There is little doubt that Kuldeep Yadav is the best among the current crop of rising young Indian spinners. And he established the fact firmly, once again on Thursday, with a scintillating hat-trick in the second ODI against Australia at the Eden Gardens.
Kuldeep's three magical deliveries reduced the Aussies from a score of 145/5 to 148/8 and nullified whatever chance the visitors had to notch up a victory to level the series. However, the seeds of an Indian victory were sown much earlier by two other Indian bowlers, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Yuzvendra Chahal, who sent the Aussie top order back to the pavilion with their skill and guile.
The Australian bowlers, once again, had done their job in the series. This time they had restricted the dangerous Indian batting lineup to a mere total of 252 runs which was below standard considering the quality of the batsmen. The onus was on the Australian batsmen to see it through. A chase of a little more than five runs an over is considered to be a cakewalk at present. It was not going to be easy against this kind of Indian bowling unit. But, one would expect Australia to chase it down more often than not, at least in limited-overs format.
The first few overs were always going to be a bit difficult for the Australian batsmen in overcast conditions. However, they have grown up playing against some quality fast bowling at home. So, negotiating the first few overs was never going to be impossible.
Unfortunately, the Australian openers found Bhuvneshwar bowling at his best. Even the best batsmen in the world find it difficult to face Bhuvneshwar at his peak. So, a rookie like Hilton Cartwright was never going to find it easy, especially when he had looked all at sea against both Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar in the first ODI.
Things turned out to be pretty similar in the second ODI as well. Bhuvneshwar cleaned him up with a beauty on the last delivery of the third over of the Australian innings. Cartwright followed up his score of a solitary run in the first ODI with identical returns in the second as well.
Now, fast forward to the fifth delivery of the fifth over. Bhuvneshwar was steaming in to bowl to David Warner, who had the ability to take the match away from the hosts in the blink of an eye. However, that was exactly how much time it took for Bhuvneshwar to get rid of arguably Australia’s best batsman.
A beautiful delivery pitched on middle and off with its seam pointing towards the slips just moved outwards enough to kiss the thick outside edge off Warner’s willow. The outcome was an easy catch into the hands of Ajinkya Rahane at second slip. With that wicket India gained the upper hand in the match. Australia found themselves reeling at 9/2 in the fifth over with 244 more runs to win. Bhuvneshwar looked charged up on claiming the wicket of his Sunrisers Hyderabad teammate as well as skipper.
The next period was followed by a complete Australian domination. Travis Head, along with skipper Steve Smith, had steadied the Australian ship with a 76 run stand in 72 deliveries. Both batsmen had crossed individual scores of 30 and looked set to take Australia all the way. All of Bumrah, Hardik Pandya and Kuldeep had looked ineffective against them till then.
Suddenly, Chahal produced something out of nowhere. Head only had himself to blame as he hit a juicy full-toss straight into the hands of Rohit Sharma at short mid-wicket. Chahal couldn’t believe his luck nor could Head. Australia, thus, lost their third wicket on a score of 85 runs with still a long way to go in the match. That was the beginning of a superb spell from Chahal as he made life hell for the batsmen with his skills and tricks in the coming overs.
Glenn Maxwell announced his arrival to the crease in his own style with a couple of sixes off Kuldeep. It was a straight signal to Kohli to pull back the slip fielder. But, it hardly bothered Kohli.
The Indian skipper persisted with his slip theory and Maxwell again went into the defensive mode as Chahal and other bowlers started operating with tight lines and tricky variations. Maxwell ultimately succumbed on the fifth deliver of the 23rd over. A well-disguised googly went straight through his legs as he came down the track to Chahal. Dhoni did the rest pulling off a superb stumping once again. There was the fourth wicket going down and Chahal had done it once again accounting for Maxwell’s wicket in back to back matches. With Smith lacking enough experienced partners in the remaining players, a 146-run climb seemed to be a daunting task for Australia.
The next period was followed by Smith’s dismissal of Hardik’s bowling. which was crucial in the context of the game. And of course, there was Kuldeep’s hat-trick to follow after that. However, Bhuvneshwar and Chahal’s efforts to claim those four top-order wickets deserve special applause. Apart from picking up those wickets, they also kept the run-rate in check when other bowlers kept leaking runs.
Chahal finished with figures of 1/34 in 10 overs that included one maiden as well. Bhuvneshwar, however, returned to finish things off trapping Kane Richardson plumb in front of the wickets right on the first delivery of his comeback spell in the 44th over. He finished with superb figures of 3/9 in 6.1 overs that included two maidens as well. Thus, Kuldeep might have turned out to be the star with that sensational hat-trick but Bhuvneshwar and Chahal’s contributions were invaluable.