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HomesportscricketMaking a case for greatness

Making a case for greatness

Bengaluru: It’s unsure if Sourav Ganguly is forgotten of such a thing called impact, but in saying that this current Indian bowling line-up is ‘not the best Indian attack at a World Cup’, ever, the former Indian skipper has revealed some gaps in his rationale.

Rather bizarre given his own oeuvre on the fabric of Indian cricket!

Perhaps distracted by nostalgia, Ganguly insisted that the 2003 World Cup attack, involving Ashish Nehra, Zaheer Khan, Javagal Srinath, Harbhajan Singh, Anil Kumble and Ajit Agarkar was as good.

He isn’t wrong on a superficial level because as individuals most of them would waltz into the hall of fame in world cricket, and also, they were effective enough to carry India to the final before they lost to Australia.

But then again, what Ganguly is leaving out, conveniently perhaps, is that no team was really afraid of the unit from 2003. Also, their individual brilliance only sporadically made a case for cohesion.

This team, though, is another beast. Yes, they have individuals capable of doing damage and then some, but as a collective, they are, inarguably, the greatest bowling package India has ever produced across all editions of the World Cup.

Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj, Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav have been India’s go-to for the last few games, owing to an ankle injury to Hardik Pandya.

Let’s gloss over the way in which the Indian team handled conveying the degree to which Pandya was injured from the outset because that, rather vexing conversation, can be held for another time, but the fact that the all-rounder’s absence has barely dented the Indian attack leaves one nonplussed.

In a tournament where 350s have become par score at most venues and 32 centuries have been scored overall, the Indian bowling unit has conceded the highest team tally of 273 against New Zealand, and the only century scored against them came in that same game, courtesy Daryll Mitchell.

One must then ask, is the game really tilted in favour of the batters when the bowling is this good?

Well, it’s beyond argument at this point that the game is more about balls sailing over boundary ropes, and bowlers looking on helplessly, but once in a while – perhaps once in a generation even – an attack so rounded comes about that it levels the playing field.

Actually, in this case, it goes one step further and takes over the playing field. This bowling unit is an anomaly. The gap between them and the second-best bowling unit is so vast that comedians should be taking notes for their next stand-up routine.

In fact, no bowling unit in the history of World Cups has had a wider gap between itself and the second-best team.

Going by numbers alone, only a couple of bowling units – Australia in 2003 and South Africa in 2011 – in World Cups have fared better than India have in this World Cup.

With an average of 19.03, they’re head and shoulders ahead of second-best South Africa, and the Proteas average 26.01, a difference of -6.99. That’s far and above the largest gap in World Cup history.

The same pattern reveals itself when it comes to economy because their stringency per over is down at 4.40 and the second best is Afghanistan at 5.27, a difference of -0.86. Again, that’s way ahead of the closest competition where Pakistan were on 4.13 as opposed to Sri Lanka’s 4.44 (difference of -0.32) during the 2011 World Cup.

India have bowled out teams under 200 in five out of eight matches. Two of those totals have been under 100. They are also the only side to have bowled out every opposition team they have come across.

These figures are bound to change as the tournament rolls on, but it isn’t likely to take the edge off of what is possibly the greatest bowling array – not just Indian – at a World Cup. Ever.

Why though? Why are they so good that people are growing suspicious of them and their modus operandi?

“Variety!” Former Pakistan paceman Waqar Younis tells DH. “That’s the name of the game. We used to have this in Pakistan. I think we still do with the current team, but it’s not nearly as versatile as the Indian attack. The most basic assessment is their release points. Bumrah is way ahead (of his body), Siraj is slightly ahead and Shami is on top. Their angles of release are different, the way they grip the ball is different, their plans are different… and then the spinners, though both are left-armers, have their own variations.

“It’s a lot for batters to handle this over in and over out. I don’t think I have seen a more complex bowling unit than this one in years. There are so many variables to keep in mind as a batter, and there’s only so much time. If this was Test cricket, batters may, may, be able to take their time and figure it out, but this, even though is 50 overs, can’t possibly figure it out. Endless hours of watching videos and deciphering will not help. This bowling attack is surreal.”

And that’s coming from one of the greatest pacers of all time, and he’s from a country which has produced more great pacemen per year than some countries have in a century.

Laxmipathy Balaji may not be in the same league as Younis, but as someone who has been part of the Indian system, his voice is about as important.

“I don’t know about the greatest bowling unit India has ever produced because that’s crisscrossing generations, but this is one of the best we have ever had, no doubt about that,” he says, barely able to contain his excitement. “But, to me, where they excel is how they have learnt to exploit the old ball. I think that’s what separates them. Most bowlers can be good with the new ball, but it’s the old ball that pushes them into a corner. This unit knows exactly what to do when the ball gets old.

“Also, Rohit’s (Sharma) captaincy is excellent. He knows who he needs to bring on and when brilliantly. His rotations are exceptional and that’s why this unit is doing so well,” he adds.

We could bring out individual numbers and state how they have all been efficient to a fault, Shami especially who has 16 wickets at a strike rate of 9.75 and an economy of 4.30, but that’s not the point of this exercise.

This piece is an effort to express what many have been feeling since India began their still-unbeaten campaign a month or so ago. What’s that you ask?

This bowing unit is the greatest ever to have played at a World Cup.

We probably should add an ‘arguably’ to the end of it so it seems fair, but in actuality, it wouldn’t be because this unit inspires fear, the likes of which world cricket hasn’t seen in a long, long time.

(Published 11 November 2023, 16:49 IST)

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