The transformation in the Indian bowlers collective has been nothing short of magical. As recently as the end of January, the bowlers, particularly the fast bowlers, were looking like salesmen of the national lottery. In the World Cup, they have been as disciplined as an army posted in the highest reaches of the Himalayas.
The Test and tri-series tour Down Under helped them bind together as a force who bowled out the opposition in all five league matches. How could a ragtag and bobtail outfit have changed so much in such little time?
Their work on game skills in the nets before the World Cup may have done a world of good as they have worked out very well what optimal lengths to bowl to, their long stint Down Under certainly helping them get their sightings right in time.
It may have been Mohammad Shami who showed the way when there was little time to settle into the World Cup, with the emotional match against Pakistan being the very first game.
Another technical point to be noted is how much they have moved the white balls around while most other bowling attacks in Australia have suffered from looking for pace rather than movement in the early overs. It was Shami who hit his straps at the right time, bowling the three-quarter and beyond length rather than the back of a length they were operating to in the Test series.
The manner in which the trio bowled to the West Indian openers in Perth showed the extent of what cleverness does when allied to the mental strength derived from the confidence of previous games. Both new ball bowlers, Shami and Umesh Yadav, have bowled within themselves, not straining for too much pace and yet hitting 145 kmph-plus with the swinging new ball. And Mohit has been a revelation as the support seamer who has used the short ball quite well in mixing his pace and length to deliver a variety that is the key to limited-overs bowling.
Ravichandran Ashwin, who is known to be a free experimenter in the nuances of flight and turn, has also worked out the right pace to bowl at on pitches that are naturally more bouncy than the sub continental slow horrors.
Ashwin and Daniel Vettori of New Zealand have been the spinners of the World Cup, both willing to come on early even as extreme field placement restrictions apply and try their hand at using the ball when it is at its hardest. Ravindra Jadeja might have been struggling to catch up with the quality of the rest of the bowling, but he is a clever operator who might come into his own when he really needs to.
In short, India’s bowling has been the prime engine on which the team has been winning matches, although it has helped the batting order, with the innovative Shikhar Dhawan who finds the most acute angles at which to place the new ball in driving into the off side, being in top hole fettle.
Hamilton in New Zealand, with its Seddon Park offering the flattest of the five pitches Team India have played on thus far in the World Cup, presented a different kind of challenge with the pacers under some pressure early. They came through the test well by being able to hitting a disciplined line and length and waiting for errors. Far bigger tests may be coming up in the knockouts, but what engenders great optimism is the peak the state of the bowling is in with the quicks and the lead spinner looking extremely competent. What induces a sense of wonder is where did the magic wand come from that brought about this stunning change?