Playing a World Cup against diverse teams at varied venues, is a test of character. This isn’t a bilateral series where the rival is constant, the strengths obvious and the vulnerabilities very evident. A global tournament will have its share of oscillating fortunes and the fickle English weather adds to the enigma.
India’s joust against Afghanistan, showed the multi-faceted challenges that even a strong unit had to contend with in the heat of battle. Saturday’s game here at the Hampshire Bowl, began with a slow rhythm, like a lullaby for a new-born. The Afghanistan spinners tied down the Men in Blue. The pitch wasn’t easy to bat, the ball gripped, there was appreciable turn and the Indian batsmen had to adjust to the slower pace.
Only Virat Kohli (67), as he always does, took the playing area out of the equation. His batting was regal till he fell. Kedar Jadhav (52) essayed an in-the-trenches knock but a 224 against the minnows can leave even a behemoth like India on the razor’s edge. Over the last three weeks, India dished out its patented act of domineering batting gaining extra value through bowlers who could strike. But there was always the cushion of runs, in contrast, Saturday was anaemic.
Yet, Kohli’s men chipped away, bagging wickets in clusters but the meagre total meant that one good innings and a few ambitious hits could lead to the biggest upset in the World Cup’s history. The spinners – Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav – played their parts but the fatal strikes belonged to speedsters Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami. The last named was coming back as a replacement for the injured Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
Shami on fire
It isn’t easy to steam in and bowl the last over when 16 runs are required and a set batsman like Mohammad Nabi is on fire. The first delivery was struck for four but Shami held his nerve. With just a flagging tail for company, Nabi couldn’t take a single from the next delivery but he promptly despatched the third into the skies but as the ball descended, a sprinting, hyper-extending Hardik Pandya caught well. Immediately Shami flattened the stumps of Aftab Alam and Mujeeb Ur Rahman and the speedster had his hat-trick and India was home by 11 runs.
Later a delighted Shami said: “I was waiting for my chance, so that I could show my skill. 16 were needed off six balls and you have to back yourself. The more variations you try, the greater the chances of runs being scored. In my mind, I felt that I should execute my plans, no matter what the batsman does. And as far as the hat-trick is concerned, I am very happy and grateful to god. I had to bowl a yorker. Mahi bhai (M.S. Dhoni) also said: ‘Don’t try to change anything. You have a great chance of getting a hat-trick, such chances are very rare’. I did that and I got the hat-trick.”
It has been a long, hard road for Shami and the last few years were stained with injuries and a marital split and its resultant bad blood. The Bengal seamer underwent a surgery, worked hard, watched his diet and winged his way back to the national squad. “If you wanted to stay in cricket, you had to do something extra,” Shami said.
His resilience found an echo among the rest of his team-mates, who together avoided a banana-peel experience during the weekend. Over the last three weeks, in all possible situations, India had the last laugh and it is a happy thought to savour as the caravan moves to Manchester for the face-off against the West Indies at Old Trafford on Thursday.
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