Former India fast bowler Ashish Nehra played two Tests in England in his short Test career of 17 Tests, but his knowledge of bowling is immense. With India looking to press forward the advantage in the upcoming five-match series, they know how important the fast bowlers are going to be. India has already lost Bhuvneshwar Kumar, their most potent weapon due to a back injury and there is a possibility of him coming back later in the series.
Nehra chatted up with ESPNCricinfo and using all his experience and knowledge, shared what each of the fast bowlers in the squad needs to do in order to become effective and successful in the Test series.
Ashish Nehra called Ishant’s physical fitness his strongest point. Nehra said, “This summer, the way the weather is in England, the wickets are not swinging much. He can give you 22-23 overs a day, and his long spells will help the other two [fast] bowlers. He is a hit-the-deck bowler.”
Nehra also called for Ishant to bowl a bit fuller to mix it up with his regular back of the length deliveries. Nehra said, “Especially against someone like Alastair Cook, the length should be up because he will bowl across him. Cook is very good at cutting and pulling, so if Ishant can bowl up to him and keep him quiet, it will be really good on any kind of wicket.”
Nehra also said that though the captain might want him to bowl long spells, he must not let himself burn out due to this being a five-match series. Nehra advice that, “If he is not picking up wickets, no problem. He might bowl 10-4-15-0, but he is still doing his job for the team, so he should focus on what he knows.”
Shami, who is making his return to the Indian team after missing the Afghanistan Test, has impressed Nehra a lot. Nehra said, “He is a very skillful bowler. He might go ten to 12 overs without a wicket and suddenly in 18 overs, he might take five wickets. His hand is really straight. Even if the ball is not swinging, he can land it on the seam regularly and the ball does something. There is something in his hand.”
Nehra called Shami’s fitness will be his key to success. He said, “Shami's hand is so straight that he can use the reverse swing well, even with the red Dukes ball. If the Dukes is reversing, it is more lethal than a Kookaburra. If he is fit, in that second spell or the late spells around tea, Shami can be really handy. But the key thing is fitness.”
“He needs to bowl up. If he is hit for a four, it should be past long-on or long-off rather than square leg or point. He should look to bowl up because then he can trouble guys like Cook and Joe Root. Shami needs to focus on a good, top-of-the-stump kind of length, which has been his strength,” Shami said.
Nehra also advised that the captain should look to bowl Shami in short bursts of 4-5 overs, given his fitness, his lack of match practice and his bad knee.
On Umesh Yadav, Nehra said, “Umesh played all the games for RCB in the IPL and he played all the T20Is and two ODIs [on the limited-overs leg of the England tour], so he is one bowler who has been playing constant cricket. There will be responsibility for him. When it comes to fitness and athleticism, Umesh is the No. 1 in this team. He is also the best fielder among the Indian fast bowlers.”
Further Nehra said, “ Even in India when he played 17 to 18 Test matches non-stop, he was constantly picking up two to three wickets. Whenever there is some assistance from the pitch, he should look to bowl up and try to swing the ball. Umesh will go for runs. He is a hit-the-deck bowler, bowls up, swings the ball. He has a skiddy bouncer, which he does not use much, but he should look to bowl it at the right time.”
“He should not bowl too many deliveries that a batsman can flick to leg or cut to off. Mentally he needs to be strong, even if he goes for runs. He needs that confidence from the coach and captain,” Umesh said.
Nehra has big hopes from Jasprit Bumrah and said, “If you haven't played him much, it is not easy to pick him. He has pace and the ball comes a lot quicker than you think. He has the best yorker out of a lot of Indian fast bowlers.”
Nehra also called for Bumrah to use his bouncers effectively. He said, “Bumrah should stick to the strengths he utilizes in limited-overs cricket. If the ball is reversing in the second or third session, he should not be shy to bowl a yorker.”
Nehra said, “Everybody knows he's a good swing bowler. More than that, he has a good head on his shoulders. He knows what he is doing. He is quicker than you think. The team management should make sure he does not bowl too long a spell. As long as he is fresh, there is zip in his bowling.”
Nehra said about the rookie Shardul Thakur, “He generally pitches it up. That is what I saw him doing in the Ranji Trophy. That will be the perfect length in England. He is a skiddy bowler and can bowl 138 to 140kph. He is a good outswing bowler. He should focus on swinging the ball from a good area. But he should be mentally ready for Test cricket.”