Southampton: Jasprit Bumrah deservedly got the Man of the Match award. Mohammed Shami got a hat-trick that sealed the game. The pacers were brilliant with timely wickets and tight spells in the death overs, but an understated part of India's thrilling win over Afghanistan in Southampton was their spinners' tidy spells in the middle.
Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav gave just 75 runs from 20 overs for two wickets between them, Chahal getting both the scalps. Afghanistan looked to take the chase deep, but played into India's hands; the spinners' plan was to increase the run-rate through dot balls, setting it up for Bumrah and Shami to take control in the death.
Unlike Afghanistan's spinners, Chahal and Kuldeep didn't get the ball to grip and turn off the surface. The pitch had become better for batting, which meant the duo couldn't just run through Afghanistan as they pleased. Only five times did the two spinners beat Afghanistan's batsmen - not the best players of spin - in the 20 overs. They had to play a waiting game, and did that with restrictive bowling. Chahal bowled as many as 41 dot balls while Kuldeep bowled 30.
"When I bowled the first two overs, I thought they were batting very well. They were just concentrating on taking ones and twos, and so I thought I need not go for wickets at this stage. I focused on bowling dot balls," explained Chahal. "If you see (my) first six overs, they scored 15 runs. The idea was to up the run rate. There was a chance that they could get some quick runs if I went for wickets and then they would be off that pressure. So, Kuldeep and I planned of bowling dot balls for the first few overs and then if we take the run-rate above 6 runs an over, we had bowlers like Shami and Bumrah. When I came for the second spell, I thought I can flight the ball and vary the pace.
"We have to bowl dots and create pressure because in the end if the required run-rate is 6-6.5, then at least the bowlers have a chance. If it's 4 or 5, then the fielders are in... so we have to bowl as many dots in the first 25-30 overs. We knew it would come back, when the run-rate hits six then they have to play big shots. This is a big ground too, they have to adjust."
Between the spin choke and Bumrah brilliance, Afghanistan were caught not knowing who to attack. When they did try to break the shackles against spinners, it wasn't easy. Asghar Afghan and Rashid Khan took on Chahal at different stages of the game only to be dismissed. The ball to Rashid was a brave one too - one ball after being reverse swept for four, Chahal still tossed it up to lure Rashid down and had him stumped.
"You do have to think about what the batsman is doing or going to do and bowl accordingly. You can go wrong with that sometimes, but you will have to keep thinking as to what the batsman is going to do next," said Chahal. "For example, when I dismissed Warner (caught in the deep). I knew I was bowling into the breeze, and I thought I will pull (the length back) a little and bowl slow. Even in this match, the way I got out Rashid... He was waiting for me to bowl faster but I bowled a slow one and it spun as well. You have to keep varying. If you bowl at one pace on these kinds of wickets, it becomes easy for the batsmen."
Prior to the World Cup, India's captain Virat Kohli had predicted that teams would struggle to chase even targets of around 250 as the tournament progresses. England found out against Sri Lanka on Friday, as did Afghanistan against India a day later.
This was the first time India's bowlers were tasked with defending a low total this World Cup, which made the win even more special for Chahal.
"Sometimes our team scores 340-350, (but) when you win this type of games, you are more confident that you can score 240 or 250 and still our bowlers can defend this," he said.
"Sometimes you can't defend even 350, sometimes you defend 250. It's all about your mindset. We know that this game is very crucial, if we win this we can go to second or third position. After that we are playing West Indies, England, Sri Lanka which are good teams. Our plan was to protect the total. We just planned during the break to go for dot balls and then get wickets."