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Monday, July 26, 2021

WTC Final, Day 3: Kiwis get nose in front

Jamieson’s prowess, openers’ old-fashioned virtues help NZ into good position in WTC final vs India.

Written by Sriram Veera |
Updated: June 21, 2021 9:14:25 am
Devon Conway (54), who was dismissed in the last over on Day 3, is the highest scorer of the WTC final so far. (Twitter/ICC)

The impressive Devon Conway’s old-fashioned batting and Kyle Jamieson’s ability to hit different lengths on demand pushed New Zealand slightly ahead in the World Test Championship final. Jamieson’s five-for terminated India for 217 before Conway’s tight technique saw the Kiwis cross the 100-mark. But the opener fell under dark clouds to leave the summit clash tantalisingly poised.

Not that India can’t get ahead in the tight contest – at 101/2, New Zealand are still 116 behind – but they would need to do what Jamieson did. Essentially reliant on seam rather than swing, the Indian pacemen couldn’t get the dark Dukes ball to bend around as much as the New Zealanders.

What’s Jamieson’s preferred length? Short of a length, full, short – it’s all of the above. It’s rare that a young, very tall fast bowler shows no visible preference for a particular length. It’s rare that the over-two-metre-tall bowlers can hit fuller lengths on demand so consistently as Jamieson does. It’s rarer that a bowler can get it so full without (harmlessly) floating the ball, as most do. Somehow, he retains the venom even when full. Somehow, he gets his bouncers to snarl despite not being really pacy. Somehow, he can swing and seam the ball.

Not a surprise then that Virat Kohli fell the way he did. Until that ball, Jamieson hadn’t been all that full. Until that ball, he was also probing the off-stump line. Suddenly, it darted in sharply, and Kohli was caught in a tangle. The left foot had pressed a bit too across the crease, the back foot stayed parallel which meant the pad got in his way and the bat couldn’t come straight down. Though he flailed at the ball, the Indian captain couldn’t stop it from ramming into the pad. Or in other words, Jamieson was too good for him.

Rishabh Pant tried to play himself in before he attempted to open up. Jamieson switched to over the wicket and after conceding a four through midwicket, slanted one full across the left-hander outside off-stump, luring Pant into an expansive drive. Edged and gone as India slipped to 156 for 5.

Soft dismissal

Still, the situation hadn’t turned totally dire. After all, Ajinkya Rahane looked as good as he has ever been in English conditions. Sure, his outside edge was teased a few times, but he rarely pushed out. The hands remained in near control until a brain fade. Just a ball after a weak swat-pull, Kane Williamson and bowler Neil Wagner carefully orchestrated a leg-side catching trap. A backward square leg, a man in front of square, and midwicket. Plus, men in the deep. The short ball arrived and Rahane tried to help it along for a single, but it wasn’t worth the risk. And it wasn’t as if it lobbed to square leg to leave India in the woods at 182 for 6.

From then on, it was an inevitable slip towards the end. To be fair, Ravindra Jadeja looked secure in defence but couldn’t find anyone to stay with him as Jamieson harassed the tail to bag a five-for.

Wonderful Conway

If one wanted to observe a great combination of technique and temperament needed to soak up the pressure of the conditions, one would do well to cue up the recording of the way the New Zealand openers went about their business.

It’s easier to list out what the two left-handers Conway and Tom Latham didn’t do: The hands didn’t jar out, the bat rarely strayed away from the body, the front foot wasn’t pressed too far across, the head didn’t fall over – there was an impressive serenity about them. Kohli cackled as he occasionally does from the slips, but they weren’t bothered. Pant chuckled as he does, but they didn’t react.

READ | WTC Final, Day 3: Mohammed Shami’s bad luck in England

Until Mohammed Shami burst onto the scene with his impeccable seam presentation from around the stumps. Unlike most seamers, Shami’s fingers don’t dramatically cut across the seam. Neither does his wrist tilt too much as it uncocks – the batsmen don’t have too many visible cues to judge what the ball will do. Perhaps, that’s why many seem a bit late in reacting. Throw in the amazing ability to whip up the heavy balls every now and then, and it wasn’t a surprise that even the solid firm of Tom Latham & Conway felt a bit more vulnerable against him. Suddenly, frantic last-instant stabs appeared, the hands began to betray them and a couple flew off the handle, away from the behind-the-stumps catchers though.

Ashwin’s class

But the openers’ tenacity continued before Ravichandran Ashwin started to test them a little bit more. With a short cover in place, he started to get a lot of balls around the off- stump. The commentators felt he was a bit too fast – around 90 kmph rather than the ideal 85 – but in the past, he has talked about how in certain conditions, he likes to use the slower pace as a surprise rather than the norm. And so, when Ashwin suddenly twirled out an 85-kmph off-break, Latham was suckered into driving it to a leaping Kohli at short cover.

The Ashwin vs Williamson battle is always fascinating, and a grunt escaped from the off-spinner when an off-break turned more to fly off the inner half of the defensive blade to an untenanted leg slip. In the past, he has had a man there for Williamson. Ashwin also started to slip in the surprise undercut-straighter one on off-stump, hoping to bring in the lone slip into play but Williamson was good enough to adjust with soft hands. But Conway’s wicket right at the end before bad light terminated play opened up a window for India.

Curiously, Kohli held back Jadeja from the attack. Perhaps the overhead conditions was the reason, but once it was clear that Bumrah wasn’t proving effective –the least threatening of the Indian seamers– his spell could have been curtailed and Jadeja could have been brought on. Sachin Tendulkar had talked in these pages how Jadeja could be useful against left-handers in English conditions. And considering neither Conway or Latham faced any spinners against England recently, it could well have been a better move to try out.

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