Just before the match between India and Afghanistan began, the streaming platform Hotstar sent out a push notification: “Can India do what England couldn’t and score 400?”
As things panned out, India didn’t even get close to 250. On a slow pitch, Afghanistan made the most of their opportunity with some very accurate bowling to restrict Virat Kohli’s team to just 224/8. In all, the Afghans bowled 152 dot balls.
It was the kind of total that gives every team a chance. The required run-rate to start the innings wasn’t very high and Afghanistan could choose to take their time and settle in well. The side defending the total would never quite be at ease because one big partnership could bring Afghanistan back into it at any point.
In the post-match chat, Kohli spoke about how India was nervous at the time of the innings break.
“At halfway mark, we did have some sort of doubts in our minds [about] what’s going to happen in the game, but everyone had belief in the change room. Everyone had a collective belief that we can win this one,” said Kohli.
That belief stemmed from what the Indian bowling attack has done over the last couple of years. They have performed in all conditions; they have taken wickets in all conditions and they have put all batsmen under pressure. When this Indian attack clicks, it has the variety and the quality to trouble the very best.
And given India’s middling total, they needed to bring their ‘A’ game to the field. Once again, they did not disappoint.
At various points in the game, the bowlers put up their hand when the team needed them too. Shami, coming back into the side as a replacement for the injured Bhuvneshwar Kumar, struck first to send back Hazratullah Zazai.
Then, as Gulbadin Naib and Rahmat Shah built a partnership, India seemed to be a little unsure of the way ahead. Hardik Pandya was taken for 20 from his first two overs and that prompted Kohli to take him out of the attack and bring in the two wrist-spinners, Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav, to exert some control over the proceedings.
They did that and also gave Pandya a chance to cool down. Kohli brought him back into the attack in the 17th over and he responded by picking up the wicket of Naib with a short delivery that got too big on the batsman.
Then, once again, Afghanistan built a partnership. From 64/2 to 106/2… the score progressed at a steady rate. The key here was wickets. India needed a breakthrough and Kohli once again turned to Jasprit Bumrah.
The Bumrah show
Bumrah makes batsmen nervous because he takes the pitch out of the equation. He prepares by bowling on the flattest of pitches and any assistance he gets from the wicket is looked upon as a bonus.
Bumrah warmed up with his first over back [the 27th of the innings]. The Afghans took 6 runs off it.
Then, he came back for the second over of his mini-spell, a shock tactic that Kohli uses pretty often these days. The first ball was to Rahmat and there was a huge LBW shout. Umpire Aleem Darr turned it down but Kohli was livid. Bumrah was in despair. India was out of reviews but replays showed it would have been ‘umpire’s call.’
Then, a couple of balls later, a short ball from Bumrah was far too good for Shah. The resultant top edge was well caught by Chahal in the deep. A stand was broken, India could breathe again.
Two balls later, another short of length into-the-body delivery from Bumrah induced a leading edge from Hashmatullah Shahidi which popped up straight back to the bowler. Two wickets in three balls, two set batsmen back in the hut and a two-wicket maiden for Bumrah. Kohli could not have asked for more. The best fast bowler in the world is an Indian. Now, say that on repeat.
Once again, Bumrah was put in cold storage. India would need him later.
Chahal chipped in with two wickets, including the vital one of Rashid Khan, as the match entered the final straight. Rashid’s unorthodox hitting can unsettle bowlers but the Indian leg-spinner got him stumped just as things were getting truly dangerous.
Bumrah had two overs left and he came back into the attack for the 47th over. He came back with crunch overs — 8 runs off his first one back and then just 5 in the 49th yorker-filled over.
It gave Shami 16 runs to defend in the final over and that was more than enough as he became just the second Indian to take a hat-trick at the World Cup.
“It’s simple. We wanted to use him (Bumrah) smartly when the conditions allow. He is the bowler who can do the damage at any stage of the innings and the opposition knows that as well. The communication was to finish him off at 49th over so that Shami has enough runs to defend in the last over,” said Kohli later.
A lot has been made of India’s batting strength but the manner in which the bowling came through in a tight game reinforced the fact that India’s real trump card is their bowling line-up. They just find a way to deliver without much fuss.
Other teams have the batting class too but the wicket-taking options of this Indian bowling line-up stand out. Bumrah, Shami, Chahal and Kuldeep are all capable of running through the opposition on their day and they have been doing it regularly too. It makes them dangerous and keeps the opposition wary... and that’s just the way India will want to keep it.