With the seamers taken off, Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor might have sensed a release of pressure, a chance to raise the tempo, which had been comatose till then. But as it unravelled, from the 19th over to the 26th, Ravindra Jadeja and Yuzvendra Chahal applied the squeeze in so ruthless a manner that New Zealand’s best batsmen of this era could only dawdle 16 runs in this span, writes SANDIP G.
Stifling length: Both Willamson and Taylor are instinctive cutters, even against back-of-length deliveries. Williamson plays late and deftly; Taylor with power and precision.
* But the Indian spinners were so accurate that they hardly afforded them space to cut, persistently landing on the good-length area, occasionally veering to back-of-a-length. But nothing short. Jadeja was accuracy embodied, piling a cluster of deliveries in the aforementioned area, making the ball either slide in on the angle or spin away. Not a single ball was cuttable or pullable.
Chahal bowled just one such delivery during this time. Compared to Jadeja, Chahal’s pitch-map was scattered. But he’s someone who habitually varies his lengths. Most wrist-spinners do. With their percentage stroke against the spinners de-fanged, Williamson and Taylor grew increasingly frustrated. They tried to get onto the back-foot a few times but were forced to punch rather than cut. The length— not full enough to drive — almost meant that they were lulled into driving. And several times both Jadeja and Chahal beat their outside edges.
* Moreover, the length made both batsmen stay mostly leg-side of the ball, for in the back of their minds they feared Jadeja’s slider and Chahal’s wrong’un. The method came to their rescue a couple of times as well, as the leggie rapped both batsmen on the pads once each, though a shade down the leg-side to convince the umpires.
That both Taylor and Williamson aren’t quite deceptive in using their feet to smother the spin, rather tend to play from the crease, gave the spinners the licence to probe this length. Since there was turn and a tinge of variable bounce, the batsmen couldn’t sweep them either.
Teasing lines: Fresh though the strip was, it was drier than the typical Old Trafford ones. There wasn’t much bounce, which is unusual, but there was sufficient turn.
So both spinners adjusted their lines accordingly. Jadeja, who usually hits the off-stump line, realigned to a more fourth-stump line. Conversely, Chahal, who likes to land the ball outside the off-stump, shifted to an off-stump line as he was getting sharp turn.
Bowling on the fourth-fifth stump would have offered the batsmen room to cut and slash. Williamson, especially, is skilled at tapping the ball really fine past third-man.
The line employed also made sweeping a dicey proposition. Since both spinners were breaking the ball away from the right-handed batsmen, the sweep entailed risk. And it was too delicate a juncture to attempt reverse or paddle sweeps, which Taylor could. Feeble as their middle order is, New Zealand couldn’t have afforded to lose either of them in their most important match of the World Cup. The very thought might have shackled them. Hence, the caginess. And all they could do was skim the ball for singles.
Trajectory tricks: Jadeja comes at you flatter. Intermittently, he tosses up more generously these days, which has made him deadlier in Tests. He alternated beautifully between the two worlds, which meant the batsmen had to deal with different release points, pace and trajectory.
Add the in-drift and he was difficult to hit for boundaries. Chahal, too, isn’t someone who lavishly tosses the ball, like stock-in-trade leggies. He’s generally slower than Jadeja (who operated between 92-95 kmph), but because the strip was gripping, bowled a bit faster, his fastest delivery (93kmph) as fast as Jadeja’s average speed. However, he gets the ball to dip more noticeably than Jadeja.
And both Williamson and Taylor have historically had cold feet against the dipping ball.