In 622 ODIs played in Australia since the very first took place at the MCG in 1970-71, no-one has ever bettered the bowling figures of 6 for 42 claimed by Yuzvendra Chahal for India against Australia on January 18, 2019. He now shares that lofty perch with another Indian, Ajit Agarkar, who plucked his one haul of same at the MCG in January 2004.
That night, 15 years ago, Agarkar had reason to believe for most of its journey that his efforts would deliver India the win, only to find himself part of a rush of wickets at the end, 6 for 13 in all, that slid the visitors from victors to vanquished in the space of 19 frenzied balls.
This time, however, Chahal was not to be required with the bat, as MS Dhoni and Kedar Jadhav teased, tested and ultimately tormented Australia with a perfectly modulated chase for 231 that delivered India the series with four balls to spare.
That Dhoni in particular was able to dawdle at times, very nearly blocking out a maiden from Adam Zampa's 10th over, can be put down largely to the quality displayed by Chahal, who with his variations of spin, line and pace found exactly the right sort of wristspin for an MCG surface that in its modicum of tacky moisture offered him just enough assistance.
At the same time it was a performance all the more remarkable for the fact that this was Chahal's first match of the tour; by virtue of his surprise, his performance mirrored that of Kuldeep Yadav against Australia in the decisive Test match of the 2017 Test series in India. Ironically, it was Virat Kohli's sense that the Australians were now reading Kuldeep better than in the past that compelled him to change up his spin battery.
"Our strength as a side has been upredictability," Kohli said. "We haven't been predictable with our combinations in the past couple of years. So felt like they were reading Kuldeep quite well and they were able to score singles easily, picking his variations from the hand quite well, so we thought it might not be a bad thing to bring in Chahal for variation. Also because we were bringing in Kedar [Jadhav] who's an offspinner and gives us an option against left-handers.
"Credit has to go to him [Chahal] because the way he bowled in his first game of the tour was absolutely outstanding. To take six wickets at the MCG is no small feat for a spinner, and I'm really happy for him. He's a very intelligent bowler and he gets us those breakthroughs. Him and Kuldeep together are definitely a force to be reckoned with and if they play together it's our most potent spin bowling attack, but just for the balance of the team, Kuldeep had to make way for Chahal this evening."
All spin bowlers will have days where they are grateful for an early wicket, whether intentional or otherwise. For Shane Warne, of course, his first ball dismissal of Mike Gatting in England in 1993 came through a combination of vicious spin and fortunate happenstance; for Chahal, his second delivery brought impatience and inattention from Shaun Marsh, who advanced at a ball fired down the leg side and swatted at thin air before being stumped.
Three balls later, and Chahal's first delivery to Usman Khawaja arrived on a similar line, this time stopping in the pitch enough to turn the batsman's attempted work to the leg side into a gentle leading edge and a return catch. Whatever was to follow, that double-blow when Marsh and Khawaja had appeared well set told a large part of the evening's tale.
This is not to say that Chahal did not make more vital incisions. With each delivery his rhythm improved, perhaps peaking with a legbreak to Marcus Stoinis that with drift and angle drew the batsman to shape towards the leg side, then with enough snap back across the body to draw the edge to slip, where Rohit Sharma held a terrific catch. Jhye Richardson was also confounded by drift and turn, offering a front edge to midwicket, before Peter Handscomb's otherwise productive stay was ended by some skid off the surface when he misjudged length and was pinned lbw.
"Chahal bowled beautifully today and he would have troubled anyone on that pitch," Kohli said. "Even our team he would have troubled if we'd batted against him because he was bowling so well."
When Zampa, Chahal's opposite number, failed to reach the pitch of the ball and lofted to long on, Chahal had six wickets and the adulation of a largely Indian crowd of 53,603. Rightfully, he pouched the Man-of-the-Match award, as Dhoni claimed the series prize. "The wicket was a little bit turning and so I could plan to bowl a little bit slower and I did my best," Chahal said at the presentation.
Startling as Chahal's performance was, he still has work ahead of him to secure a spot in India's World Cup plans. Kuldeep and Ravinda Jadeja are among many and varied options for India's management, and it remains to be seen whether Chahal can transcend the conditions-based selection he clearly was on this day. But in conjuring figures that put him right at the top of a long list of accomplished bowlers to play ODIs in Australia, he had made a mark that will be difficult to forget.
"If you see their performances how can you not," Kohli said when asked whether Chahal and Kuldeep could both fit into the World Cup squad. "Two wristspinners who are getting you wickets in the middle overs. That's the game-changer, if he didn't get us wickets in the middle overs we would have been chasing 260-270. In one-day cricket you have to take take wickets there, and any captain would want that."