It was a sultry afternoon at the Wankhede, the first match of the white-ball season, but this could well have been June 7 at The Oval, the first day of the WTC final. Bouncy pitch, seaming conditions, a charging Mohammed Shami and an active slip cordon.
It dispelled the myth that the first ODI between India and Australia would be a dress rehearsal for this year’s World Cup. Instead, after turners and paata wickets that the Test series delivered, Mumbai’s pace-friendly conditions gave a peek into what it might be like when these sides clash in London in less than three months.
On any other day, Mitchell Starc’s deadly first spell – a prolonged one in which he took three wickets in six overs – could have blown India away. But as India romped home by five wickets to go 1-0 up in the three-match series, it was Shami’s ingenuity that proved to be the game-changer. Specifically, a 15-ball spell in the middle overs, when he didn’t concede a single run, took three wickets, beat the batsmen seven times, forced an outside edge that was dropped by Shubman Gill at first slip and had an LBW appeal turned down.
It was a breathtaking display of fast bowling that changed the nature of the match which, until then, looked like it would be a high-scoring affair as anticipated. Shami didn’t do anything out of the ordinary; just good old Test lengths, aimed at the off and fourth-stump and shaping away from the batsmen.
It started with a duel with Josh Inglis. Reintroduced into the attack after bowling just three overs with the new ball – during which he extracted extra bounce from the pitch and got the ball to swing both ways – Shami got pulled for a six by Inglis after he pitched one short outside the off-stump. At that moment, Australia looked on course for a total in excess of 300, given the depth in their batting line-up.
It forced Shami to alter his length immediately. He began to pitch the ball slightly up and angle it away from the batsmen, luring them into playing drives. That’s how he got Inglis a couple of balls later, with the Australian trying to play it through the covers but instead getting an inside edge onto the stumps.
Shami returned in the next over to beautifully set up Cameron Green. The first ball pitched in the channel just outside off, moved a bit in the air and beat the all-rounder. The second was slightly fuller but swung outside a little more sharply, inducing another play-and-miss as Green went out poking without any real conviction or footwork. The next delivery left Green bamboozled: at middle-stump trajectory, the batsman attempted a half-hearted forward push, but then the ball moved away by a fraction, just enough to beat the bat and send the off-stump cartwheeling.
Shami bowled lengths similar to Starc under lights, with the Australian spearhead probing the channel around the off-stump but getting the ball to sharply nip back in. That’s how he snared Kohli and Suryakumar Yadav, who was deceived by the extra yard of pace Starc generated.
India looked like being in deep trouble at that stage but Rahul and Jadeja blunted Australia’s aggressive fightback with a patient century partnership to steer the team home. Not exactly a run-fest that had many expected, but it was a white ball Test that India just passed.