Unwavering Shami makes the most of a useful track

With its true bounce and small boundary sizes, Mumbai's Wankhede Stadium can offer some of the best batting conditions in white-ball cricket. Even in the early Indian season, when the bounce and nip can somewhat tip the bat-ball balance in their favor, fast bowlers have liked the thought of bowling here. It so happened that Friday, March 17, was one of those days. Mohammed Shami took full advantage of the favorable circumstances and demonstrated the potency of pace, especially when the opposition enters the field with a batting-heavy lineup.

A similarly skilled new ball user, Mitchell Starc, contributed to the first ODI between Australia and India by using controlled seam bowling. Nevertheless, Shami's deliveries were too hard for the Australians, who were unable to bounce back from the veteran's damaging smashes in the middle of innings.

Although Ravindra Jadeja's all-around performance, which included two wickets, an unbeaten 45, and a spectacular catch, earned him the title of player of the game, Shami's mid-innings spell, which read 3-2-8-2, was the game's standout moment. Shami dispelled the misconception that the Wankhede wicket is always a batsman's paradise between overs 28 and 32.

Given that the surface created seam, movement, bounce, and carry, one could have been forgiven for thinking that the field was a knockoff of the Gabba or the former WACA in Perth. The final score was low, but the match had been intense, with Australia failing to fend off the persistent aggression and precise precision of the Indian pacer.

The Indian pacers, namely Mohammed Siraj, were practically impossible to score off thanks to the surface's help. Shami bowled with a strategy in mind, avoiding powerful hits to the deck. The goal was to keep the ball in good areas, as he would later admit. The Aussies were keeping behind, thus the good location in his case was higher up the pitch.

The strategy was successful right away as Shami dismissed Josh Inglis and Cameron Green from the bat, and then had Marcus Stoinis edge a ball into the slips. He needed a slip because of his length, and Shubman Gill was always stationed there. Hardik Pandya, the captain, saw an opening and added Virat Kohli to the cordon as well, adding a gully on top.

Shami's precision in length was more important than his outright speed; the ball would frequently reach the 140 kmph mark. He entered the zone with force and pitched the ball up, the cherry coming off with a good release. His blows relied heavily on his unwavering precision. With such a long pitch, playing on the back foot was hardly the best tactic, but the visitors had other ideas. Shami wasn't whining at all. Siraj, who finished with 3 for 29, provided him with excellent support.

With a final game total of 3 for 17, Shami was able to end the Australian innings. Even though they were 129 for 3, the visitors gave up despite Shami's mid-innings explosion, folding for 188 with more than 14 overs left. The fact that they were still able to win despite the small total was due to Starc putting on an equally exciting performance up front. KL Rahul rose to the occasion with two significant partnerships with Hardik Pandya and Jadeja, and they were sufficient for India to recover from 39 for 4 and 83 for 5, respectively. He too pitched the ball up and managed to trap a few top order Indian batsmen, including Virat Kohli, but they weren't enough to prevent India from falling behind.

"No one had imagined they'd make a such little score," Shami said following the game. "From the outset we were focused on pitching the ball in favorable spots and we wanted to stop them for as little (total) as possible.

India has emphasized the value of scoring runs in the middle overs of an ODI match, and their decision to use wrist spin was based on precisely this tactic. Yet, given these circumstances and Shami's skills, India has options for their mid-innings play.


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