Hardik Pandya justifiably cornered most of the glory after India’s win over Pakistan in the Asia Cup last night in Dubai. But two other aspects of India’s game stood out too. Firstly, Bhuvneshwar Kumar‘s four-wicket haul, including the early dismissal of Babar Azam. And secondly, a sparkling backroom idea to send Ravindra Jadeja up to bat at No. 4.
Though Bhuvneshwar’s heroics came first, let’s begin with Jadeja. Rishabh Pant, the only left-handed top-order batter in the India squad, had been left out to accommodate Dinesh Karthik in the finisher’s role, which meant a top five, or even six, of right-handers. Not ideal. So Jadeja was sent out at the fall of Rohit Sharma’s wicket at the end of the eighth over. He batted through till the final over and scored 35 in 29 balls, adding 36 with Suryakumar Yadav [fourth wicket] and 52 with Hardik [fifth wicket]. A plan that clearly worked on the day.
“The key for me was having a left-hander there in the middle because that meant they [Pakistan] couldn’t bring [Mohammad] Nawaz back,” Mickey Arthur said of India’s chase on ESPNcricinfo’s T20 Time Out programme after the game. “So they had to hold Nawaz to the back-end. And that ultimately probably cost them.”
Chatting with Hardik in a bcci.tv feature after the game, Jadeja noted, “When I was promoted in the batting order, I was just thinking of taking my chances against the spinners, attack them at every opportunity I get. And our partnership was very crucial. We just talked in the middle about backing our strengths and play our shots – this was very crucial.”
The Nawaz factor was a crucial one. Pakistan’s bowling combination on the night featured three right-arm quicks, a legspinner, and the one left-armer in spinner Nawaz. And Nawaz had done well. In his first over, the eighth of the innings, he had sent back Rohit. And in his next, the tenth, accounted for Virat Kohli. He bowled the 12th too, but, because of Jadeja’s presence, was brought back on only for the final over.
“Nobody I think saw that [Jadeja at No. 4] coming. It was a good call. It was a good move. Something that no one really foresaw. I actually quite like that decision,” Robin Uthappa said on the same show. “Going for a bit of Pakistan’s perspective, in hindsight, they could have bowled that one over of the left-arm spinner [Nawaz] in the first six, because they had two right-handers [batting] and it was the right time.
“He has taken his time, he’s played a lot of cricket, and he’s gotten better and better. His confidence has grown. You can see him swinging the ball early and late”
Robin Uthappa on Bhuvneshwar Kumar
“It looked like Babar [Azam] took the safer option to bring in the spinners immediately after the powerplay. He could have brought one of them on during the powerplay. [It] would have been a great match-up for Rohit and Kohli. In the first ten balls to the spinners, they nudge the ball around and they don’t really have a great strike rate at that point in time, and that proved right again today [India were 38 for 1 after the powerplay]. That should have encouraged Pakistan.”
Arthur agreed, stressing that after putting up a modest total on the board, 147, Pakistan could have done better with their spin options.
“They should have taken pace off towards the back-end of the powerplay,” he said. “Principally because they knew they had only 12 overs of pace with the side they had picked, they could have gone through certainly one over of Nawaz, or even one over of Shadab [Khan, the legspinner], because I know, having studied and set up against Rohit, he doesn’t play legspin particularly well in the powerplay. Or his strike rate to legspin is a lot less.
“So you could have bowled Shadab, you could have bowled Nawaz. Nawaz generally bowls in the powerplay for his franchise in the PSL anyway. That would have been a very good match-up to Virat and Rohit. Which would have delayed the overs of the genuine quicks to a little bit later in the game.”
But well before Jadeja did his bit, there was Bhuvneshwar [and Hardik too, he was everywhere].
Third over, after India had won the toss and asked Pakistan to bat, Bhuvneshwar, not known to be terribly quick, sent in a bouncer that might have caught Babar by surprise. The pull only caught the top edge and flew to Arshdeep Singh at short fine-leg. The big one gone. Bhuvneshwar returned to pick up three more wickets – Shadab, Asif Ali and Naseem Shah – in the last quarter of the innings to end with 4 for 26.
“[Bhuvneshwar’s contribution] was right up there with Hardik Pandya’s contribution as well,” Uthappa noted. “His story of resurgence has been a long and arduous one. He has gone from two years from an injury, not being able to figure out what the injury was […] to work day in and day out at the NCA – and I am telling you, those are not easy days, you have a surgery, you do rehab; the rehab part is the most difficult, the surgery is the easiest – and to come back and do that boring stuff day in and day out, months on end, is extremely hard.
“And he has taken his time, he’s played a lot of cricket, and he’s gotten better and better. His confidence has grown. You can see him swinging the ball early and late.”
Coming as this performance did on the back of good outings in Ireland, England and the West Indies, Bhuvneshwar could be a shoo-in for the men’s T20 World Cup, in Australia in October-November. Even when Jasprit Bumrah and Harshal Patel, India will hope, are back in the mix.