doing that whenever you hit the pads, it's out… When we hit the pad, it's missing the stumps. Why does this happen?"
Why, why, why?
Growing up in the 1980s and '90s, our anguish was never directed at India's spinners, who did their stuff. Grandly at home and manfully elsewhere. It was aimed at the quicks. To those who produced what us fans of a particular dotage thought of as quick. Ish. What we sliced and diced into steak-like speeds - medium, medium-fast, fast-medium, military medium, slow medium.
But the make-'em-jump pace, perfume-ball pace, the pace is pace yaar pace? That's forever rare, belonging only to West Indians (hostile), Australians (nasty) and Pakistanis (yum). Please remember that for a good while it was our lead spinner, a six-foot-something guy wearing spectacles, who sent down the toe-crushers.
Why, why, why?
To be objective, in the late 20th century, swing not speed had been India's thing in the pace(ish) department. Our 1986 Test series victory in England was fashioned by Kapil Dev, Chetan Sharma and Roger Binny (fast-medium, medium-medium, military). On other occasions, Kapil worked alongside Manoj Prabhakar, the forever-scowling purveyor of conjurer-swing. Both were effective - when they weren't kicking each other in the nuts, that is.
But to have more than two fast, bruisingly fast, bowlers at one time, functioning full tilt, with a third dervish of talent, brain and venom sending down orbs at healthy clicks, was completely unthinkable. Impossible. Utterly. Not. Happening. Never happened.
So to have India go into their first day-night Test, at Eden Gardens on Friday, with three fast fast bowlers operating like physically fit, biomechanically grooved havoc-meisters is to find ourselves in a stupor. Three in one go, each of them turning up ready. At something between 138 and 140-plus, at the stumps, at the batsmen's defences, hands, chest, throat, helmet badge. From the first ball of the day to the last, the first spell of the morning to the final turn at the top of their mark, running in through long shadows. Tell me I am not dreaming.
These bowlers - what do we call them; surely not Kohli's Tracer Bullets? - have changed the methods India employ, particularly away from home. No longer bat once, bat big and then use scoreboard pressure to prise out 20 wickets. In the day-night Test, therefore, no matter what dramas await batting against the pink ball, there rests the smug satisfaction of knowing that even a reasonable handful of runs will be enough for the bowlers to get stuck in. Like how the West Indians did in the '80s, the Aussies in the '90s, or as Pakistan generally and randomly still do.
True, the contemporary batsmen India have bowled to in their last three series - West Indies away, South Africa and Bangladesh at home - are not the sons of Bradman. But remember, while Shami, Ishant and Umesh Yadav are celebrated, Jasprit Bumrah, (yorkers on call, thank you, God), is in rehab and Bhuvneshwar Kumar of the metronomic sagacity is on standby. And none of them snarl or sledge or indulge in fast-boy diva drama. For Indian cricket fans, this is as good a reason as any for Oxford and Cambridge to have included a proper colloquialism in their lexicon - Amazeballs.
How did we get here? We grew up paying respect to Tiger and the Quartet, but at the back of our minds simmered the cringe-making memory of the Indian bowling being opened by Abid Ali, Eknath Solkar and Sunil Gavaskar.
When contemplating a memory cabinet of "spells", our minds first veered towards Indian batsmen in white or blue - Gavaskar, Viswanath, Amarnath, Vengsarkar, Azharuddin, Tendulkar, Dravid, Ganguly - under some beastly quick's examination. Gutsing it out or carving one over point or standing their ground after being hit. There are many of those and that list grows and grows - VVS, Sehwag, Yuvraj, Dhoni, Pujara, Rahane, Kohli, and on and on.
When it came to our own seamers, the showreel ran far slower, with swing and reverse swing trumping speed: Kapil working over Australia in 1980-81 and 1985-86, Venkatesh Prasad v Aamer Sohail at the 1996 World Cup, Javagal Srinath v South Africa in Ahmedabad, Zaheer Khan upending New Zealand and Ashish Nehra England in the 2003 World Cup, (the amazeballs-level bowling of those last two alongside Srinath was undone by a "batsmen-friendly" toss decision in the final), Irfan Pathan yorking Adam Gilchrist in Sydney, Ishant's "dalega" takedown of Ricky Ponting, and Sreesanth bouncing Jacques Kallis out of a Kingsmead crack into beauteous contortion.
All too scattered, fitful bits of fist-pumping over 40 years. For a very long time, before the 2000s turnaround, we had away-series failure dirges written into our psyche. The Ballad of Poor Opening Stands. The Lament for the Third Seamer. The Awfulness of a One-Legged Pace Attack.
It's not like young Indians didn't try. Kapil's dramatic arrival and his impact through the 1980s was meant to be revolutionary, pathbreaking, a watershed. On the field, it was. But as much as he inspired young boys down the ranks and across the country, during the span of his career, from 1979 through 1994, it was a sporadic line of struggling successors who came through. They came one at a time, infrequent, solitary raiders, throwing body on the line and dreams at Kapil's door, a line of lost boys.
We remember them today with fondness because we felt their pain: TA Sekhar, Sanjeev Sharma, Raju Kulkarni, Robin Singh Jr, Bhupinder Singh Sr, Bharat Arun, and a pace quartet from "the team of the 1990s": Vivek Razdan, Salil Ankola, Atul Wassan and Subroto Banerjee.
Razdan took a fifer in his second and final Test and played only three ODIs thereafter. Banerjee played only one Test, took three wickets in the first innings (Mark Taylor, Geoff Marsh and Mark Waugh), didn't bowl in the second, and never played again. Wassan played four Tests and nine ODIs; Ankola one Test and 20 ODIs. This spelt self-destruction, through a decade when India won a single Test (and series) overseas - in Sri Lanka in 1993.
Mercifully, the generation that followed was kindly disposed towards rookies. Srinath, Prasad and Ajit Agarkar passed on lessons to Zaheer and Nehra, who have since paid it forward to Ishant and those who followed. The IPL's melting pot gave young Indian fast bowlers a pack of high-quality teachers - not merely when it came to skills, but fitness, nutrition, professionalism. Those who want the most from their abilities learn the quickest.
If many faithful smelt the beginning of an Indian fast-bowling revolution in Test cricket during the Kohli era, the first time it translated into significant away results was with India's first Test series win in Australia. India's pacemen - Bumrah, Shami, Ishant and Yadav - took 50 of the 70 wickets and followed it up with a comprehensive home clean-out of South Africa, who had always been the best travellers to India. The pacers' 26 wickets at 17.5 (alongside 32 at 27.8 to spin) versus South Africa have brought us here - 240 points ahead of the next team in the World Test Championship.
India's next round of Tests is away in New Zealand, and the next home Test only in February 2021, followed by the World Test Championship final in June that year. That title would be great. Instagram can go mad with the photos of the mace, or whatever WTC bauble the ICC produces. Nice, fabulous, but not enough. The generation that has spent four decades dreaming of blitz-degree Indian fast bowling wants more: Test series wins in South Africa and England. And Australia again. Against everyone you face on the way to becoming the most dominant, most feared, most uncrushable team of the next decade with your battery of fast bowlers and world-conquering batsmen.
Battery. Of. Fast. Bowlers. In an Indian team. The thought makes us delirious. Yes, there is no end to our greed. It's all your fault.

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo