Trinidad: India's ascent to the top of world cricket, however brief, was arguably based on or coincided with, the discovery of several fast men who complemented the spin of Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh, and worked well together with a strong batting unit.
The fast-bowling component is integral in my view because you cannot win enough Test matches to vault above all other teams without the ability to take 20 wickets away from the subcontinent. To win enough in England, New Zealand, the West Indies, and to compete in the much tougher environments of South Africa and Australia, pace is non-negotiable. I am not for one moment advocating that spin doesn't have a role in these conditions. What I am stating is that on harder, truer pitches, the first half of a Test match will usually relegate spinners, apart from the very best, to a less dominant supporting role.
As India attempts to take strides to redeem themselves after recent poor overseas performances, they are fortunate to still have the services of Zaheer Khan. In the short term, Zaheer still has the task of guiding and mentoring a couple of young quicks. A father figure, if you will.
Ishant Sharma has been around long enough for most ardent followers to be cognizant of his strengths and weaknesses. He is not yet 24, and can improve. In time, I hope India will have a triumvirate of Ishant, Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron.
When I first saw Yadav against England in an ODI series in 2011, I thought he lacked the requisite levels of control. Subsequently, that aspect of his bowling has improved. He is a good athlete with a nice smooth accelerating run-up. He also looks to be unafraid of the demands of fast bowling. That is a quality he will need in abundance if he has to toil on subcontinent pitches for much of his career. It also means that he will sustain his impressive pace for longer periods.
Yadav possesses a very good seam position – the benefit of a very strong wrist at release – that will allow him to extract movement through the air and off the seam when conditions allow. He can also reverse swing the old ball, a must these days, and is quick through the air.
His love of bowling full and straight is a big plus, and exemplifies why 12 of his 23 Test wickets have been bowled. In time, he can, with those characteristics, become the type of excellent line bowler that Zaheer has become, only quicker.
Aaron is another interesting prospect, but I am already starting to wonder if his injuries are too a big concern. I also question whether he is temperamentally as strong as Yadav. What I liked when I saw him against England and the West Indies in 2011 was his ability to swing the ball both ways at pace, both orthodox and reverse. He doesn't quite generate his pace as easily as Yadav and has a more rigorous and demanding strong-shouldered action. Importantly, he gets over 90 mph at times.
The ability of these two bowlers to be on the quicker side is what stands them apart as potential match winners. If they can stay fit, they will acquire greater control and variation as they mature, but you cannot teach pace, which is what they possess.
While their grounding in Indians conditions causes them to emphasise line, length and movement – all wonderful assets – I would like to make them aware that they have to make batsmen view them as a physical threat as much as a technical one. In other words, use their pace to be aggressive and intimidating at times. Otherwise, half their value is not utilised.
It will be fascinating to see how they develop this season.