It has been three years since India were last in Thiruvananthapuram. And, every time they are in the city, it is a carnival for the locals. The music, the cheer and the celebration all begin minutes prior to the show.
The crowd stepped up in numbers, shouting at the top of their voice as Deepak Chahar gushed in with the new ball. Despite only bowling at 125 kmph, the right-arm swing bowler was getting the crowd to do the “oohs and aahs”.
For the first ten minutes of the encounter, as the moon enlarged itself, covering up the sun, it seemed like the match was at Lord’s. There weren't any overcast conditions here but the new ball combined with some mastery was all it required for the artist to draw their masterpiece. If Chahar was the Michaelangelo, Arshdeep Singh from the other end was Leonardo Da Vinci.
It was almost like the city waited three years to witness an art exhibition. Thiruvananthapuram’s date with the art exhibition kicked-off with a ripper from Chahar. Almost like a dismissal from the early 2000s, the mastery of swing from the right-arm pacer stunned Temba Bavuma, leaving the crowd flabbergasted. First, he beat the outside edge and later, banana-swinged himself to glory.
An over later, the crowd was gasping. The ones who went to savour some snacks and drink a glass of water perhaps missed almost the crux of the match. If you were watching it from home and were on a bathroom break, that was enough to miss the match. In the span of two overs, 12 deliveries, Indian bowlers’ setup a new swing lab in front of the faithful here in the city.
Arshdeep is usually skiddy, usually tough to counter but on the night, his wizardry was mightier than a witchcraft. His spell was even more powerful than the ones that Harry could Potter. If one swung in sharply, the other swung out. And caught tangled in between this wizardry was the Proteas hopes. Hopes of surviving, hopes of making a good total.
All of that was thrown out of the window. As head coach Mark Boucher stared at his empty notes, the death knell was just making all the noise. Rilee Rossouw, searched for a ball outside the off stump, Quinton de Kock’s eyes were lit up by the length and David Miller was astonished. In the matter of four deliveries, the South African fans at the venue were busy swapping their jerseys.
The ones wearing the jerseys were left distraught. Weren’t India supposed to be in a whole lot of trouble? One may definitely ask but on Wednesday (September 28), it was an easy answer: they were not. In fact, they were the ones who were putting the visitors in a whole lot of trouble.
8/4, call it a cricket match, a badminton score or a neat group split, it was something that brought out a thump in the city. And when four turned into five, followed with a thigh-five from Arshdeep, it was almost like a traumatic episode for the visitors. In a country where usually, the spinners are the one to have a say, it was the pacers who were doing the damage.
One couldn’t be punished for thinking that the red-ball masqueraded itself as the white-ball under the lights here in the city. India’s display with the new-ball was cracking, and South Africa’s batting cracked under the pressure. Coming into this clash, the Proteas possessed a deadly batting unit. It was hailed as perhaps one of the strongest batting units.
But on nights such as these, it hardly matters. Perhaps, it is the biggest lesson for the visitors, on nights such as these, you just have to fight it out more, as KL Rahul showed. Or if you are on the other end of the spectrum in this T20 debate, go all-guns hula-hoop blazing like Suryakumar Yadav. There really are only two such ways of playing cricket, as a night like this will tell you.
Spare a thought for the Indian spinners though. On a night where it was raining wickets for the speedsters and a freak show from Suryakumar, they performed an act that would perhaps go unheralded. Eight overs, 24 runs, and a wicket, R Ashwin and Axar Patel rolled the year back and made the Delhi Capitals’ fans shed a happy tear or two.
India made four notable changes but nothing were as note-worthy as Yuzvendra Chahal missing out. In his absence, not only did Ashwin put on a show, but it also sent out a strong message to the new-age T20I sides that India are not afraid of playing their match-ups cards. In a line-up filled with left-handers, India’s ploy with Ashwin was a well-measured tactic and it won’t be the last of it from them.
At the six over mark, India were languishing at 17/1, which later became 17/2. Rahul’s record is not something that he would be proud of, a half-century of 56 deliveries, as he muscled the ball for a six to complete the formalities. Suryakumar’s 360-degree flex might have been on any other day as impressive as the festivity here in the city but the day belonged to India’s pacers.
Indian pacers under immense pressure, you and I said? They laughed. And perhaps, they are just getting started in this crazy swing lab they set up, now in Thiruvananthapuram.