Bangalore: Five innings into the series, and Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann have already taken 30 wickets, despite Panesar not even playing the first Test in Ahmedabad. To put that into perspective, it took Derek Underwood ten innings spread over five Tests to take 29 when England triumphed 3-1 here in 1976-77. For the moment, both Swann (50.7) and Panesar (43.6) have a better strike-rate than Underwood (52.3) as well – the true measure of a bowler's impact. Only the legendary Hedley Verity, who needed just over 41 deliveries to take each of his 23 wickets in 1933-34 has done better for England as a slow bowler in India.
These numbers are important, especially in the context of the nonsense spouted and written about pitches over the past week. The success of Swann and Panesar is an anomaly. Much is written about India being a slow-bowler's paradise, but even for the home bowlers, that's usually involved backbreaking workloads. Of those with more than 30 wickets in a series, only Bhagwat Chandrasekhar (35 wickets with a strike-rate of 49.9 against England in 1972-73) and Harbhajan Singh (32 wickets with a strike-rate of 33.4 against Australia in 2000-01) have struck more than once every ten overs. In both cases, they averaged nearly 60 overs a Test.
By and large, despite the nature of the pitches, visiting teams have trumped India with pace. Worn surfaces where the ball keeps low have made them even more dangerous than spinners, and the likes of Glenn McGrath, Allan Donald and Dale Steyn have outstanding records in India. When West Indies routed India 3-0 in 1983-84, Malcolm Marshall and Michael Holding combined for 63 wickets. Courtney Walsh, who eventually took over Holding's role, leads the all-time strike-rate charts (31.6) after taking 26 in four Tests four years later.
In that context, James Anderson's performance on the opening day was crucial. As well as he has bowled in home conditions, and in Australia when the Ashes were won two years ago, Asia hasn't been a favourite stomping ground. That's changed this year, with 23 wickets in eight Tests at 29.95.
With new ball and especially with the old, Anderson was a handful, setting up Virat Kohli with deliveries that shaped back in, and then dismissing Sachin Tendulkar with one that just had to be played. It would have reminded Indian fans a little of Nagpur in 2010, when Steyn transformed a Test with as devastating a spell of reverse-swing as you could hope to see.
When England won in India 36 years ago, John Lever took 26 wickets while matching Steyn's strike-rate. India may have complained about Vaseline strips, but it was not as though he was a one-match wonder. Save for the second innings in Kolkata, where he bowled only three overs, Lever took at least a wicket in every innings he bowled.
When Australia ended a 35-year drought in 2004, Shane Warne took 14 wickets at 30, striking every 60 balls. But the undoubted bowling star of that series was Jason Gillespie, who took 20 wickets at 16.15 and an outstanding strike-rate of 39.8. Where Steyn blasted batsmen out, Gillespie was more the constrictor, drying up the runs with tight lines and then undoing the batsmen with subtle seam movement.
India's success in recent times has also had pace foundations. Ishant Sharma and Zaheer Khan took 26 wickets against Australia in 2008, while Zaheer and Sreesanth combined for 18 wickets when Sri Lanka were overwhelmed in 2009. In both those series, India's bowlers got the ball to reverse appreciably, with Zaheer getting old-ball movement even a dozen overs in. The lack of it in recent times has contributed to the downturn in the team's fortunes.
Being outbowled by Panesar and Swann was a chastening experience for the Indians in Mumbai. But the real danger is Anderson replicating what he did in the first innings. If that happens, an unbeaten home record against England that dates back to the days of the Cold War might just be shattered.
Story first published on: Thursday, 06 December 2012 19:51 IST