How Aaron's spell shook Mumbai's top order
Fourteen overs spread over three sessions is not much to go by but Varun Aaron's furious seven-over burst before lunch against Mumbai was another indication that his comeback from a long injury layoff is progressing well. Aaron returned to first-class cricket after two years this Ranji season following his recurrent back troubles. Into his fourth match, he's taken 13 wickets at an average of 20.30. More heartening than the numbers was the pace, bounce, seam and swing he generated in those seven overs before lunch that claimed Wasim Jaffer and Sushant Marathe.
Aaron was unplayable at times during that spell, straightening the ball on a tight line around off stump and getting it to climb sharply. He also slipped in the surprise yorker, nearly claiming Siddhesh Lad after making him think a short ball was forthcoming with a short leg in place. Often, deliveries took off from good length and flew high into the keeper's gloves.
"I think the first spell was very fast," Shahbaz Nadeem, the Jharkhand captain, said. "I was standing at point and there were one or two deliveries that I could not spot at all. I saw them being released and then straight in the hands of the keeper. He bowled even quicker against Karnataka. If Varun is in rhythm, the nature of the pitch does not matter to him. What he did in the first spell was tremendous. The first two wickets were very important for us."
This wasn't a helpful pitch, as Mumbai's seamers had discovered and their keeper Aditya Tare admitted. To beat as good a batsman as Jaffer with pace and bounce on the cut needed some effort. "That [Aaron's spell] shook us," Tare said. "Wasim bhai is a big batsman and in good form. That was a big wicket. The pitch isn't all that great for a fast bowler and is kind of slow. But he bowled quick. But I think Umesh [Yadav] bowled a bit quicker [for Vidarbha in Mumbai's previous game]."
Aaron was used quite sparingly after lunch. He bowled two spells of two overs each in the second session and sent down only three overs after tea. Given his frequent breakdowns, Jharkhand did not want to extend their premier fast bowler as he seeks to rebuild his career. Aaron also did not go flat out like he had before lunch.
"He is returning from injury after two years," Nadeem said. "He is not a bowler who can bowl long spells. He is a bowler who will come for three-four overs and bowl quick. He requires more effort. In the two overs he bowled after lunch, he saw that the ball was not swinging. So I suggested that you stop and I'll try the other bowlers.
Nadeem did not think Aaron was holding himself back at all. "He goes all out each time he plays a game," he said. "This season, every game he's delivered spells where you can see he's bowling quick and is on top of the batsmen. But as your shoulders tire, you automatically slow down. You lose your freshness. A fast bowler cannot bowl 145-146 kph every spell in days' cricket. It can happen in one-day cricket, but in days' cricket the second and third spells will come down to 140-141."
As long as Aaron can deliver a similar, energetic spurt on the third morning, Jharkhand will be glad to manage his workload for the remainder, if any, of the Mumbai innings.
Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo