Are the Indians missing Bhuvneshwar Kumar? Nasser Hussain asked Dinesh Karthik before play began on the fifth day of The Ultimate Test at Hampshire Bowl in Southampton on Tuesday. Hussain’s fellow Englishman Mike Atherton was curious to know from Sunil Gavaskar if Kumar would have been ideal for the conditions prevailing in Southampton. Gavaskar said that he would have preferred Kumar as the fourth medium-pacer for the WTC final and perhaps not for the five-Test series that follows in August-September against Joe Root’s men.
Kumar has not played a Test match since the Johannesburg Test in 2018 that India won by 63 runs. Since then, it has only been white ball cricket for the Uttar Pradesh seamer as injuries also have curtailed his career. Kumar has been named the vice-captain for next month’s limited-overs series in Sri Lanka.
In his only appearance in a Test series in England, Kumar took 19 wickets in the five matches in 2014 at 26.63. He missed the 2018 Test series in England due to lower back injury. Former India all-rounder and a vital member of India’s successful 1983 World Cup campaign in England, Roger Binny, wondered why Kumar was not playing in England. “Bhuvi is your best bowler in England. He and Shardul Thakur would have been effective as they are seamers, landing the ball on the seam and at the right lengths.”
Such was the dismal bowling of the Indian pace-bowling trio of Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammad Shami on Sunday that allowed New Zealand to take the game away from India even in the rain-curtailed Test and eventually win by eight wickets, chasing a meagre target of 139 in a minimum of 53 overs, to emerge World Test champions in its inaugural World Test Championship 2019-21 cycle.
The lengths that the Indian bowlers sent down on Sunday after being bowled out for only 217 left a lot to be desired, allowing New Zealand openers Devon Conway and Tom Latham to put up 70 and paving the way for the Kiwis to eventually post 249 and lead first innings by 32 runs on Tuesday evening. It was contrasting to what the New Zealand bowled at the Indians, often sending down short deliveries and troubling the Indian batsmen, not giving them room to score freely.
On the other hand, there was hardly any short stuff from the Indians, which even prompted Test debutant commentator Dinesh Karthik to say during the studio discussion that the Indians should bowl at the New Zealand helmets and shake the opposition a bit. Perhaps being criticised for letting Kane Williamson and his men to score that many on Sunday and not containing the New Zealanders, the Indian bowlers led by Md Shami were an entirely different lot on Tuesday.
They adjusted the length and allowed the New Zealanders to drive and in the bargain took wickets. The length that the Indians bowled on Tuesday was missing on Sunday, inviting criticism. All the more so because the Indian bowling line-up is regarded as a potent force anywhere in the world.
Binny, who was the highest wicket-taker in the 1983 World Cup in England with 18 scalps, was shocked at the way India bowled on Sunday. So too was his team-mate and another 1983 World Cup winner Balwinder Singh Sandhu. Sandhu said: “The Indians bowled short of length on Sunday but on Tuesday they pitched the ball up. You have to make them play off the front foot. The bowlers may be rusty but you take wickets by pitching it up and letting the batsmen to drive off the front foot.”
Sandhu said that he would have preferred Md Siraj in place of Ishant, despite the latter being the most experienced player in the side and has 300-plus wickets. “Even after playing 100 Tests, Ishant looks like a newcomer to me. He should be leading the attack but Shami is doing that role. Bumrah, too, was disappointing with the ball not seaming,” Sandhu said.
Sharma, for all his experience and on his fourth Test tour of England following 2011, 2014 and 2018, took three for 48 in 25 overs in NZ’s first innings but went wicketless in the second innings. Shami was by far the best Indian bowler who brought India back into the game on Tuesday and finished with 4/76 in 26 overs. The third member of the pace-bowling trio, Bumrah finished wicketless in both the innings after bowling a combined 36.4 overs.
Shami brought India back in the game on Tuesday. He began by forcing Ross Taylor drive away from his body for Shubman Gill to take a brilliant catch at short cover. The right-armer from Bengal hit the seam and brilliantly castled the Kiwi wicket-keeper BJ Watling, playing in his last Test, and also removed the dangerous all-rounder Colin de Grandhomme leg before wicket with one that moved in after hitting the deck and catching the right-hander’s back pad.
Shami also bowled the short ball as the tall Kyle Jamieson was in an attacking mood and top-edged to long leg. True to Sandhu’s words, Shami was clearly the leader of the Indian attack. Binny said that the Indians ought to have learnt from the manner in which New Zealand bowled at the Indians.
“Watching the Indians bowl on Sunday (the third day of the Test), it was not the way to bowl in a Test in England. It was an absolute disgrace. What did the opposition do to you? Virat Kohli was struggling to get off the square. All the batsmen struggled. How many times were Kohli and Rahane beaten? The pitches in England always have something for you, especially when you are seaming the ball.
“And, when New Zealand come to bat, they are happily scoring against you. What sort of a performance was this? They are playing a Test match. When you bowl, you bowl in the batsman’s half. You don’t bowl in your half. They have to play the shots. The shorter you bowl, the more the ball seams. You have to attack to take wickets, not bowl defensively. The Indian bowlers were bowling to contain them. I was very surprised with the way they bowled in a Test in England. The opposition knocks you over with seaming balls. All you have to do is watch them bowl and bowl the same way. You pitch the ball up.
“The Indians had poor strategy. The wicket was doing something. And, the Indian bowlers are not freshers. You are sitting and watching the NZ bowlers bowling to your batsmen. That is how you learn. Weren’t the Indians watching them how they did it? I am expecting better performance from the Indian bowlers.”
Binny, who bowled his best in England with a bowling averages of 20.92 in Tests and 19.14 in ODIs, said that India ought to have attacked straightaway after posting 217 in the first innings. He said: “They have to change their tactics. They cannot go to a match this way. They have to bowl to the conditions. If the conditions demand you to bowl shorter length, bowl shorter length. You have to be attacking straightaway after having 217 on the board.
“I think they did not pick the right bowling line-up. You have to have someone who seams the ball, do a little bit with the ball. That’s what New Zealand did. They are not quicks. They kept bowling the right line and length. You cannot get batsmen out at 90 and 100 speeds but with seam and swing.”