London: Australia just about managed to escape a trial by pace from West Indies. They now have to contend with much more than that, as a familiar trial by spin awaits in their next game against India.
It's not often that one finds Australia bounced out to 38 for 4 within eight overs in an ODI. West Indies managed that and more, but the brilliance of Steve Smith and an out-of-nowhere 60-ball 92 from Nathan Coulter-Nile revived them to an eventually match-winning total.
It was a typical never-say-die performance from Australia's batsmen but one of the reasons for their resurgence in the game was lack of variety in the West Indies attack. Once the ball stopped nipping and bouncing as it did when new, Australia could just bat through the middle overs before going for the kill later. The big miss in West Indies' attack was a potent spinner; they had only Ashley Nurse who conceded 31 from five overs.
That will change when Australia face India at the Oval on Sunday (June 9). The venue has seen slower bowlers have a big say in the three games so far. In the three matches combined, spinners have accounted for 15 wickets, with pacers too relying on cutters and slower ones. Even express pacemen like Lungi Ngidi and Kagiso Rabada had to rely on variations to get wickets, in the first game against England. In the most recent innings at the venue, Bangladesh's spinners picked up six of the eight wickets, nearly bowling them to victory over New Zealand.
Unlike West Indies, India probably have the best spin attack in the tournament with Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav operating in tandem in the middle. Before the World Cup, Virat Kohli said their presence made their squad "even better than the one that played the Champions Trophy". One match in, they showed just why, picking up five wickets combined to bowl out South Africa cheaply.
It was Chahal who was among wickets, but Kuldeep had a say too, apart from picking up the wicket of JP Duminy. Despite coming into the tournament on the back of a poor IPL - which both him and his captain brushed aside - it was Kuldeep who got the first go. He didn't strike but gave crucial pointers to Chahal.
"I bowled three overs and I spoke to Chahal ‘the wicket is good but if you bowl slower, you will get turn.’ So, we worked on that and planned according to the wicket. Our main focus was to take wickets in the middle overs. I am glad we backed each other very well during that phase," said Kuldeep.
"We talk often. He had bowled three overs before me, so I asked him about how the pitch is playing. He said that if you bowl wicket-to-wicket and vary your pace, it'll be difficult for the batsmen," said Chahal after the game where he picked up four wickets.
That's precisely what Chahal did in just his second over, hitting the wicket twice with beautiful variations in pace. He first got past Rassie van der Dussen's ambitious reverse sweep with a slow loopy ball that drifted towards leg before turning in. He then upped the pace in a slider to Faf du Plessis, bowling him in the same over. Kohli called the twin strikes as the game-changing moment of the game.
How will Australia approach spin?
Losing two early wickets meant South Africa had no option but to be careful against India's spin duo. Chahal and Kuldeep went for a combined 97 runs in their 20 overs, numbers that were spoilt by Chris Morris late in the innings.
Unless Australia too finds themselves in a similar position as South Africa in Southampton or Australia in Nottingham, they are likely to be more aggressive against spin.
Kuldeep has played 11 matches against Australia, picking up 19 wickets. However, they've come at the cost of runs as his average economy rate is 6.07, considerably more than his career economy of 4.93.
It's the same with Chahal too, whose economy against Australia - 5.54 - is more than his career figure of 4.89. Chahal has picked up 13 wickets from six games against Australia, six of those coming in one match in Melbourne.
Australia will be encouraged by their recent success against spin in India and UAE. Kuldeep picked 10 wickets in 5 matches in the home series but Australia still managed to win after being 2 down in the series. In the captains' interaction with the media before the World Cup, Kohli admitted that India slightly took it for granted that they'd win the series after winning the first two games.
After losing the next two, India realized the need to play their best attack and got both Kuldeep and Chahal together for the first time in the XI that series. Even that didn't help though, as Australia chased down 359 with 2.1 overs in hand.
That's the only time a team has posted above 300 against Bumrah, Kuldeep and Chahal. That was also Australia's only win in four matches against an Indian side with Kuldeep and Chahal operating together.
It's an intriguing battle. Chahal and Kuldeep could go for runs, but they are also likely to pick up wickets. Or the other way around, depending on how you see it.