There have been a few dot balls in the lead up to this delivery. The lack of runs has suffocated the batsmen. The off-spinner rips the ball in his hand, as he waits at the top of his mark. It is the last ball of a mid-innings over, and a release shot to break free is on the cards.
The bowler expects the batsman to dispatch his delivery outside Edgbaston. But, unflustered, he keeps it simple, like he has for the last 11 deliveries of his young spell so far. He does not provide room nor does he drift it down leg. The length is unambitious too. It is not too full nor is it short. The ball is on the stumps, with only the timber as its target.
The left-handed Tamim Iqbal sticks to the script and gets into position for a slog sweep. But the simplicity of the delivery overwhelms the aggression of the shot. The ball, bowled from round the wicket, beats the bat and meets its target. The bowler is ecstatic. He runs to celebrate the dismissal of a well-set Tamim toward his captain Virat Kohli.
The off-spinner could and should have been R Ashwin. Instead, it is Kedar Jadhav. Jadhav barely bowls in domestic cricket and is in the team for his batting prowess. But on Thursday, Kohli tossed the ball to him in the hope of him doing the job the team’s main off-spinner, R Ashwin, could not.
A few overs and more dots later, the pressure had piled on. It was now time for Mushfiqur Rahim to attempt a jailbreak. He hopped down the crease, converted another simple Jadhav delivery into a full toss and flicks it straight to Kohli at mid-wicket.
Mushfiqur was the other Bangladesh batsman who had settled in the middle. He was the other half of the threatening partnership with Tamim. And, like Tamim, Jadhav had shown him the way to the pavilion too. With these blows, the fortunes of the game had cartwheeled. The off-spin of Jadhav had, eventually, pushed the off-spin of Ashwin and the lack of its impact in the shade.
Ashwin had a glorious season of Test cricket at home. The best batsmen in the world returned clueless, unable to decode the intelligence of Ashwin. He was expected to be the Indian puzzle the opponents struggle to solve at the Champions Trophy too.
But the ploys that work with the red cherry may not yield the same success with the white ball. Ashwin had enjoyed a decent one-day series against England in January, but that was too short to warm up for a global event. After fitness issues forced him to sit out of the IPL, his berth in the playing XI for the initial games of the Champions Trophy was not certain.
The shock defeat to Sri Lanka meant India called upon their ace Test spinner for their must-win game against South Africa. And, he made an immediate impact by packing off Hashim Amla to earn India its first strike of the game. The pacers took on from the start he had provided to bundle out AB de Villiers & Co. cheaply, as another wicket eluded Ashwin.
But the captain backed Ashwin. Warmed up after his first game of the event, the team expected him to spin a web around Bangladesh. After Bhuvneshwar Kumar had dealt two early blows, the stage had been lit up for Ashwin to shine upon.
Instead, Tamim and Mushfiqur thrived on Ashwin’s variations. The pressure could not be built as the Indian off-spinner varied his length, line and type of delivery in a bid to outfox the batsmen in exchange of consistency.
Ashwin is an intelligent bowler, whose variations make him unplayable in Test cricket with men around the bat and greater assistance from the surfaces. But the flat wickets of one-day cricket sometimes demand simplicity a la Kedar Jadhav.
The need for consistency was felt most when Tamim became so comfortable against Ashwin that he toyed with his bowling at will.
Ashwin bowled a flat delivery outside off in an attempt to sneak in a dot ball and stem the run flow. But it had enough room on it for Tamim to cut past point for four.
By now, Tamim had stepped into Ashwin’s mind. He expected the off-spinner to toss the next delivery. That is what Ashwin did. Tamim was prepared for it. He danced down and lofted the ball to the cover boundary.
Two boundaries in as many deliveries coupled with no wickets to show meant the pressure on Ashwin glared through. He drifted the final delivery of the over down leg. All Tamim had to do was get bat on to it, which he did and the ball trickled down to the fine leg fence.
Ashwin had his hands on his hips. His shoulders drooped. He looked in the distance, probably in anticipation of divine intervention. But in reality, he was more a figure of helplessness. One of India’s biggest weapons over the summer of Test cricket at home looked like a desolate figure in the Champions Trophy semifinal.
Ashwin’s off day was more apparent because Ravindra Jadeja’s left-arm spin too could not run through the Bangladesh batting unit either. The duo are most feared when they hunt in a pair, but India usually has the other to fall back upon when one of them has a tough day on the field. That, however, was not the case on Thursday.
Jadeja had Shakib-al-Hasan caught behind but like Ashwin, he too did could not break the daunting partnership between Tamim and Mushfiqur. Nor could Jadeja back the wicket of Shakib with another scalp. He had been a tad tighter than Ashwin, but still did not have the impact Jadhav had with the ball.
After Sri Lanka’s left-handed batsmen had deployed the reverse-sweep with incredible success against Jadeja, the Indian left-arm spinner had dedicated a special session in the nets to decipher a way to prohibit batsmen from harming him with that shot. He had even picked MS Dhoni’s brains at the nets ahead of the game against South Africa. Yet, Quinton de Kock managed to reverse sweep him without trouble.
All the practice later, the fate continued to remain the same for Jadeja. At Edgbaston on Thursday, it was Tamim who first reverse-hit Jadeja to bring up his half-century. And, it got worse when Mushfiqur struck him to the fence with another reverse-sweep in the next over.
It was worrying because Jadeja may struggle against the left-handers but is fatal against the right-handers. Yet, the right-handed Mushfiqur had served the same challenge to Jadeja that he had struggled to overcome against the left-handers.
At the end of it, Jadhav’s twin blows had thrown Bangladesh off their launch pad. The Bangladeshi batsmen could never unleash the final charge. They had to settle for a mediocre 264 for seven, which India eventually stormed past.
The victory meant that India head back to London to clash against Pakistan, who stand between them and the defence of their crown. While Kohli and his boys would have embarrassed Pakistan in their tournament opener, the summit clash brings along its own pressure. Apart from which, Pakistan are a transformed unit too. To triumph on Sunday, India must have all their bases covered. As of Thursday, the effectiveness of their spin department is perhaps the only gap that cries out to be plugged.
Published Date: Jun 16, 2017 15:10 PM | Updated Date: Jun 16, 2017 15:10 PM