It was Mohammed Shami’s second over of the night against England. His first following a maiden against Ben Stokes, shortly after Jasprit Bumrah had gone two-for-two, dismissing Dawid Malan and Joe Root in two successive deliveries.
As Shami steamed in against Stokes, the Lucknow crowd’s voice began to rise in anticipation. They wanted more. They demanded more. India was defending a paltry total of 230.
The pressure had been creeping all over England. Stokes and Jonny Bairstow had played out 15 dot balls on the trot. The former was itching to get off the mark; Shami had beaten him four times already. Frustration encased the left-hander and soon it would blind him.
As Shami angled one in from a good length area, Stokes tried to make room on the leg side, attempting a shot that screamed of ugliness. The ball cut further in after pitching to crash into the stumps, ending Stokes’ agony.
The amphitheatre-like nature of the Ekana Stadium amplified the unified roar of the 46,000-strong crowd as India, for the first time, felt in control of the game as England went from 30/0 to 33/3 in the space of 19 balls. The umpteen Indian flags in the stands synchronized their movement to create a soaring feeling, mimicking the mindset of their side.
Shami added one more wicket soon, once again striking the stumps, with the victim being Bairstow, to bring the Indian fans to their feet again.
You couldn’t blame the crowd for their fervour, as they had been waiting for a long while for a release after witnessing a rare Indian batting failure. Except for skipper Rohit Sharma – who scored a priceless 87 – and Suryakumar Yadav, none of the Indian batters got the hang of a two-paced pitch, after England skipper Jos Buttler had sent them in.
India had grown accustomed to the rhythm of chasing, winning all five of its games in this World Cup fielding first. The home side itself wanted to break the pattern, as evidenced by the statement from KL Rahul on the eve of the match. “It’ll be a good challenge for us to just see how to pace the innings and it’s been some time since we’ve batted first.”
Buttler didn’t go on to explain his decision to bowl first, labelling it a gut decision. But the intent was evident - take India away from its comfort zone of chasing down targets.
Buttler’s ‘gut decision’ almost proved to be an inspired one. His bowlers bowled as well as they have done in this World Cup. His fielders dove and scrapped to save runs and take catches. England finally played like a team defending the World Cup as it restricted India to 229/9 in 50 overs.
But what many, probably including the England think-tank, must have missed out was that India’s success in this World Cup so far has been built not just on its chasing prowess, but also on its supremely balanced bowling unit.
Going into this match, India had conceded just 4.91 runs per over (RPO) in the tournament, leagues ahead of the rest (New Zealand is second with 5.56 RPO). India is the only team to not concede a 300+ total in this World Cup.
Led by the irrepressible Bumrah, the Indian pacers have ensured the opponents never managed to cash in during the PowerPlay. The left-arm spin duo of Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav had turned themselves into dot-ball gobbling machines in the middle overs, with the Indian spinners going at only 4.27 RPO in the World Cup.
So far in the tournament, India has taken 56 of the total 60 opposition wickets, just failing to bowl out Afghanistan and Bangladesh.
With the addition of Shami, following the injury to Hardik Pandya, the Indian bowling unit’s potency has gone up by a notch, as made clear today.
Once Bumrah and Shami put India in control by polishing off the English top order, it was Kuldeep’s turn.
Playing in front of his home crowd in an ODI match for the first time, the left-arm wrist spinner spun one in from a mile away into the stumps to befuddle Buttler and cut open England’s lower middle order.
The remaining traces of the English resistance were soon wiped off, as India bundled up its opponent for 129, days after it was bowled out for 156 by Sri Lanka.
If England was on the ledge before, it is in freefall now, with the Indian bowlers providing the final push.
India’s chasing streak had put the attention a little too much on its batters. Their bowling counterparts have now snatched the spotlight in their direction with a performance that put India back on top of the points table and well on the way to a semifinal spot.
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