Varun Shetty in Indore


It was just past noon at the Holkar Stadium. It’s the time of day, just after lunch, when Indian crowds watching the opposition bat are at their quietest. Mominul Haque and Mushfiqur Rahim had played their part in quietening this particular crowd, stabilising Bangladesh after they had slipped to 31 for 3. They’d shown some patience, played a few shots, and they’d been helped along by a few dropped catches.

R Ashwin had been the unlucky bowler on two occasions, with Ajinkya Rahane, at slip, failing to hold onto a top-edged cut from Mominul and a nicked forward defensive from Mushfiqur.

The latter chance came off a ball that Ashwin seemed to undercut at release. It drifted away from the right-hander, and went on straight after pitching. On a first-day pitch, it seemed as if Ashwin was relying on drift and skid, and the odd instance of extra bounce, as his primary weapons rather than sharp turn.

“I bowled a few good balls, they nicked it. That’s as simple as it can get. I haven’t given as much thought as you have, clearly, on it.”

That was Ashwin’s response at his end-of-day press conference when this reporter asked him if the straighter ones and away-drifters were part of a strategy tailored for this first-day pitch.

“Sometimes, watching the game from outside is a lot more informative than when you’re going through the actions,” he continued. “For me, it’s been all about that bowling rhythm – trying to get that rhythm and obviously mixing the pace up.”

It took a combination of some of those factors, and the rhythm that he had achieved, to break the fourth-wicket stand and rouse the stadium.

Just over 90kph from wide of the crease and round the wicket, seam pointed to fine leg, Ashwin got one to drift a long way in towards the left-hander’s off stump and forced what Mominul later called a “tactical mistake” – of shouldering arms and expecting the ball to turn away, only to hear it tonk against his off stump. And then the sound of a waking crowd.

The crowd noise would wax and wane through the rest of the day, with the changing rhythms of play. It would peak in the 54th over, the last one before tea.

When Mohammed Shami came on for that spell, his fourth of the day, the ball was in an interesting condition. There was a decent amount of wear on one side of the ball, but a green pitch, dry weather, Bangladesh’s safety-first batting, and judicious maintenance by India’s bowlers and fielders had kept its other side in pretty good shape.

At the start of the 54th over, the second of Shami’s spell, the TV commentators were trying to decipher whether the swing they were seeing was conventional or reverse. Replays were providing conflicting evidence, showing some balls swinging towards the rough side, and others towards the shiny side.

No one, perhaps not even the bowlers, knew more than the fact that the ball was moving. Which way it was going was a mystery, and negotiating it must have been a nightmare.

The first ball of Shami’s over was a hooping inswinger at Mushfiqur’s toes. The second swung just as prodigiously, but went the other way. It was wide enough for Mushfiqur to leave, but it had caught his attention. He traced its trajectory with his hand, probably alerting his partner to what he’d seen. In the meantime, the crowd had turned louder.

The next ball was also an outswinger, also wide, and similarly left alone and acknowledged. The crowd grew louder still. Virat Kohli had been trying to gee them up right through the session, and he was now getting their full attention. There were chants of “Kohli, Kohli”, and he directed them to focus on Shami instead.

Shami went wide on the crease for the fourth ball, slanted it in towards off stump, and swung it away again. Left alone again. A very good leave considering how close this was to Mushfiqur before it began curving away. Again, a cheer.

On his way back to his mark for the fifth ball, Shami had Kohli in his ears. And after the chat, Kohli wanted the crowd in his. More of that trademark arm-waving. Something was brewing.

Mushfiqur is one of Bangladesh’s best batsmen of all time, with a technique that’s given him better numbers away than at home. In order to better cover the line of the next outswinger, he shuffled across his stumps for the fifth ball. Almost into the completion of that movement, he realised that the ball had begun wider than the last three. Before he could bring his bat down on it, it had swung in at him and onto the stumps.

No elaborate set-up was needed to trap Mehidy Hasan lbw – although he could have overturned it – with a full inswinger next ball to close the session. Holkar Stadium’s acoustics are known to amplify a manic crowd. Amplify they did.

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