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When England was Pakistan and Jadeja was Kumble. (And Chennai was Delhi)

by Gaurav Sethi

It’s not rocket science, it’s not even Class VII science, it’s just instinct. Instinct as basic as what made Sharon Stone’s character uncross her legs in that interrogation scene in the 1992 film. Yeah, Basic Instinct.
Seven years later, India beat Pakistan in Delhi. Anil Kumble took all ten wickets. That match was furthest from my mind as I watched Virat Kohli delay a declaration for a personal milestone. Karun Nair reached his triple, England survived a handful of overs, the match seemed set to drag to a dreary draw.
Day Five started with Kohli bowling Ashwin and Ishant Sharma. And next, Ashwin and Umesh Yadav. It took Kohli more than an hour to get his first innings’ most successful bowler, Ravindra Jadeja, in. Was it down to a plan with coach, Kumble? Was it down to instinct?
That Jadeja’s first delivery led to a huge appeal further made me question Kohli’s decision. Nearly 15 overs later, England had crossed 100 without a wicket, Jadeja still bowling.
For a while now I was buzzing with a distant memory from that Delhi Test. Pakistan in its pursuit of 420 runs, was also 100 for no loss. With England 100/0, a strange optimism swept over me, their fall was just around the corner. For me, England was Pakistan, Chennai was Delhi and Jadeja was Kumble.
Could it be? I was looking for a positive in what seemed like a pretty indifferent situation. 3-0 up in the series, was Virat going with Umesh and Ishant also part of his well-informed, overactive gut even though it seemed to go against conventional wisdom.
That day, Pakistan lost their first wicket for 101. Today, England lost their first wicket for 103. At 12:32, I tweeted:

When England’s second wicket fell at 110, I discovered sifting through Pakistan’s 1999 scorecard that they too were 110 for 2. The third and fourth wickets didn’t tally so I gave up on that beast for a while.
Anyway, Jadeja had got the first three wickets, what was I on to here? And even though he didn’t take the fourth, I consoled myself with his catch off Ishant, “really, that was his wicket more than Ishant’s”. In my book, Jadeja had all four, and a ten-for like Kumble was still on.
The Jadeja-Kumble comparison fizzled fast, the wicket comparisons emerged again when England lost its 7th wicket at 196. And I discovered that both England and Pakistan were 196/7.
Both teams progressed to be locked at 9/207 and then 10/207. A little over hundred runs ago, a match from over 16 years back came to me just like that. That day too, the openers, Shahid Afridi and Saeed Anwar were the top scorers. That day too, one made a half century, the other fell short in the forties.
As we sat and criticized Kohli for sticking with Ishant and Umesh in the first hour, delaying Jadeja’s entrance, little did we know how all this would unfold? What did Kohli know? What did he believe in? What were those instincts honed on?
Was it relying on gut that kept him from overdoing one bowler, for sticking it with the quicks initially, for giving Amit Mishra an extended run, when all on air thought otherwise.
Ravi Shastri even said, “If he doesn’t take a wicket off this ball, Kohli should change him”. That ball went for four, so you can imagine Shastri’s reaction. Kohli however persisted with Mishra.  And then out of nowhere, Mishra, the butt of all jokes on air, in his 11th over (seventh in the spell) bowled his first googly in the innings that went right through Liam Dawson.
What about Kohli deciding to go with the new ball after 80 overs – throwing it to Umesh yet again. Umesh knocked over Adil Rasheed within seconds of taking the new ball.
In spite of the drops, close calls, defensive fields early on, Kohli’s team wrapped the match well before time. Deep down they knew they had England’s number. Even better, they figured that England knew they were already done.
It’s so much easier when you hunt a prey that can only run within the confines of your mindscape. You can just sit back and toss the ball to whoever you want, it’s already been written. Like it was that day in 1999. Like it will be, one day, not too far in the future.

First published here

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