It is not an uncommon sight during a cricket match played under floodlights in India: almost every player in Rohit Sharma’s team had a little towel tucked in behind their backs as the Bangladesh run-chase began in Nagpur. Historically, the venue has favoured team batting first and India, despite wanting to bowl first, had put up a competitive total on board. The target of 175, however, was entirely gettable for a couple of reasons.
One, this was arguably India’s weakest bowling lineup fielded in an international game recently. There were only five genuine bowling options, the fifth of those – Shivam Dube –playing just his third T20I and known for his batting more than bowling. Sharma had decided to leave out Krunal Pandya from the XI and brought in an extra batsman. On paper, he weakened India’s already weak bowling lineup and put an enormous load on the five bowlers selected to bowl their full quota of overs.
Two, the dew. Conditions were so bad in Nagpur that the bowlers and fielders were slipping left, right and centre. Catches were being taken in the deep with the fielder loosing his footing and performing splits. Batsmen were tumbling while trying to complete the run. But the dew affects the bowlers most. Bangladesh knew this. Sharma was perhaps expecting it as well and that might have been the reason to leave out Pandya, because a third spinner in the side was unlikely to fare any better than two.
And so it proved. India’s two spinners, Yuzvendra Chahal and Washington Sundar, struggled to keep the run-flow in check. Washington went wicketless, going for 34 runs in his four. Chahal would have a late wicket but had already gone for plenty of runs, finishing with 1/43 in his spell.
The series was, quite literally, slipping away from India. But Deepak Chahar and Shivam Dube had other plans. The two pacers stepped up in sensational fashion to back Rohit Sharma’s gamble as India completed the turnaround (in the series and on the night) to clinch the series 2-1.
Credit where it is dew
Chahar, playing just his seventh T20I, was the leader of the attack on the night. Dube, playing his third, was an unknown quantity at this level with the ball. But the duo produced the goods just when it looked like Bangladesh had bounced back after losing two early wickets.
That particular aspect of Chahar’s bowling was already established: picking up wickets with the new ball in the powerplay of a T20 game. He accounted for Liton Das and Soumya Sarkar off successive deliveries in his first over, but contrary to how he’s used in this format, that would turn out to be the only over he bowled in the first six.
He was being saved by Sharma for the more demanding part of the innings.
Chahar’s second over was crucial too. This time he was brought back to break a partnership that was taking the game away from India. In the 12th over, off the last ball, a clever change of pace deceived Mohammad Mithun and the 98-run stand was broken. At this stage, his figures read: 2-0-3-3.
Dube, on the other hand, started off in such a manner so as to make India’s gamble appear costly. His first two overs had gone for 23 runs and he was unable to stem the flow of boundaries. But in his third over, with a cross-seam delivery first up, he removed the dangerous Mushfiqur Rahim for a duck. It kick-started India’s turnaround.
But Mohammad Naim, who ended up playing a sensational innings (81 off 45) in a losing cause, was well set and close to taking Bangladesh to a famous win when Dube came on to bowl the 16th over. Bangladesh needed 50 off the final five overs with six wickets in hand. This was still the Tigers’ match to lose at the stage.
And then, off the third ball, Dube produced arguably the delivery of the match. Coming from over the wicket to the left-handed Naim, the Mumbai all-rounder nailed a yorker to rattle the stumps. Now, it is hard enough to get the yorker right with a dry ball but Dube did it perfectly with the wet one. Bangladesh would again lose wicket off successive deliveries as Afif Hossain chipped one back to Dube in that over.
From 0/23 to 3/30, Dube turned his night around and India’s.
And then, over to Chahar, for the finishing touches. Off the first two balls off his third over, he finished the match off for India. Mustafizur Rahman failed to read a slow ball, while Aminul Islam could not keep out the perfect yorker.
For a man who earned his India cap thanks to swing bowling in a powerplay with the new ball, Chahar produced a masterclass in bowling all through the innings like the best in the business do. He was not being a one-trick pony, he was stepping up as the leader of this bowling unit by taking responsibilities placed on his shoulders by the captain.
Truth be told, Chahar’s six-for (the best ever figures in a men’s T20I) and the hat-trick (the first ever by an Indian man in T20Is) came after the deal was pretty much sealed for the hosts. It will deservedly grab the headlines but this was the icing on the cake, the hard work came before those final two wickets.
“It was the bowlers who won us the game. I know I have to say that being a batsman, but I know how tough it was given the dew. But this must be one of the best comebacks in this format for India,” said Sharma after the match. “It was easy for them [Bangladesh] at one stage, with 70 needed in eight overs. But the boys showed character, took up the responsibility. Good to see young players putting their hands up.”
The captain was right. The night ultimately belonged to the two Indian bowlers who overcame dew and deserved due credit.