Regardless of Prithvi Shaw’s strikingly self-assertive, century-making Test debut and Risabh Pant’s continued belligerence with the bat, it was Umesh Yadav’s match-winning bowling performance which should perhaps be considered India’s singular achievement in the latest home series against the West Indies, won 2-0 recently. To say that is not to seek to belittle the batting duo’s showing.
On the contrary, Shaw should actually have been defended by authoritative voices when his putative predilection for square-of-the-wicket shots came to be held against him by dissenting critics. Well might side strokes be central to long, productive innings in Australia, which is where India will go now, given that the hosts’ bowlers might not really be inclined to permit the front foot drive to be played every now and then with a generous supply of good-length but gormless deliveries. They will breathe fire with short-of-length, soaring stuff past the nose and the batsman then will have to summon the response that lively, bouncy wickets call for.
Which is where Yadav’s excellence kicks in. His rich haul came on a strip that, to a pace bowler, was hardly a nut sundae in the Sahara desert. True, the Caribbeans today are not the team of murderous batsmen ~ alongside fast bowlers who broke bones and wickets without even appearing to be trying too hard ~ but the point in favour of the Indian is that you can’t really take on Viv Richards ~ or even Brian Lara ~ when he isn’t there in the action. Yadav, having long been made to appear an under-achiever – and he, quite unlike many others here, there and everywhere – never flinched from saying that he would never cut down on his pace, simply came into his own at Hyderabad. It showed India could wrest home victories with pace too ~ and that was a major statement.
In trying monomaniacally to wring each and every paisa from the game over the years, what the Board of Control for Cricket in India has seemed to ignore is a paradigm shift. Whatever the reason, the most important feature in the Indian way of the game has for some time now been the emergence of a battery of new-ball bowlers that has won critical acclaim in a lot of places without being able to persuade national captains, well, to leave it to it. Spin, however good, need not have been our sole trump card since then.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni, when captain, should have re-ordered our priority but chose, comically enough, to pick quarrels with independent-minded curators across the country during home series whenever first-day square-turners were not made available. So, India made designer tracks, were laughed at even in triumph and sometimes copped it in terms of administrative punishment from people upstairs. Far-from-southern- Asia Test series continued to be nightmares. If Yadav’s headline-grabbing show turns things around, so be it.