What’s the best way to crack open a tight situation and win a high-pressure World Cup game against Pakistan? On Sunday, Kuldeep Yadav had a simple plan: produce two magical deliveries to take out their big-match batsmen, Babar Azam and Fakhar Zaman.
Yadav’s double strike pushed Pakistan to 126 for three and India’s total of 336 for five, which Rohit Sharma had helped set with a wonderful 140, looked way out of reach. In the end, Pakistan were stranded at 212 for six in 40 overs, losing by 89 runs under the D/L method when rain washed out the last stretch of play.
It was a tame end to one of the most anticipated match-ups in this World Cup, with people streaming in from 8 am, two-and-a-half hours before start of play. The familiar chants filled the English air — “Jeetega Bhai Jeetega” ended with “India” or “Pakistan”, and “Bharat Mata ki Jai” was met with “Pakistan Pakistan”.
But once the game started, it was clear that the Indians outnumbered the Pakistani fans by roughly 3 to 1. And by the time of Yadav’s double strike, it seemed the stadium was filled only with Indians.
The true worth of Yadav’s achievement can be gauged by understanding his pre-game mindset. Here was a young Chinaman bowler, who was low on confidence. This year, he was benched by his IPL franchise after a few average games. And on Sunday, Azam, one of the classiest young batsmen in the world, had added over 100 runs with Fakhar Zaman, who is usually attacking but was restrained today.
At 117 for one in the 24th over, Pakistan were behind, but not down yet. It seemed they had a plan, a high-risk one. Caution against the mainline bowlers and aggression against Vijay Shankar and Hardik Pandya — and force India to look elsewhere to fill the quota of overs from Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who had limped off early. They were making steady progress, too.
But that’s when Yadav let one rip. It whirred across, swerved in the air, and drifted further away towards the offside. So far so good, Azam was too good a batsman to be bothered. But as soon as he took a short step forward, he realised he had to cover for the drift. He took his second step. Somewhere at that point, he would have realised that this ball might need the best of his skills.
It was then that the ball spun viciously back into him. Stunned, he tried to get his bat down in a hurry but now faced two devils: spin and pace. The ball fizzed in, deviated sharply, and the stumps rattled behind Azam.
If the game wasn’t over then, it did a few balls later when Yadav took out Zaman. Until then, Zaman had looked at ease with the sweep shot. He deployed it to pick singles and smack the odd four and six. He did it well, too — got down real low and tried to reach the pitch of the ball.
This delivery won’t fetch Yadav much praise and is likely to slip under the radar. But a post-mortem would reveal that it was the dip that neutralised Zaman’s favourite attacking option against spin. The ball dipped rapidly and dropped, forcing Zaman to stretch way in front of his body, a move he couldn’t control. The bat almost dragged parallel to the ground and too low, and the ball lopped off the toe end of the bat for a dolly at short fine-leg — 126 for three, the big two gone, game over.