It was second Test match during 1991-92 Test series between India and South Africa at Johannesburg. South African all-rounder Meyrick Pringle was on strike against young Indian pacer Javagal Srinath. Srinath bowled a brutal bouncer with significant pace, which struck Pringle over his left eye. The blow was fatal; Pringle was removed from the ground on a stretcher.
Notwithstanding that it was unfortunate incident; it has significance for Indian Cricket fans like me. Javagal Srinath perhaps was the first Indian pacer who invoked such intimidation with his fearsome bowling and that incident manifested that. It was like turning the tables as Indians had always been at the receiving end against quality and intimidating pace bowling till then.
In 1982-83 during India’s tour to West Indies and West Indies’s tour to India after the 1983 World Cup, Indians capitulated against the sheer pace of Marshall & Company.
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Much before that, during Indian tour to West Indies in 1976, Indians were simply shattered by West Indian pace bowlers. At Kingston Jamaica during the first Indian innings, Gaekwad, Vishwanath and Brijesh Patel received fierce blows from hostile West Indies pace attack on the fast pitch and they were ruled out for the game. Captain Bedi was so terrified that he and Chandra did not come out to bat at all, as Bedi wanted to keep his main bowlers intact.
Because of this, Indian innings was finished after eight wickets. In second innings, Indian innings came to end with fall of the fifth wicket at 97. Gaekwad, Vishwanath and Patel were retired hurt and again Bedi and Chandra did not come to bat. In 1962, the career of Nari Contractor was over in a flash when he received a life-threatening blow on his skull on the bowling of Charlie Griffith. He almost lost his life actually and could only be survived after multiple surgeries.
So at Johannesburg, Srinath made a resounding statement and he took Indian pace bowling to a new level in years to come, although his overall statistics does not really do justice to his greatness.
Now let’s come to recently concluded India – Australia Test series. India won the series and there are three significant high points for Indians out of this series. First is the KL Rahul, who propelled himself in a different league altogether with the magnificent and consistent display with a bat at the top of the order. The second was Ravindra Jadeja, who played a key role with both bat and ball. Jadeja unquestionably eclipsed even Virat Kohli and Ashwin and become most valuable Test player for his side.
Third is pacer Umesh Yadav. Yadav has really been a revelation out of this series. Umesh bowled magnificently throughout the series. He claimed 17 wickets in the series and played a pivotal role for his side.
This is a gigantic feat if you consider the fact that the series was played on turning tracks and overall spinners dominated the proceedings and Josh Hazlewood is second among pacers during the series, way behind Umesh with just nine wickets.
History of Indian pace bowling starts with Kapil Dev in 1978-79. For the next 12-14 years, he remained the the only crusader. During this period, countless bowlers came to support him but hardly anyone could leave any impression. Madan Lal, Chetan Sharma, Roger Binny, Manoj Prabhakar, Raju Kulkarni, TA Shekhar, Bharti Arun, Rashid Patel, Rajinder Singh Ghai, Salil Ankola, Vivek Razdan; it is a huge list. Prabhakar was most successful of them with 96 wickets in 39 Test matches.
That was the time when the game of Cricket was ruled by intimidating fast bowlers from the Caribbean and Australia and in comparison, Indian pacers were just mediocre in space and they had a non-rebuttable tag of the medium fast bowler on them. Once Viv Richards openly loathed Madan Lal for lack of pace.
Great Kapil Dev was highly effective due to his accuracy and immaculate swing but pace was limited. Moreover, 16 years long career of Kapil can be divided into two parts, 1978-1984 and 1984-1994. Kapil was a lethal bowler and he was thwarting best batting line-ups across the world during 1978-84. However, during 1984-1994, Kapil was only performing in patches and in conditions favourable to swing bowling. During that period, for team India it was more of batsman Kapil who mattered more than bowler Kapil.
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Javagal Srinath came like a fresh breeze in the early nineties. He was very quick and aggressive. Srinath was first genuine match winner pacer after Kapil for India. He could have ended with far better career statistics, had he not entangled with all those fitness problems.
Zaheer Khan took the legacy further. Zaheer was match winner too and had a magnificent career. Bowlers like Irfan Pathan, Ishant Sharmaand Sreesanth were impressive in patches. Sreesanth had all the ingredients required to become a great fast bowler but he could not manage himself and vanished because of non-Cricketing reasons.
Coming back to Umesh. Umesh is unique in many regards. He is tantalisingly and consistently quick. First time ever India has a quick bowler, who is on par with his contemporaries across the world in term of pace. He perhaps is one of the fittest pacerIndia has ever had. Umesh possesses beautiful run-up and lovely on-field mannerism. Somewhat like Waqar Younis and James Anderson.
During recent series, Umesh displayed uncanny ability to take wickets at crunch situation. At Dharamshala, Yadav was instrumental as in both the innings he took key wickets at the top of Australian batting order and set the tone for spinners to wrap things up.
Umesh Yadav arguably is the third defining moment for Indian pace bowling after Kapil and Srinath.Kapil exhibited that India too can also have world class pacer; Srinath proved that Indians can be quick and intimidating too and Umesh demonstrated that Indians can be genuinely and consistently fast.
With little doubt, Umesh would be a player to watch in days to come in Test matches for India. He may very well be key performer during the next couple of years as India set to play Test series in South Africa, England and Australia.