For the first time in India’s history of playing South Africa in South Africa in Tests, the visitors can boast of a pace attack that can put a tough fight outside the subcontinent. We have Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Hardik Pandya, Bhuvneshwar Kumar – all of whom can get past 140kmph. Besides, the bench strength too boasts of impressive names like Shardul Thakur, Mohammed Siraj, Basil Thampi, Ankit Rajput and a few more.
This was not always the case with Indian cricket, which was, for years, ridiculed for its low productivity of fast bowlers. Very rarely did we get to witness a bowler sending the batsman’s stumps flying, or cause him any bodily harm.
However, with the evolution of the Indian Premier League, India now boasts of a variety of quicks who can intimidate the batsmen. India are playing competitive cricket since 1932, but have not produced many fast bowlers in their long history. Kapil Dev burst upon the scene in 1978, after which the production of quicks improved, though inconsistently. Here’s going back in time and recalling the 10 fast bowlers who stood out, periodically, when spinners stole the show.
As per the information provided for Nissar by espncricinfo, he was possibly India’s first and fastest ever pacer. That 13 of his 25 wickets came through bowled or leg-before is proof of his express pace. Nissar played only six Tests but his strike rate of 48.4 suggests is remarkable. In India's maiden Test at Lord's in 1932, Nissar, who debuted in 1932, ended with 5 for 93.
Kapil Dev was the greatest pace bowler India has ever produced, and also one of their greatest fast-bowling allrounders. The architect of India’s first ever World Cup triumph in 1983, Dev was simply brilliant in his accuracy and ability to swing the ball. The right-arm bowler played 131 Tests and 225 ODIs, from which he took 434 and 253 wickets respectively.
When Javagal Srinath retired from international cricket of 11 years in 2003, after picking 551 wickets from 296 internationals, he was second only to Kapil Dev in number of Test wickets by an Indian quick. The spearhead of India’s fast-bowling unit during the 1990’s, Srinath’s pace and accuracy made him one of the best in the world. 154.5 Kmph was the fastest he was seen bowling.
It was Zaheer Khan who carried forward India’s fast bowling mantle after Kapil Dev’s retirement. The left-hander, at his peak, intimidated the best of batsmen with his impeccable swing. He was lethal on the flat subcontinent pitches as well. However, frequent injuries reduced the life span of his career. Zaheer, who once bowled at 145kmph, took 610 wickets from 309 international games.
Much like many other fast bowlers, RP Singh’s otherwise promising career took a U-turn due to frequent injuries. The 32-year-old has featured in only 14 Tests and 58 ODIs from which he 124 international wickets. His moment of fame came in 2008, when he led an inspired bowling effort to beat Australia in Perth with his 6-30. His ability to swing the new ball both ways was terrific.
The Kerala pacer came to limelight in 2005, when, in the last game of his debut season, he snapped up 6 for 55 against England. His aggressive approach made him a wicket-taking bowler. His out-swingers were to watch out for. In 27 Tests, he claimed 87 wickets and also touched the 149 kmph speed.
Nehra, who recently retired from all forms of cricket, was one of the deadliest Indian pacers who played for nearly two decades, though on and off. His pace, accuracy, line and length, everything was impeccable. But frequent injuries meant he could not be a regular in the team. He was the best bowler in the 2003 World Cup, displayed a speed of up to 149kmph. Nehra finished his long and glorious career with 235 wickets from 164 international games.
Varun Aaron has played only 18 international games in which he has 29 wickets, but his consistency of bowling at a speed beyond 140 kmph makes him stand out. However, he wasn’t very accurate with the ball, which is why he failed to cement his place in the national team. During the ODI series with Sri Lanka in 2014, Aaron bowled at unbelievable speed of 152.5 kmph.
The first thing that comes to mind when talking about Irfan Pathan is the incredible hat-trick he took in the first over of a Test match against Pakistan in Karachi in 2006, a record which still stands exclusive to him. His ability to swing the ball both ways and his accuracy with line and length helped him become a regular in the team before frequent injuries played spoilsport and ended his career prematurely.
It can be noted that the MRF Pace Foundation in Chennai, which was started by Australian pace legend Glenn McGrath, has played a huge role in the production of more pacers in India.
"There was a thing going around in the Indian cricketing world that there was no place for fast bowlers. I think it was one centre which had adequate infrastructure for fast bowlers. This (MRF academy) was one place which had 24/7 nets, which had the best facilities, the gyms throughout the day and the video sessions. The doors are open anytime for somebody who wants to do well,” Javagal Srinath once told the media.
Besides, the IPL not only unearths new talent but also provides two months of competitive cricket to the pacers, during which their fitness is also maintained. Earlier, lack of fitness resulted in injuries and career lows.
Indian cricket, after several years, has world-class pacers not just in the team but also on the fringes.