Jadeja at No. 4 forced Pakistan to change plans, and it ‘ultimately cost them’

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Hardik Pandya has rightly cornered most of the glory after India’s win over Pakistan in the Asian Cup last night in Dubai. But two other aspects of India’s game also stood out. First, Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s four-wicket-haul, including the early dismissal of Babar Azam. And second, a scintillating idea in the back room to send Ravindra Jadeja to number 4.

While Bhuvneshwar’s exploits came first, let’s start with Jadeja. Rishabh Pant, the only left-handed top-order batter in the Indian squad, was left out to meet Dinesh Karthik in the role of finisher, meaning a top five, if not six, right-handers. Not ideal. So Jadeja was sent out at the fall of Rohit Sharma’s wicket at the end of the eighth over. He went through to the final, scoring 35 in 29 balls and adding 36 with Suryakumar Yadav [fourth wicket] and 52 with Hardik [fifth wicket]. A plan that clearly worked back in the day.

“The key for me was to have a left-hander in the middle there because that meant they… [Pakistan] couldn’t bring [Mohammad] Nawaz back,” said Mickey Arthur of India’s chase on ESPNcricinfo’s T20 Time Out program after the game. “So they had to hold Nawaz from the back. And that probably cost them in the end.”

The Nawaz factor was a crucial one. The Pakistani bowling combination of the night featured three right arm quicks, one leg pinner and the one left arm in spinner Nawaz. And Nawaz had done well. In his first over, the eighth of the innings, he had sent Rohit back. And in his next, the tenth, he was good to Virat Kohli. He also threw the 12th, but because of Jadeja’s presence, he was only returned for the last over.

“I don’t think anyone saw that” [Jadeja at No. 4] coming. It was a good call. It was a good move. Something no one had really foreseen. I actually kind of like that decision,” Robin Uthappa said on the same show. “If you go a little bit from Pakistan’s perspective, in hindsight they could have thrown the left arm spinner’s [Nawaz] among the first six, because they had two right-handers [batting] and it was the right time.

“It looked like Babar [Azam] took the safer option of bringing in the spinners immediately after the power play. He could have turned on one of them during the power play. [It] would have been a great match up for Rohit and Kohli. In the first ten balls to the spinners they push the ball around and don’t really have a great hitting speed at that point, and that proved true again today [India were 38 for 1 after the powerplay]. That should have encouraged Pakistan.”

“He’s taken his time, he’s played a lot of cricket and he’s gotten better and better. His confidence has grown. You see him swing the ball early and late.”

Robin Uthappa on Bhuvneshwar Kumar

Arthur agreed, emphasizing that after putting on the board a modest total of 147, Pakistan could have done better with their spin options.

“They should have picked up the pace towards the back of the power play,” he said. “Mainly because they knew they only had 12 overs of pace with the side they chose, they could certainly have gone one over from Nawaz, or even one over from Shadab [Khan, the legspinner], because I know that after studying and going up against Rohit, legpin doesn’t play particularly well in the power play. Or his stroke rate to legpin is a lot less.

“So you could have bowled Shadab, you could have bowled Nawaz. In general, Nawaz is playing in the power play for his franchise in the PSL anyway. That would have been a very good match with Virat and Rohit. That would have slowed the overs of the real quicks to a little later in the game.”

But long before Jadeja did his bit, there was Bhuvneshwar [and Hardik too, he was everywhere].

Third over, after India won the toss and asked Pakistan to bat, Bhuvneshwar, who was not known for being very fast, sent a bouncer who may have surprised Babar. The pull caught only the top edge and flew to Arshdeep Singh on short fine leg. The big one is gone. Bhuvneshwar returned and took three more wickets – Shadab, Asif Ali and Naseem Shah – in the last quarter of the innings to finish 4 for 26.

“[Bhuvneshwar’s contribution] was there with Hardik Pandya’s contribution,’ Uthappa remarked. His story of revival has been a long and difficult one. He was injured two years ago and couldn’t figure out what the injury was […] working day in and day out at the NCA – and I’m telling you it’s not easy days, you have to have surgery, you have to rehabilitate; the rehab part is the hardest, the surgery is the easiest — and to come back and do those boring things day after day, for months at a time, is extremely difficult.

“And he’s taken his time, he’s played a lot of cricket and he’s gotten better and better. His confidence has grown. You can see him swing the ball early and late.”

As this feat did after good forays in Ireland, England and the West Indies, Bhuvneshwar is said to have thrown in his hat to be in the roster for the Men’s T20 World Cup, in Australia in October-November. Even when Jasprit Bumrah and Harshal Patel, India will hope, are back in the mix.

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