If you’d walked up to the sea-facing property that Kohli and Co. stay in Southampton, woken him up from his sleep and handed him the script of the game that was to unfold against South Africa, at least the first-half of it, he’d not have called the police on you for intruding (and probably scaring the daylights out of him), and if he didn’t punch you either, there’s a slight chance that he’d be thinking it was all happening in his sleep, and a happy one at that. That, despite the script having a small tweak – with Yuzvendra Chahal coming in after Kuldeep Yadav, which goes against the usual template of proceedings. It has happened only 10 times in 28 innings, but there was more to feel comforted.
Take this stat for instance – since the Champions Trophy 2017, India have won 19 out of the 26 ODIs when they picked two-plus wickets in the first ten overs (one tied game). It is one of the reasons why India attacked South Africa early with more men in the slips, and not often would you see one getting caught at third in an ODI. Jasprit Bumrah was operating on a zone unparalleled.
“He believes the length ball is something that he can nick people off with, whether it is a flat pitch, whether it’s assisting bowlers or not, he can nick you off on any wicket and he has that belief now, which as a batsman, I know a bowler has that kind of belief, he is not going to do anything different to me, he is going to bowl consistently and still can get me out with good balls,” gushed Kohli.
That burst was followed up with some added menace at the other end where Hardik Pandya and Bhuvneshwar Kumar got a few to rear up from the dicey spot on good length, with the former even hitting Faf du Plessis on the fingers. So far so good, the template was made, and the stage set for the spinners.
But there were small changes, for Kuldeep came ahead of Chahal. Kuldeep having bowled three overs before Chahal, passed on what he made of the pitch so far.
With his partner still unable to pick a wicket, Chahal came in when South Africa were just about recovering from the Bumrah burst. This time his lines were a lot more attacking in the line of the stumps, following his chat with Kuldeep. There were definitely more revs on the ball, and drift, as van der Dussen found out, playing a reverse sweep.
The googly is not particularly Chahal’s penchant, unlike legspinners today. But these are the things that he thinks about. “When to bowl the variations, when to bowl a googly, when to bowl a flipper…that I give some thought about [and] if a batsman is picking it or not,” he says.
You can be rest assured that du Plessis was one of the batsmen Chahal had thought about. A googly came first that du Plessis just about kept out. What followed was Chahal’s most satisfying wicket of his four.
“My ball was drifting pretty well at that time. So I thought that I can bowl the slider at that time on the offstump, and it drifted onto middle stump and he didn’t pick that,” says Chahal with happiness and adds that he had planned for the wicket. You could make it out in the celebrations that followed by those around him, when Chahal wagged an all-knowing finger, an ‘I told you so’ even as his skipper rushed wide-eyed towards him.
That was the second wicket of the over, and the fourth of the innings in just 20 overs. It effectively shut South Africa from getting to a total that would have been closer to winning with their injury-hit attack.
There’s a bit of a goofball persona around Chahal, built around his video blogs with the Indian team. But Kohli insists that he’s pretty much the opposite. “The way he thinks about the game is totally different,” says Kohli. He calls it Chahal’s biggest strength. And Kohli knows a thing or two about Chahal having led him over five years at RCB and India. He has now a spinner that will provide him whatever is needed, someone who will bowl for him whenever required. In T20s, whether it’s for RCB or India, Chahal will not be averse to bowling a full spell, serving up deliveries that are wide outside off and being restrictive first.
Or he can turn it the other way around like he did today.
Between Bumrah and Chahal, India’s bowling template is complete and one that can allow a captain plenty of peaceful sleeps, if it delivers like today.