The Gabba is a place where visiting spinners get a real taste of the difficulties of bowling in Australia. The task is even more monumental for a finger spinner. And if it's a wet night, T20 game and one has to bowl to the likes of Chris Lynn and Glenn Maxwell, it could get really tough.
Krunal Pandya was the victim of the ‘Gabbatoir’ last Wednesday night. The left-arm spinner was bludgeoned to all parts of the Brisbane cricket ground. He bowled full tosses, half trackers, half volleys and gentle offerings on leg stump. To put it in Australian cricketing slang 'he was bowling pies'. Pandya finished the night with figures of 4-0-55-0.
The Baroda all-rounder experienced the pulverisation that would demoralise any bowler let alone someone who was still trying to make a mark on the international stage. It was his harsh introduction to Australia.
Then on Sunday at the Sydney Cricket Ground, he turned it all around by picking up four Australian wickets. It was a sign of his maturity and his willingness to adapt. Many bowlers have found it tough after copping a hiding in their first outing in Australia, but not Pandya.
This is a cricketer that has constantly lived in the shadows of his younger sibling. This is a bowler who has the temperament and ability to bounce back stronger. The first time he dismissed AB De Villiers in the IPL, in 2016, he went berserk in celebration at the Wankhede stadium. He copped a lot of criticism for his actions on social media and learnt from his mistake. Next time he got the wicket of De Villiers, the celebrations were subdued. Pandya was respecting the opposition player and the game. He was learning. He scalped the wicket of De Villiers twice in that season (he scalped Virat Kohli and ABD in one over in that Wankhede match) and went on to repeat the feat (dismissing De Villiers twice) in IPL 10.
"The first over which I bowled in that game I gave around ten runs, so second over I knew they will target me as I was one of the younger players out there who was playing just the second game," Krunal had reminisced about that dream over at Wankhede to Firstpost. "I knew they will come after me. After getting Kohli, I got that confidence. The de Villiers ball [which had him stumped] that I bowled was slower in the air and deceived him in the flight. As Kohli got out in the same over, I knew that de Villiers will not try to go for a big shot and play from the crease itself, so I gambled a bit, bowled a flighted delivery allowing him to come forward and drive the ball and that's what got him in the end. So it was the most memorable moment of the IPL," he had added.
The comments provided the first glimpse of the thinking cricketer that he is.
After the hammering he received in Brisbane, in Melbourne, he ensured he landed the ball on a good length and earned captain's confidence. He beat Maxwell by a superb ball that pitched on middle and hit the top of off-stump. The self-confidence and the belief were reinstated.
Last night, the Sydney challenge was tougher than Melbourne. Australia had got off to a blistering start. The hosts had a plan to negotiate Kuldeep Yadav safely and attack Pandya. But the all-rounder was ready, instead of being predictable like at the Gabba, he mixed his pace and attacked the stumps. There were no freebies, it was as if Pandya had decided that it would be the batsmen that will make the mistake and not him. He backed his ability and executed brilliantly.
Not that Pandya's teammates made it easy for him. Rohit Sharma dropped Aaron Finch in the outfield. He shrugged off the disappointment in seconds and got on with his job. Pandya loves a battle and he was never going to shy away.
The Baroda all-rounder persisted with stump-to-stump line and got his rewards. A set D'Arcy Short missed a slider on the sweep and was trapped LBW. Ben McDermott tried too tried to disturb his length but got out in same fashion off the next delivery. On both the occasions, it was the left-arm spinner's accuracy that stood out. Maxwell tried to repeat his heroics but was deceived by the lack of pace on the ball and holed out to long on.
With each wicket Pandya it felt Pandya belonged to the international stage. Slowly, he varied his pace and his angles. Carey, who was starting to look ominous, had hit Pandya for consecutive fours in the 16th over but the latter had the last laugh as he had him caught at deep mid-wicket in the same over. Pandya went wide of the crease and bowled it wider. Carey couldn't control his slog sweep due to the line and ended up hitting it straight to the fielder.
These were the minor changes that Pandya was not willing to try in Brisbane and naturally too. His confidence was down, so he crawled himself back into the contest with simplicity.
After the game Pandya revealed that it had been tough for him after the Brisbane outing.
"Giving away 50-plus runs in Brisbane was very tough for me, the next 24 hours were tough. I had to convince myself again. It took me a while to back myself when you give away 55 runs plus playing at this level where you have hardly played any games.” he said after the match.
"I was happy to overcome that because when you overcome such hurdles you are able to do well. They were two drastic results for me.
"When you come back like this, it is very satisfying, you had such a bad day and then against the same opponent you do well, it gives satisfaction and happiness and a surety that you belong at this level. So today's performance was very important because until you do it at this level you won't get the confidence."
With the turnaround after the Brisbane mauling, Krunal has vindicated his captain's trust and shown to the world that he does belong to the highest level. The Australia tour was a massive learning curve, one which will help him immensely going further.