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Analysis

Straighter, faster, flatter, Zampa

How Aussie legspinner punked England's batters

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
04-Nov-2023
Jos Buttler dances down the pitch to a wide legbreak and swings hard through the line of the ball, flicking his back leg as the ball flies into the upper tier of Dubai International Stadium. Two overs later, he hits an even bigger six back over the bowler's head then knocks a single; Jonny Bairstow is on strike, and thumps consecutive sixes himself.
This used to be the story when Adam Zampa played against England. After that night in Dubai, he had taken four wickets in four T20Is against them while conceding nearly 11 runs per over; across his first five ODIs against them, he took two wickets at 133.50. He might have been good enough against the also-rans, but not against this lot.
But the Zampa that came up against England in Ahmedabad on Saturday night is a very different bowler to the one who used to get milked and whacked in equal measure - and England are a very different team to the side who set the standard for the rest of the world, brimming with self-assurance and bravado.
Zampa bowls straighter, faster and flatter than he used to, and has reached a point where he has total confidence in where he will land the ball. "I'd say tonight is as satisfying as it feels after an ODI, in terms of my 10 overs," he said. "My length control was as good as it's been."
These were difficult conditions for a legspinner. There were signs of dew when Zampa came on in the 12th over, and for most of his spell he found himself bowling to Dawid Malan, Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali: in total, 45 out of the 60 balls he bowled were to left-handers.
It meant he relied heavily on his googlies and rarely strayed from a good length or a straight line, targeting the top of the stumps. It was a simple plan, but England gave Zampa little reason to change things up: not only did they fail to hit a boundary in his 10-over spell, they did not even manage to hit a two off him.
It was Buttler who finally tried to hit him off his length, skipping down and looking to launch him over long-off, as if trying to rekindle the spirit of that heady night in Dubai. Instead, it was Zampa who came out on top, roaring as loud as he could in celebration as Cameron Green took a simple catch.
He was so consistent with his stock ball that any deviation from it seemed to bring a wicket. The ball that got Stokes might have been his worst of the night, sliding down the leg side and swept tamely to short fine leg; he tossed one up full to Moeen, who slog-swept him out to deep midwicket.
The ball to Moeen was Zampa's finally pay-out, the result of the pressure he had built up across his spell. At 49.7mph, it was significantly slower than the majorty of his spell and had enough overspin to take the top edge. "I'm known for bowling flatter and faster," he said, "so to be able to bowl it slower and bring it back a little bit was a really satisfying wicket."
He finished with extraordinary figures of 3 for 21, the cheapest spell of his ODI career - by a distance. Australia's decision to pick a solitary frontline spinner in their World Cup squad was a calculated gamble: with 19 wickets across seven matches, the selectors are quids in.
Even if these Australian players are significantly different to those that came before in character, there is still an underlying machismo: most of the squad used their days off at the start of the week to take golf far too seriously, then explained Glenn Maxwell's injury away by saying that "boys will be boys" and that they "need a mum on tour".
But Zampa is a different personality. He labels golfers "floggers" and stayed in Dharamsala with his family instead. "It was really nice," he said. "I wore a few robes, and found myself up there in the hills. I just went on a couple of treks… I was a recluse for a few days."
He certainly didn't work on his batting, and has hardly netted all tour. You couldn't tell from his innings at No. 10, a vital 29 off 19 balls which included a straight drive off a 92mph Mark Wood rocket, a pull for four off Chris Woakes and a drag through wide long-on off David Willey.
To top it all off, he took a blinder in the field to see the back of Willey, running 25 metres from deep fine leg to square leg and diving underneath a spectacular catch. "I mean, I'm not known as the best fielder in the world," Zampa said, "but it's satisfying to work on stuff and things come off like that. It's a good feeling."
Zampa used to be the bowler that England's batters queued up to take down. On Sunday, he will head to Mumbai with Buttler, Stokes and Moeen in his pocket - and as the leading wicket-taker at this World Cup.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98