AHMEDABAD: Many snakes kill their prey with venom, but constrictors like boas and pythons do it by squeezing and constricting. They coil around in a deceptive languid way, exerting pressure that gets intense by the minute, squeezing out every drop of juice in the muscles, entrapped, enveloped, exhausted before the ultimate- expiry.
The Indian cricket team has two of them and another variety that hurls fast whiplashes with the stealth of a mongoose to wrap up any prey left over by the first two stealthy ‘snakes’. They bowl left-arm, look and behave like genial boys next door, have a great sense of humour and are known to play pranks. And yes, they bowl stump to stump, turn the ball in the direction the batsman is least expecting, using spin as an artful temptation to trap and squeeze.
In Kuldeep Yadav and Ravindra Jadeja Indian cricket has one boa constrictor and a python, who are weaving mysteries and magic. The Pakistan batsmen felt the squeeze and the life going out of their batting on a hot afternoon at the world’s largest cricket stadium, whose occupants were devoid of any friendship or diplomatic niceties.
If Pakistan fell in love with Indian “Tehzeeb” and affection in Hyderabad, Ahmedabad made them wonder if Hyderabad was a mirage in the desert. The heat of Ahmedabad and their loneliness in a stadium of over one lakh, was enough for the dessert metaphor to take shape. Pakistan’s batting too had the same feel.
In the 23rd over of Pakistan’s innings, they were 120 for 2 - not red hot but were warming up for a potential 280 to 300 total at a little over 5 an over. Between the 25th and the 27th over, the same pace was maintained. It was in the 28th over that Pakistan appeared to have stepped on the gas and knocked off 13 runs from Siraj’s over after he was brought back in to the attack.
For the first time, the self-doubters began to ask questions. Should Ashwin have played? Was Mohammad Shami a better choice on this wicket? One website doing live commentary said at this stage: “This partnership is a ticking time bomb for India. If these two remain not-out until the 30th-32nd over, the 300+ target is very much on the cards.”
In any battle where forces are advancing, you need a road-clearing party, one boulder to be removed for the troops to move in. Mohammad Siraj who had leaked 13 in his previous over, did just that in over number 30. In the fourth ball of the 30th over, an on-length delivery skidded through sharply and hit the top of off-stump going past Babar Azam’s bat.
The pathway was created for the boa constrictor and the python to move in. And the stealth of the mongoose too. But more about him later.
Over number 33, ball number 2: Our chinaman Kuldeep Yadav flighted one to the left-handed Saud Shakeel who missed his turn of the wrist, producing a googly that spun back instead of spinning away, beat his bat and trapped him.
Three balls later the boa constrictor pressed harder and squeezed further. And this was yet another googly to the right-handed Iftikhar Ahmed. Pitching outside the leg stump, the ball spun in behind the sweeping bat of Ahmed, took his glove and hit the leg stump almost reminiscent of the ‘ball of the century’ the legend Shane Warne bowled to Mike Gatting in England many moons ago.
A stroke of genius, by perhaps the most underrated Captain in India’s history, Rohit Sharma, was witnessed in over number 34. Sharma replaced Siraj and brought back Bumrah, from the pavilion end. If Yadav and Jadeja are snakes. Bumraj is the mongoose, who is on the same side. In the last ball of this over he showed why. Coming in with the same pace he bowled a slow off-cutter, which foxed the dangerous-looking Md Rizwan. He played for pace, got spin, and lost his off-stump to this beauty. From 120 for 2 in the 23rd over Pakistan were 168 for 6 in the 34th.
At the other end, Kuldeep Yadav started his squeeze and choke. Balls were pitching on length turning, skidding. Runs dried up. Panic flowed in.
And then came another piece of poetry, the laid-back aggression of Bumrah as he got Shadab Khan with a piece of magic. For those of a certain age who remember Balwinder Singh Sandhu’s inswinger that got Gorden Greenidge in the 1983 World Cup finals, this was version 2.0 of that magic. Except that the ball pitched on middle stump and moved away beating the bat of Shadab Khan to kick the off stump.
This was like going into the Louvre one night and seeing Mona Lisa smile again. From the second ball of the 37th over to the 43rd the boa and the python and the mongoose weaved their squeeze. In seven overs - the trio bowled 7 overs, gave away a mere 19 runs and wrapped up the last three wickets, with Jadeja, the python, who bowled straight and slow, getting the last two wickets, taking out the last drop of energy that remained in Pakistan.
This was also art of the highest order. Slow, steady, with a brush stroke here, and there, and a wink and a half-smile at every turn and guile, woven by the cricket ball.
When we write about great Indian victories, they are almost always about a great batting performance. And make no mistake, Rohit Sharma did just that. But on Saturday afternoon at the Motera, it was time for the supporting cast to become the main actors. Like Ed Norton in Primal Fear, perhaps? Where he as Aaron Stampler played a young altar boy accused of brutally murdering a respected archbishop. Richard Gere, the main star who played the Attorney who fought his case, was actually overshadowed by the young Norton.
But the beauty of the Indian team is that no one really overshadows. The supporting cast and the main players interchange and compliment. Our batsmen and bowlers are just that. Nothing without each other.
What’s a Guru Dutt without a Waheeda Rehman in Chaudhvin Ka Chand or Dilip Kumar without Madhubala, as Anarkali, in Mughal- E -Azam?
There was at least one man and his team who understood this very well. Another Azam- Pakistan’s captain Babar Azam. But he was no Mughal in Ahmedabad on Saturday.