New-ball swing; awkward, hit-the-deck seam; a pair of wrist spinners turning their stock ball in opposite directions; a hustling, bustling, bouncer-happy all-rounder. Seldom has an Indian ODI attack contained this much variety. Seldom has it all come together so spectacularly.
During the innings break, India may have felt they could defend 252 on an Eden Gardens pitch that had been a little two-paced through their innings. They may have expected even more help for their bowlers under lights – it was one of the reasons Virat Kohli had cited for choosing to bat first. They couldn’t have foreseen the manner in which they would rip through Australia and subject them to their tenth straight defeat in completed away ODIs.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah moved the ball both ways, and kept asking the openers uncomfortable questions. It just happened to be a day when one of them, Bumrah, would keep beating the edges and shaving the paint off the stumps while the other, Bhuvneshwar, clattered the top of Hilton Cartwright’s off stump and kissed David Warner’s outside edge.
Then came the only substantial partnership of the innings, which, while it lasted, threw a bit of a scare into India. A short spell of rain, which had interrupted India’s innings for 14 minutes, and a bit of dew had combined to liven up a dry pitch and give India’s spinners extra grip; equally, it had quickened up an already lightning outfield. With Steven Smith batting like Steven Smith and Travis Head timing the ball like a dream, the third-wicket pair added 76 at more than a run a ball.
Through that partnership, Yuzvendra Chahal had commanded respect from both batsmen, troubling Head in particular with his legbreaks, cramping him for room repeatedly and having one loud lbw shout turned down. After all that, it was a full-toss that broke the partnership, Head flicking straight to short midwicket.
Then, just after Glenn Maxwell had hit the other wristspinner, Kuldeep Yadav, out of the attack with two sixes in one over, Chahal struck again, drawing Maxwell out of his crease, beating him with dip, and having him stumped off his back leg. When the fifth bowler, Hardik Pandya, removed Smith with an accurate, cross-seam bouncer, Australia were 138 for 5.
Three overs later, they were eight down. Chetan Sharma had done it during the 1987 World Cup, and Kapil Dev in 1991, but for 26 years no Indian bowler had taken an ODI hat-trick. Until Kuldeep ambled up to bowl the 33rd over of Australia’s innings. First, Matthew Wade dragged one on from wide outside off, caught in that awkward zone between cutting and punching. Then a loopy, dipping yorker to pin Ashton Agar in front. And then the perfect hat-trick ball: flight to bring Pat Cummins forward, dip to make him reach for the ball, and the wrong’un to catch his outside edge.
Australia, at that stage, needed 105 to win, and had only two wickets in hand. They did, however, still have Marcus Stoinis at the crease. In his second ODI, at Eden Park, he had put on 54 for the last wicket with Josh Hazlewood – who made 0 off 0 – to drag Australia to the brink of an improbable win against New Zealand.
Now, in a stadium with a similar name, he threatened to do it all over again. He lofted Kuldeep over the covers, launched Chahal straight down the ground, and swept both of them. When Pandya bounced out Nathan Coulter-Nile, he responded by clouting him for a straight six. Then Bumrah, seeing him shuffle across his stumps, aimed a full-toss at his pads. Stoinis flicked him for another six.
From 105 off 102 after the hat-trick over, the equation now suddenly read 51 off 42. India still only needed one wicket, though. Into the attack for the first time since the 11th over, Bhuvneshwar Kumar only needed one ball: Bumrah had managed to deny Stoinis a last-ball single, and now it was Kane Richardson on strike. He looked to flick a fullish ball, missed, and even a review couldn’t save him.
Summarized scores: India 252 (Kohli 92, Rahane 55, Coulter-Nile 3-51, Richardson 3-55) beat Australia 202 (Stoinis 62*, Smith 59, Bhuvneshwar 3-9, Kuldeep 3-54) by 50 runs