India’s pace bowling future cause of worry as Prasidh, Shardul endure poor show | Cricket


On Wednesday at SuperSport Park, India’s bowlers conceded 37 fours and two sixes in the 66 overs South Africa faced in their first innings till stumps on day two of the first Test. That’s roughly a boundary every 1.69 overs. In helpful conditions – thick clouds overhead, a generous coating of grass on the pitch which encouraged liberal seam movement, considerable if somewhat spongy bounce. Against a reasonably inexperienced batting group.

Centurion: India's captain Rohit Sharma with bowler Prasidh Krishna during the second day of the first Test cricket match between India and South Africa, at SuperSport Park Stadium(PTI)
Centurion: India’s captain Rohit Sharma with bowler Prasidh Krishna during the second day of the first Test cricket match between India and South Africa, at SuperSport Park Stadium(PTI)

Of those 39 boundaries, a whopping 19 – 17 fours and two sixes – came from the 27 overs sent down by debutant pacer Prasidh Krishna and all-rounder Shardul Thakur. It certainly wasn’t a good day at the office for this pair.

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Dean Elgar, the obstinate opener who has made a name for himself as an unyielding occupier of the crease whose first, second and third instincts are more survival than imposing himself, was the prime aggressor. In his 84 previous Tests, the 36-year-old had a strike-rate of 47.38 runs per 100 balls faced; on Wednesday, that number skyrocketed to 66.35 as he raced to an unbeaten 140 off 211 deliveries, with 23 peachy fours.

Even on a shirtfront, Elgar doesn’t bat like this. He is unapologetic about being a grafter, sometimes giving bowlers more respect than they deserve, but this time around, Elgar wasn’t in a forgiving mood. The largesse of Prasidh and Thakur was too tempting to pass up. Elgar helped himself to a bouquet of magnificent boundaries, every full ball outside off creamed through the covers, everything on his pads sent scurrying to the fence in the arc between fine-leg and widish long-on.

It was Test batsmanship of the highest quality. When the occasional delivery deserved respect, and they were only occasional when Prasidh and Thakur operated, he treated them so. He was more circumspect against Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj, understandably, but when Prasidh and Thakur came around, he picked them off with uncharacteristic elegance.

South Africa piled up 256 runs in 66 overs, run rate 3.87, in supremely pace-friendly conditions. Should India, and their vast legion of followers, start worrying about the state of the Indian fast bowling beyond Bumrah, Siraj and the injured Mohammed Shami? Or was this just one bad day, when lack of red-ball match-play prevented Thakur and Prasidh from delivering at the optimal level?

One day, however ordinary it might have been, is hardly the ideal sample size to make a definitive, sweeping assertion. Thakur is in his tenth Test, Prasidh in his first. The latter did work up a good head of steam, sometimes touching and from time to time even breaching the 140 kmph. But his lack of experience of and familiarity with the conditions didn’t help.

Prasidh is an out-and-out fast bowler, unlike Thakur who is a bit of this, a bit of that but, with no disrespect, not really a specialist this or a specialist that. The Karnataka pacer is 27, and has played all of 12 first-class matches, which have brought him an impressive 54 wickets. It’s understandable if he felt nerves on the big stage, and even more so given that he went under the surgeon’s knife in New Zealand in February after aggravating a recurring back injury. Perhaps, he was afflicted by stage fright too; at this early stage of his Test career, he certainly deserves the benefit of the doubt. The next few days will reveal exactly what he is made of.

Beyond Prasidh, India’s pace cupboard includes Thakur and Mukesh Kumar in the longer format. Thakur is largely a fourth seamer, blessed with the happy knack of taking wickets, but he will go for runs, as a first-class economy rate of 3.17 across 76 matches will testify. He does have 246 wickets in and the think-tank is happy to accommodate his profligacy in certain conditions because of his handiness with the willow. Suffice to say that Thakur will never be spearhead of the Test pace attack at any stage in his career.

Mukesh is a work in progress, which is surprising considering he is 30 and therefore a late bloomer. He is more of a swing exponent and will need overhead assistance to be an effective performer, so he can’t be the all-weather bowler that Bumrah, Shami and Siraj are. Then again, virtuosos like this trio don’t come around often. There is plenty of cricket left in this triumvirate yet; Indian cricket will do well to build their next battery of pacers – Prasidh, Mukesh, Akash Deep, Avesh Khan and Vidwath Kaverappa, among others — around these three if they are to remain a formidable force in Test cricket, especially outside the subcontinent.

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