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Smith’s wicket was the turning point – Jadeja

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On a dry Chennai pitch, with turn on offer early in the first innings, Australia were looking to rebuild; and they went about their mission with the dependable pair of Steven Smith and Marnus Labuschagne, trying to blunt the Indian spinners. Kuldeep Yadav, who dismissed a well-set David Warner, had finished six overs before the start of the 28th, while Ravindra Jadeja had completed four, and R Ashwin, six. Australia were 110/2 at that stage, with Smith approaching a half-century, and the five-time World Cup champions would have probably aimed at reaching a total in the vicinity of 250-260.

However, it all went downhill for Australia in just a matter of a few overs, starting with a beauty from Jadeja to Smith, as the ball spun away sharply from the batter to clip the stumps. Jadeja then accounted for Labuschagne and Alex Carey in his next over while Kuldeep and Ashwin also got into the act to bag the wickets of Glenn Maxwell and Cam Green respectively as Australia slipped to 140/7. That they finished with 199 was due to some contributions from Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins, but Australia didn’t have enough on the board, although they did fight hard with whatever they had in the second innings.

The familiarity of Chepauk made Jadeja a key bowler in India’s opening World Cup match against Australia and the left-arm spinner ensured that he delivered. Speaking at the press conference after the game on Sunday (October 8), the 34-year-old acknowledged the wicket of Smith was the turning point that put India in the ascendancy.

“I think that was the turning moment, you know, when you get a wicket like Steve Smith. From there onwards it was not easy to just come in and rotate the strike for the new batter,” said Jadeja. “So I would say that wicket was the turning point… And yeah, it helped me, because I knew the conditions in Chennai. I’ve been playing here for like 10-11 years, so I know the conditions on this ground. I enjoyed it and whatever I contribute to the team I always feel happy.”

It is easy to get carried away bowling on a pitch that is offering something for the spinners, but Jadeja, as experienced as he is, knew what was required to get the job done. And it doesn’t get any simpler than bowling it stump to stump, not experiment, and let the pitch do the rest, like he does game after game in Test cricket.

“When I started the first over, the ball was stopping after falling a little slow. I thought it was the afternoon, it was hot and the wicket was dry. I thought a stump-line would be better. From here some balls would turn, some would go straight so it won’t be easy for the batsman to line up. This was my plan that I should bowl at the stumps and luckily the ball to Smith turned a little more. So, my plan was simple. I was thinking that this is a Test match bowling wicket. I shouldn’t experiment too much because everything was happening from the wicket. So, I was trying to bowl it stump to stump,” Jadeja said about his methods.

India, though, were in deep trouble early in the chase when the trio of Rohit Sharma, Ishan Kishan and Shreyas Iyer departed without scoring. But a 165-run partnership between Virat Kohli and KL Rahul bailed them out and helped India make a winning start to their campaign.

When asked about the mood in the Indian dressing room after the quick wickets, Jadeja replied: “When you’re three wickets down in just a couple of overs, you obviously panic a little bit. But we know Virat and Rahul, they’ve been doing it for the team for so many years. So, I think nobody was too hyper or panicked at that time. But yeah, luckily, they played brilliantly, they know the conditions well and they took the game forward till the last so I think that was amazing to see.”

250-260 would have been a different ballgame – Hazlewood

Australia fought hard to make sure the chase wasn’t a walk in the park for India, making the most of the conditions to leave the hosts searching for answers early on. But the fourth wicket partnership took the game away from them ever so steadily. According to Josh Hazlewood, who had dismissed Rohit and Iyer to give India the jitters, 50 runs more from the Australian batters would have made a world of difference.

“Obviously the total was under par. I can’t remember exact numbers, but I think we were two for 110 or something like that. Not going really quickly but just building a base to maybe launch in the last 10 or 15 overs and you know if we get 260, 250 – 260 then it’s a different ballgame and we get those early wickets and get on top so yeah, I think from two for 110 to all out 200, that’s probably where the batting went wrong,” said Hazlewood, adding that the up and down nature of the pitch offered assistance early in the second innings but it got better for the batters later.

“It obviously felt like it probably spun more in the first half. Definitely the dew came in but I think early in our bowling innings it was doing enough and it was still dry,” he explained. “The wicket was up and down a little bit so you felt in the game as a quick in particular I think, and then I think it got a little bit better to bat on right towards the end. I know it’s a partnership but I think it just felt a little bit easier as the ball was just skidding on a little bit.”

Australia’s next game is against South Africa in Lucknow, where the pitch has generally played on the slower side. But Hazlewood insisted Australia would be well prepared, having learnt their lessons against some of the “best spinners” in this competition.

“I think in particular batting in that first innings, that was probably as extreme as the conditions are going to get, I think, in terms of spin and playing spin throughout the middle and trying to find ways to score, keep that run rate ticking over without losing wickets,” said Hazlewood, about the conditions in Chennai. “So, there’s probably a good sort of examination on our batters to get that up first, probably against the best spinners in the tournament, arguably. Hopefully it gets a little bit easier from here on in and they’ll come up with some new plans and go from there.”

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