"The last two games, things haven't gone the way that we thought. But we've found ways of winning."
That's what a champion team does, isn't it? Even if you are under the pump with things not going your way, you find ways to win. The Australian teams of the yore mastered it when they were under pressure, even if rarely. That's what this current Indian side is doing at the 2019 World Cup.
And that's the crucial fact Virat Kohli pointed out at the presentation ceremony after India's thumping win over West Indies.
There have been times the Indian batsmen haven't really set the stage on fire, and doubts have crept into the minds as to whether they can defend it.
But they have found a way. This is where the pacers have played a vital role, in helping Kohli find that way. They have set the tone, suffocated the batsmen into frustration, kept striking when it mattered the most, and then delivered the knockout blow as well.
In this World Cup, the Indian pacers have had the best average — 20.62, best economy rate — 4.70 and best strike-rate — 26.3, so far. Talk about bossing it.
Against West Indies at Old Trafford, the lethality of Indian pacers was on full display. After opting to bat, India posted 268 runs. Kemar Roach, who finished with impressive figures of 3/28, thought it was a par score and "we stand a chance." Many others thought that West Indies could chase it down.
They had the Universe Boss Chris Gayle opening the batting and a supply line of attacking batsmen to come. The key was to build pressure from the start. You know that once you frustrate Chris Gayle, he will give you a chance.
Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami did just that with accuracy and variations. They suffocated Gayle with tight lines and lengths. Bumrah played the holding role and bowled in that corridor or uncertainty while Shami varied his lengths to stay unpredictable and generated movement off the track.
The two pacers aced the Powerplay and set the tone. West Indies were 29/2 in the first 10 overs, the lowest Powerplay score by any team in this World Cup. This was a team that had averaged 5.4 runs an over in the Powerplays prior to this.
Gayle left alone five deliveries in the first over of the innings bowled by Shami. The one that touched the bat was a kiss off the inside edge, flying tantalisingly wide of the stumps and into the fine leg fence. In the next over, from Bumrah, he left alone four balls and a survived a close LBW shout. Shami beat the other opener Sunil Ambris' inside edge in the next over. Gayle was beaten in Bumrah's following over.
The pressure was building. Shami again beat Gayle with a snorter that flew past the outside edge. West Indies had played out 21 dots from 28 balls now. The Universe Boss had had enough of it. He's not used to being cornered. He's used to bossing. So he clears his front leg the next ball and attempts the bludgeoning glory shot. Shami bangs it in short and into his body, and cramps Gayle for room. The glory shot lands straight into the hands of mid-on. The plan has worked.
More dot balls follow, an edge falls short of the second slip. Shami is bowling beautifully. And then again, that variation of length does the trick. Shami delivers three short of good length deliveries in a row to Shai Hope and then dangles the carrot with a full one, sucking him into the drive and bringing it back in to disturb his furniture.
The pacers bowled 41 dot balls in the first 10 overs. The pressure was built and so did the frustration, and West Indies could never really escape from this tangle, much like the other teams.
A partnership started to build between Ambris and Nicholas Pooran but Pandya cut it short. The wrist-spinners then feasted on that frustration.
Carlos Brathwaite showed he could change games single-handedly, against New Zealand. He arrives at the crease. Bumrah is called upon. He has figures of 5-0-9-0. He sends back Brathwaite first ball and then Fabian Allen. A double wicket maiden. West Indies are paralysed. 107/7. Shami returns to perform the wrap-up job with wickets of Shimron Hetmyer and Oshane Thomas. India have handed West Indies their third-biggest defeat. Shami finishes with figures of 6.2-0-16-4 and Bumrah with 6-1-9-2. The pacers together have bowled 70 dots in 17.2 overs, roughly 4 dots per over and taken seven of the 10 wickets.
Against Afghanistan, on a slow Rose Bowl track, the Indian pacers were the difference between the two sides. While the Afghanistan pacers were targeted (16-1-105-3) with their spin applying the choke, Indian pacers offered no release and finished with figures of 29.5-3-130-8 at an economy rate of 4.41 compared to Afghanistan's 6.56. The package also included 9 brilliant yorkers off Bumrah's last 12 deliveries and a Shami hat-trick to seal a close game.
It has all been about setting the tone and the platform. India's bowling figures in the Powerplays read: 34/2 (vs SA), 48/0 (vs Aus), 38/1 (vs Pak), 27/1 (vs Afg) and 29/1 (vs WI). Not a single match over five runs an over and just one over four an over.
Overall, India have the second-best average — 31 and best economy rate in the first 10 overs — 3.72. They are the only team that have conceded less than 200 runs in the Powerplays combined. It all began with the spell of a lifetime by Bumrah against South Africa in Southampton and has carried on.
It's not just the powerplay, the pacers have turned partnership breakers and the need of the hour at crucial junctures too. Against Australia, at The Oval, it was Bhuvneshwar's two wickets that of a set Steven Smith (69 off 70) and Marcus Stoinis in the 40th over that turned the tide. Bumrah applied the finishing touches.
In Manchester, against Pakistan, Pandya maintained the stranglehold with wickets of the experienced Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik off consecutive deliveries.
At the Rose Bowl, Bumrah sent back the set Rahmat Shah and Hashmatullah Shahidi in one over to break Afghanistan's spine when called upon to break the partnership that was beginning to threaten India's low total.
It's not as if they have been receiving bowler-friendly pitches and conditions. They have conjured pace and movement on these non-pacer-friendly wickets with aggression and guile. Shami has stepped up in absence of the injured Bhuvneshwar and bowled with venom while Bumrah has stayed true to the No 1 bowler credentials with his control and yorkers at the death. In between, Pandya has operated like the bed bug to slowly and irritatingly suck opposition's blood with his clever slower ball variations including the effective bouncers.
"Over a period time it was a big challenge for him (Hardik Pandya) to bowl those 10 overs, and he realised that to be able to bowl those 10 overs I need to develop a certain armoury in my bowling," India's bowling coach Bharat Arun had explained in the build-up to the match. "And that's what he's worked on. He's worked on his slow balls, his slow bounces also, and also he's worked on perfecting his bouncers. So all these, put together, have given him the confidence to go through those 10 overs."
While Pandya's batting has gone one notch above, his bowling has sort of progressed to the 'improving' zone.
For years India had craved for a pace attack that would leave the world envious. And an all-rounder who could genuinely create an impact and provide balance. They have found that package. Add Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav's flight and guile to it and they have a proper world class bowling attack.
That attack is in full flow right now. The fielding agile. Catching safe. Captaincy impressive. Now if only that batting unit clicks consistently!
With stat inputs from Umang Pabari
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