Prior to the second ODI against New Zealand in Raipur on Saturday, there had been precisely zero instances of Indian bowlers conceding 10 or fewer runs in the first 8 overs of an ODI in the 21st century.
Contrarily there had been 48 instances of them striking at least thrice in the first 48 balls of the opponent’s innings, but only six times while conceding fewer than 20 runs. Just once at home while applying both filters, at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium against England back in 2006.
These statistics are relevant because, in every way, they depict the utter ridiculousness of what Mohammed Siraj and Mohammed Shami did today at the Shaheed Veer Narayan Singh International Stadium in Raipur: 8 overs, 3 wickets and 10 runs, with only six of those coming off the bat.
Inside the first 50 balls of the innings, the duo pretty much won India the contest.
This, in a one-day international in India. Heights of absurdity!
After winning the toss, skipper Rohit Sharma blanked out and took an eternity to inform the match referee and the opposition captain of his decision but bowling first looked like an obvious choice. Not only did the pitch in Raipur look uncommonly green, indicating there might be plenty of juice available for the seamers early, it made sense to bowl first on a ground that had plenty of mystery attached to it. And let us not even get into the dew chatter.
Though he looked dazed and lost, Rohit made the right call. But not even in his wildest dreams would the Indian skipper have imagined Shami and Siraj to wreak havoc the way they did, breaking the back of the Kiwis in a flawless 8-over period where every ball looked like it could produce a wicket.
As he did in each of the four previous ODIs this year, Shami started off proceedings, bowling the very first over. Given he hadn’t struck in the first six overs in the previous four games, Rohit might have been slightly tempted to start instead with Siraj, who’d been rampant, but the skipper refrained from making changes.
Perhaps things would have panned out differently had Siraj bowled the first. Perhaps Finn Allen would have got an early boundary away and gained some confidence, and perhaps that would have helped the Black Caps settle into the contest.
We will never know.
Here, Shami it was that Rohit threw the ball to — the same Shami that had finished his first spell in the first ODI bowling a maiden to Allen — and it took him just five balls to strike.
After four deliveries that left the bat, out came the one that nipped back in on ball number five, for which Allen had no answers: he was late to react and the ball ricocheted on to the stumps after hitting his pad. The dismissal was a little monkey off the back for Shami, who had last picked up a wicket in his first over in an ODI in 2019, 26 innings ago.
ODIs beginning with a wicket-maiden is not uncommon, but it is fair to say that no one was quite prepared for what actually unfolded: a 48-ball stretch in which Shami and Siraj did everything barring reducing the Kiwi batters to tears.
There are good bursts, there are great bursts, and then there’s the burst which we saw from Shami and Siraj up-front in Raipur.
In a truly astonishing 8-over spell, the two speedsters landed every single ball on target, giving the visiting batters no breathing space whatsoever. Remarkably, not a single half-volley was on offer across the first 48 balls and just six runs came off the bat; for 50 balls, the New Zealand batters did not strike a single boundary.
The Raipur wicket was green but not deceptively; it had plenty of spice. To the extent that skipper Rohit, post match, claimed that the amount of seam movement on offer was almost un-Indian.
Marry such conditions with the kind of skill and accuracy Shami and Siraj produced, you really can do absolutely nothing as a batter.
As New Zealand found out.
Post Allen’s wicket, the Kiwis went 27 balls without losing a wicket but it was a phase in which Conway and Nicholls were holding on for dear life. 4 runs was all they could churn out in this period and the two lefties were getting plundered — by Siraj from over the wicket and Shami from ‘round the wicket.
Nicholls, who looked lost even on the comparatively flatter Hyderabad deck, was fully out of his depth.
His first 19 balls yielded just 2 runs — one thanks to a misfield — and he had a control percentage of just 70%. Nicholls getting out always looked like a matter of time and he eventually did — on his 20th ball, fittingly off Siraj, against whom he managed 1 run off his first 12 balls.
Siraj did the reverse-Shami: inswinger, inswinger, inswinger and then finally the outswinger that drew the outside edge. Such had been Nicholls’ struggles up until that point that you, in a way, felt relieved for the guy, for he’d been put out of his misery.
Luckily or otherwise, the man who replaced Nicholls, Daryl Mitchell, did not endure the torture his predecessor did. He lasted only three balls and was sent back to the pavilion by a stunning one-handed grab from Shami, which really was the icing on the cake.
Conway and Latham, post Mitchell’s dismissal, faced 11 more deliveries off Shami and Siraj but they survived. Not for long, though, as Hardik Pandya and Shardul Thakur accounted for their wickets soon after. Their dismissals, however, were as much Shami and Siraj’s wickets as they were Pandya and Thakur’s.
By the end of the 11th over the Kiwis were 15/5. India, by this point, knew they had the game already in the bag but were aware that they had to kill it. And to their credit, unlike in Hyderabad (and Mirpur before that), they did, rolling the Black Caps over for 108.
Not too long ago, in one of his videos, former Indian cricketer Aakash Chopra claimed that the Men in Blue might need to start preparing for life without Jasprit Bumrah.
We’ll have to wait and see how that story develops, but, for the time being, Shami and Siraj are doing everything in their power to ensure that India remain lethal as ever even in the absence of their spearhead.