Rohit Sharma empowers his fast bowlers. He doesn’t chirp instructions by their side even if he’s inside the ring. He’s pretty laidback – often misconstrued for laziness – on the field, so when he gesticulated animatedly towards Yuzvendra Chahal in the fifth over, it was a sign that his mind was ticking much faster than the opponents have allowed it to all tournament.
For the first time in the Asia Cup, a batsman had given Jasprit Bumrah the charge. Bhuvneshwar Kumar hadn’t looked threatening enough either. Bangladesh’s makeshift opening pair of Liton Das and Mehidy Hasan had put together 33 in five overs and it was time for Plan B for India.
Rohit hasn’t been averse to introducing spin early, so when he brought in Chahal for the next over, it wasn’t exactly out-of-the-box. But Liton’s attempt to throw him off his plans may have been largely because a circumspect approach hadn’t paid off – he had four single-digit scores in his last five innings and an ODI average of 14.06 left his ODI spot hanging by a thread.
Chahal had bowled in the Powerplays for the first time for India here in Dubai, but he’s used to bowling in this period for Royal Challengers Bangalore at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in the IPL. He tosses them up, expecting batsmen to go after him, a ploy that has worked for him. Here, however, Liton was a step ahead. In his second over, he cleverly got inside the line of the ball and used the skid off the pitch to muscle two sixes into the leg side.
At the end of the 10th over, Liton and Mehidy had put on 65, thirteen more than the partnership aggregate of Bangladesh’s openers in their last five ODIs. Most of Liton’s plans were fuelled by Mehidy’s solidity. This was just his first innings as an opener in competitive cricket, a move seemingly to lengthen Bangladesh’s batting line-up because they had went in with five genuine bowlers. But, Chahal wasn’t the only one who was attacked.
Liton welcomed Ravindra Jadeja with a disdainful slap through cover point for a 33-ball half-century that had Mashrafe Mortaza, the captain, punch his chest in delight in the dressing room. He would have been out two balls later had Chahal not dropped a catch back-pedalling from midwicket. India were feeling the pressure. The spinners, their enforcers here, didn’t have the cushion of a Powerplay stifle that their fast bowlers had given them before in the tournament.
Bangladesh milked runs to the spread-out fields as an unlikely opening pair raised a century stand. Against Kuldeep Yadav, both Liton and Mehidy got right to the pitch of the ball while driving. Jadeja’s strengths can also be a weakness against set batsmen because when he offers pace on the ball, it becomes hittable on surfaces with not much bite. When Bangladesh were 116 for 0 in 20 overs, the three frontline spinners had combined figures of 12-0-70-0.
When there’s turbulence, India have a back-up option in Kedar Jadhav, and he produced a wicket with his fifth delivery: another innocuous length ball. David Warner, Kane Williamson, Steven Smith, Babar Azam and Tamim Iqbal are among the more accomplished batsmen who have been teased into a trap by Jadhav.
Jadhav saw Mehidy trying to pierce the off side, and pushed his first few deliveries slightly quicker. Then, as if he had expected Mehidy to cut, he shortened his length and bowled it slower, not allowing him to get onto the frontfoot. When Mehidy saw a rank long-hop at 58mph, he salivated at the prospect of finding the boundary when perhaps a more accomplished batsman would have bunted the ball to the vacant midwicket region. He lost his shape and ended up spooning a catch to cover.
This was Rohit’s trigger to attack again, and he recalled Chahal, who went back to his traditional route – flight. He got one to spin back in to beat a feeble Imrul Kayes push to trap him lbw. Three overs later, Mushfiqur Rahim, who is adept at rotating the strike in the middle overs, pulled a long-hop to deep square leg to give Jadhav his second wicket. In trying to prove they were going to be positive all through, Bangladesh drilled themselves into a hole. When Mahmudullah slog swept Kuldeep to deep midwicket, Bangladesh had collapsed from 120 for 0 to 151 for 5.
Liton, who saw wickets tumble around him, was tiring, and was forced to delay his slog. He was now like a ticking bomb ready to launch into the bowling, but dissuaded by his fears of playing a wrong shot after having finally found his feet as an ODI batsman. The authority in his batting paved way to doubts in shot selection. Within a few winks, 102 off 93 had become a run-a-ball 111. Then, he tried to hit out and was out six balls later after being deceived by Kuldeep’s flight.
Liton had accounted for 64% of Bangladesh’s runs when he was dismissed, but India had wrested control. The insipid start by the spinners had turned into a telling spell. Jadhav, who had bowled only one nine-over spell in his ODI career before Friday, finished with 9-0-41-2, while Kuldeep ended with 10-0-45-3. This was yet another middle-overs mastery by the slower bowlers, who set it up for their powerful batting line-up.