India bowling coach happy that the side has its best bowlers fit and firing together at the World Cup after freakish run of injuries.
The relief is palpable when you ask India’s bowling coach Paras Mhambrey about finally getting to work with a full-strength bowling unit. India have been going through a freakish run of injuries for the best part of three years now, but getting Jasprit Bumrah back for the World Cup is a blessing India were beginning to prepare to live without.
“Ask me about it, man,” Mhambrey, making no attempt to hide his relief, said, when asked how good it was to finally get the full band back together. “It has been tough. The last couple of years, it has been really tough. It is tough to miss [out on] someone like Bumrah. You have seen him in the last three games that he has played. What he brings to the table. He is a world-class bowler. He gives you that breakthrough that you require in the powerplays. He’s well adapted to bowl in the middle overs and he’s a top, gun death bowler. We really missed him.”
A World Cup without Bumrah was not just a nightmare or a thought but a distinct reality. Mhambrey credited the medical staff both at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) and with the team for the return of Bumrah. “We must credit the staff back at the NCA, the medical department, the physios out there, and out here as well,” Mhambrey said. “And they really worked hard behind the scenes for the last few years, from where he was and to get him out here. So, credit goes to them as well.”
While Bumrah was sidelined, going in for surgery to recover from a stress fracture of the back, Mohammed Siraj had the opening to emerge as a world-class ODI bowler. Siraj hasn’t quite maintained the form he was in coming into the World Cup, but the team management was impressed with how he pulled his length back and made a comeback in the match against Pakistan after conceding 18 in his first two overs.
One possible reason why Siraj has not been at his best is that this lot of balls is hardly swinging. In the lead-up to the World Cup, the balls were moving a lot more and for longer for the quicks, allowing Siraj to become the threat he was. His economy of 6.46 and average of 50.66 so far this tournament sit in contrast with the figures of the rest of India’s bowlers.
If there has been one criticism of India’s superb campaign so far, it has probably been that Siraj has been slow at adjusting to the lack of swing. However, India are unlikely to lose sleep over it. Firstly because their solid attack allows them to have one bowler go for runs. Secondly Siraj did begin to make the adjustment needed against Pakistan.
More importantly, perhaps, India’s next set of matches features the only venues where the ball has swung properly this World Cup. They will face New Zealand in Dharamsala and England in Lucknow, two venues where fast bowlers have found some joy. Even the match against Bangladesh will be played in Pune, which is an open venue, bereft of high stands or roofs blocking the wind.
Mhambrey did speak about having to leave Mohammed Shami out, a bowler who can use the new ball and has one of the best strike rates in ODI cricket. “It is never an easy decision,” Mhambrey said. “But I think the conversations are around, we had a clear chat with him. Whenever we select a squad, the message from us is very clear. That we pick a squad we feel is the best for that wicket.
“And I think sometimes you will miss out. Someone like him is missing out, someone like Ash [R Ashwin] will miss out. And that’s the communication that we have with him. We are very clear. Difficult decision, honestly, given the quality that he [Shami] brings to the team, new ball, death, it is difficult to take that decision. But you have to take that decision, you only have 11 on the field.”
The fourth specialist bowler will continue to be someone who can also contribute with the bat: Shardul Thakur or Ashwin. While Ashwin can use the breeze to his advantage, Pune still might be a ground that favours the extra seamer because of its short boundaries and historically flat pitch.
“It’s been a really tough one when you have a world-class bowler amongst your 15 and are unable to… we don’t get an opportunity to give him a game,” Mhambrey said of Ashwin. “That’s a tough call, you have to take that tough call. But for us, the conversation has always been around the team, not only prior to this game, but the last few years.
“We go with the best combination for the surface. In that sense, he’s been a great lad. He understands that, he’s a great team guy. I’ve never seen him grumpy; I haven’t seen him complaining any time for any of the last few years that he’s been with us.
“So having someone like that, a team guy in a team really helps. The credit goes to him. Even after so many years, he’s there, he wants to do well for the team, he turns up every practice session, goes through the rigorous grind, and he keeps bowling.”