Mohammed Shami continued to challenge for India’s first XI come World Cup with another lovely display of seam bowling to set up a comfortable win for India – their first in an ODI in New Zealand since 2009 – in the opening ODI of the five-match series. Back together for the first time since the Asia Cup final in September last year, the two wristspinners, Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal, tied the hosts in knots after Shami’s initial burst of 4-2-13-2. Kane Williamson resisted arguably the best ODI bowling line-up in the world, but he too ended up making a mistake first ball after the second drinks break, which meant New Zealand’s innings lasted only 38 overs. The target of 158 was never going to test India.
The best bowling line-up they might well be, but India were missing two vital cogs, the best white-ball bowler in the world, Jasprit Bumrah, and Hardik Pandya, whose presence allows them to play the two wristspinners together. With Vijay Shankar in as Pandya’s replacement – not in his league at the moment – India were finally happy to take the risk of playing both the wristspinners together. New Zealand went the other way tactically, picking the pace of Doug Bracewell over the wristspin of Ish Sodhi and the batting-first role of Colin de Grandhomme.
It never came down to the tactics as Shami began with a performance that might have made all the difference. After New Zealand chose to bat first – unlike the trends elsewhere, New Zealand batted first and won two matches against Sri Lanka at home in the recent series – Shami made all of the tiny bit of assistance available to the new ball. Shami kept threatening the stumps consistently, and tested the on-the-up techniques of Martin Guptill and Colin Munro. With the pitch not a flatbed, New Zealand would have already begun to question their decision to bat first.
The second over of the innings was almost perfect. The seam kept coming out bolt upright, the ball was never on a half-volley but always brought the batsman forward. When it moved in the air, it went away; when it seamed, it nipped back in. The first one swung away, took the leading edge, but fell safe. The second jagged back in, but just got the inside edge before hitting Guptill. The third one seamed back in big time, nailing Guptill – no shot offered – right in front, but the bounce possibly saved him. The next one was an outswinger, which was left alone. And then the seam worked again, bringing the ball back in only after pitching, and taking the inside edge on. This made Shami the fastest Indian to 100 ODI wickets.
In his next over, Shami went round the wicket to the left-hand batsman Munro, and defeated a big drive with seam movement again. At 18 for 2, the two best batsmen in the side, Ross Taylor and Williamson, were reduced to damage control when they would have wanted risk-free accumulation.
Taylor had to take risks early doors, but just as he looked to be settling down, Chahal slowed the ball down asking him new questions. And when a frustrated Taylor left his crease, Chahal slowed it down further.