Since making his Test debut on the tour of South Africa, Jasprit Bumrah has been one of the crucial pieces of the puzzle to the Indian test side, where he's added the x-factor to pace attack. But what if Bumrah was never included in the Test plans of India, and remained a limited-overs specialist?
One of the major revolutions that happened in the Indian cricket in the recent past has been the emergence of quality fast bowlers that are not only dependable but can destroy any opposition in the world with their brutal pace. Interestingly, this drastic change in the Indian bowling lineup began with the inclusion of Jasprit Bumrah in the Test side, who along with Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma formed the backbone of Indian bowling.
However, what if Bumrah was never included in the Test side and always remained a limited-overs specialist? How would have Indian bowling shaped up without Bumrah? There’s only one way we’ll get the answers to these questions and that is by going into the alternate dimension of What if Wednesday. So, let’s dive in!
The BCCI announce the squad for the 2018 tour of South Africa and include Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, and Umesh Yadav as the front-line pacers for pace-friendly pitches of the Proteas. There were talks of Jasprit Bumrah being included in the side but nothing fruitful happened of that discussion. This Indian side looks as good as any, with Virat Kohli leading with his impeccable batting performances and a pace battery that can be sort of depended upon, but the tour of South Africa has never been easy historically so it will be a huge challenge in front of Kohli to perform well there, especially in Tests.
Coming on the back of absolutely mutilating Sri Lanka in the home series, it is time for the first Test in Newlands, which is known to be helpful for spinners. Umesh, Bhuvi, Shami, Hardik Pandya and Ravichandran Ashwin get picked to lead the bowling lineup. Batting first, Proteas pile on a score of 286 on the board. India seems to have started the match on a good note, but there is a mini-collapse in the batting lineup and Indian batsmen fail to tackle Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel. What a display of fast bowling!
However, Jr. Pandya comes out all guns blazing and rescues the Indian innings with his brilliant 93 and helps India reach the score of 209 in the first innings with Bhuvi giving good company to Pandya with his gritty 25. At least India now have a fighting score on the board. But this comeback doesn't last long as the South African openers get their team to a good start, looking to take the game away from India, stitching a well-made 50 run partnership. But shortly after that Pandya and Shami stop the flow of runs by taking crucial strikes in quick succession. Pandya seems to be having a great Test.
Then, Bhuvi and Umesh too join the party and help to restrict South Africa to a total of 130 with a target of 208 for India to chase. Despite a low target, the match seems to be tilted in South Africa’s favour with the challenging wicket to bat on. As expected, India falter to get off to a good start and after that wickets keep falling in quick succession. Even Pandya isn't able to come to their rescue this time around and they get bowled out for just 135. India lose the match by 72 runs. Not a star of the tour that Kohli would have wanted.
To add to the woes, a similar script ensues in the next two Test as well with their batting failing their bowling on each occasion, resulting in India losing the series 3-0. The Indian pacers, however, do well with Umesh ending up with 14 wickets in the series, along with Hardik picking up 12, Shami picking up 11 and Bhuvi getting 7 wickets.
The limited-overs series does a little damage control to the embarrassing losses in the Tests as India convincingly lift the ODI series 5-1 and the T20 series 2-1. After the tough tour of South Africa, Kohli is rested and Rohit Sharma gets to lead the side in the Nidahas Trophy. He proves his leadership skills in the tournament by making some good decisions under pressure and with the help of the terrific knock of Dinesh Karthik in the final, he helps India win the tournament.
It is now the turn of the easy match against Afghanistan at home which India win pretty easily in lead up to the UK tour, where again they start off by winning the 2 T20s against Ireland and then go on to win the three-match T20 series against England. Extending their good form, they win the first ODI as well. India have all things going for them in the limited-overs and they look like a world-class side. However, things started going downhill after that they lose the next two ODIs, dropping the series 2-1. Not a great foundation for the Test series to follow.
India go in with the similar bowling attack that they had in South Africa with Ishant Sharma leading the charge this time. In return, India have similar results to that of the South Africa series as they lose the series 3-0. In the match at Trent Bridge, where it felt like they would win, there again their hopes were smashed by a brilliant hundred from Joe Root.
India’s bowling line-up looks much more settled in the limited-overs format with Bumrah in the XI. Ishant, Shami, Umesh and Bhuvi all are doing well in patches but it takes all of them to come together as a unit to win games.
Meanwhile, India wins the Asia Cup and defeat West Indies at home pretty easily as expected in the preparation for the Australian tour. Umesh emerges as the leading wicket-taker in the West Indies Test series with 13 wickets and he is seen as a dependable option for the 2018-2019 Australian tour. Come the tour Down Under, India draw the T20 series upfront in the lead to the Test series.
India enter the Test series as the favourites against a weaker Australian side. However, they are not able to justify their tag of favourites as they start off with a loss at Adelaide. Although Cheteswar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane bat incredibly well to set up the game for India by giving a target of 323 for Australia to chase, their bowling lets them down, not able to take wickets and giving way too many loose deliveries. Shaun Marsh and Tim Paine stay not out at the end to ensure Australia reaches the target without any problem. To make things worse, in the next game in Perth, along with their bowling, their batting also falters and they again lose the match by a massive 146 runs.
In the following game in Melbourne, there are glimpses of good cricket by Indian team but they are confronted with a brilliant hundred from Marcus Harris, who helps Australia score 350 in the first innings. Then, India take some time to score 250 runs and set the target of 350 in front of the Aussies, but they hardly have enough time to bowl out the opposition as only the last two sessions of the 5th day are left. The match is drawn and a similar result ensues in the last match, where both the sets of bowlers don't have any luck on the cement wicket of Sydney. Australia win the series 2-0 and destroys India’s hopes of winning a Test series Down Under yet again.
After this, India go into ‘ODI mode’ with the 2019 World Cup on the horizon. They win the ODI series in New Zealand quite convincingly but lose the T20 series to end their tour on a low. They come back to India to play Australia, where despite being favourites to win, they first lose the opening two T20 matches and then lose the ODI series as well. Quite a shocker just before the World Cup.
Amidst all the number 4 debate in the World Cup, India play well to reach the semi-final of the World Cup, mainly on the back of ‘out of the world’ performances from Rohit Sharma. However, they get knocked out of the tournament in the semi-final against a dominat New Zealand bowling, failing to chase a target of 240.
After the emotional exit from the World Cup, India is faced with the easy away series against West Indies, which they win quite convincingly in all the three formats. Everything again seems to be working for them, with the batting lineup scoring runs and bowlers standing up and taking wickets in the following limited-overs series at home against South Africa, Bangladesh, West Indies, Sri Lanka and finally Australia, winning each of the series except a series draw against the Proteas.
Next in line was the crucial away series against New Zealand, particularly the Tests, where the Indian team will be tested against the strong bowling batting lineup of the Kiwis. India start off by winning the T20 series 5-0, which wasn’t as dominating as it looks on paper with two of the 5 matches going to super over. The momentum is certainly in India's favour, however, the Kiwis come back strongly to win the ODI series 3-0 and absolutely destroy India in the Test series to win it 2-0.
The lack of proper pace attack and dependability on batsmen becomes quite clear. Multiple batting collapses and the Indian pacers failing to be effective in the bowling friendly conditions of New Zealand raise questions over if India are actually a world-class team. Seeing the side's dire state, Kohli steps down from Test captaincy but continues to be the skipper in the limited-overs format. Surprisingly, Rohit Sharma is named the Test captain on the back of his impressive captaincy skills and his brilliant return to Test cricket.
But cricket comes to a pause as the world is hit with the pandemic. It would now be interesting to see how the Mumbai Indians skipper manages to lead the team in the longest format of the game, once cricket resumes.