An hour and a half before Sunday’s draw, Ravindra Jadeja emerged from the dressing room and headed straight to the square where India’s midfielders were closely watching the pitch. As he moved from one end to the other, he happily high-fived Hardik Pandya, pointing out places on the strip that were already exciting him. Despite all the talk about R. Ashwin coming home, it was Jadeja who actually felt it. It was the typical MA Chidambaram track that Jadeja is so used to, where the ball catches and spins so quickly that the oncoming batsmen don’t have time to get used to the pace of the game.
At one point, when R Ashwin and Kuldeep Yadav were hitting the ball off the surface and hitting the batsmen, Jadeja was seen gesturing to Rohit Sharma to pass the ball to him. Who knows better than him what he can do here, on a track like this.
For the two months of the year when the IPL is held, Chennai Super Kings sticks to the template laid down by MS Dhoni. After providing their team with tweakers, they bowl the pitches with a lot of help to their three players, especially those who bowl in line with the stumps. Apart from the recently concluded IPL, where CSK initially opted for flat decks, it is a template that has worked wonders for them.
It is not that Australia was blinded by such conditions. Since they landed here last Tuesday, they must have seen it coming. Last week, every time they came here for a training session, they saw a layer of grass that had been shaved off. They prepared to roll all the time, even on difficult practice pitches, forcing their batsmen into spinners. Without dew and on a pitch that had received very little water for the three days preceding the match, the pitch played as expected.
It only takes one ball to get the CSK faithful excited here. During an IPL match in 2020, when Jadeja was given one to spin, Stephen Fleming perked up in the dugout, saying later, “We were thrilled when we saw Jadeja bowl the first spin.” Usually one observation is enough. On Sunday evening, the first one came from Ashwin, a furiously clipped carrom ball that veered sideways before deflecting wildly off Steve Smith. A cloud of dust rose and Smith stared at it with wide eyes. Jadeja looked on and waved her hands dramatically; he must have known then that this could be his day.
With three world-class spinners in their squad – Jadeja, Ashwin and Kuldeep Yadav – India decided to borrow the template from Chennai for the World Cup opener against Australia. And this trio broke the Australians’ back when India seemed to have found the perfect formula to advance in the World Cup. When the bids were announced earlier, the tracks chosen for India seemed to suggest such a trend, but India initially bowed to the pressure of trying to “balance” their squad and did not select Ashwin or Yuzvendra Chahal. They finally turned around and got Ashwin back.
The three scorers combined for a score of 30-3-104-6, with Jadeja being the miser of the bunch, conceding only 28 runs in 10 overs and taking three wickets, including the wicket of Steve Smith, to trigger Australia’s sensational collapse of 110 /2 to 140/7. When chants of “Dhoni, Dhoni” erupted from the stands, the situation seemed perfect.
“I play for CSK, so I know the conditions here,” Jadeja said. “When I saw the pitch I thought I should have scored 2-3 goals, luckily I scored 3 goals and I’m very happy. I wanted to get into the stumps but there was a turn, you never knew which one was going straight and which one was going to turn, the odd ball was rolling and I was just mixing the pace,” he added.
And it was Jadeja who reaped the rewards for the good work done by Jasprit Bumrah, Ashwin and Kuldeep. When David Warner and Smith put together a 69-run stand for the second wicket, it was obvious that any wicket beyond 250 would be a challenge for India to chase under the lights. Ashwin and Kuldeep were a little slower in the air during the initial spell, but very quickly they started changing the pace by bowling a little faster. While Kuldeep did open the game by removing Warner with a wrong shot, it was Jadeja who found the most natural length and speed to bowl in these conditions.
You could see this turning into a ‘who will blink first’ question as the dotted balls started to accumulate. 45 deliveries later, with Smith and Marnus Labuschagne showing no signs of wanting to be dismissed, Jadeja took it in his hands for the fifth over. Having conceded 15 runs from the first four overs, Jadeja began to become increasingly mischievous as he removed Smith.
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Having paved the way for 46 off 71 deliveries, showing the patience to stay on that pitch in the hope of building a platform from which Glenn Maxwell and Cameron Green could later make quick runs, Smith’s defense was broken by Jadeja in the most stunning fashion that seemed to cause panic in the Australian dressing room.
It was a classic Jadeja dismissal, with the ball dropping into the line of mid-off and leg-stump before turning sharply to hit the top off off-stump. That’s the line and length that Jadeja bowls with the red ball, and here on a pitch that had plenty of help, she wasn’t going to miss the opportunity. Smith held the bat where the ball landed; not where he was going. Jadeja then removed Labuschagne and Alex Carey in two overs as Australia started to deteriorate.
From there, Kuldeep and Ashwin came back to dismiss Maxwell and Green in the following overs as Australia looked on to be eliminated with a sub-par score. From 140/7, the lower order that Cummins is in, Mitchell Starc took a 199 target for them that revitalized the game.
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