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Match Analysis

Ravi Bishnoi and an exhibition of wrong 'uns

The debutant legspinner was not fazed, even by batters of big hitting repute, and that is a very good sign

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
Ravi Bishnoi's first act as an India cricketer wasn't his most memorable one. What should've been a regulation catch at long-off to dismiss Nicholas Pooran turned into a six because Bishnoi's overbalanced foot touched the ad cushions. Even as the umpires conferred to indicate 'out' as the soft signal, Bishnoi knew he had erred. When the big screen merely confirmed what he had known all along, Bishnoi had a sheepish look: tongue out and looking away, not wanting to make eye contact with Yuzvendra Chahal, the bowler, and Rohit Sharma, the captain. Less than an hour earlier, a beaming Bishnoi had received his first cap from Chahal.
But within an over of that lapse, he was summoned to bowl his first over in international cricket. West Indies had just lost their second wicket in Kyle Mayers, and Rohit was in no mood to sit back and let the visitors recover. He had a new batter - a right-hander in Roston Chase - and he went on an all-out attack. Had he held them back any further, it's also possible a dewy outfield could have made things tougher for young Bishnoi. One of the batters Bishnoi would be bowling to - Pooran - was his IPL team-mate for two seasons at Punjab Kings. Not that it was much of an advantage just yet, because, for Bishnoi, this was going to be a battle from within. Would he be able to manage his jangling nerves? Will he allow the occasion to get to him? An hour later, you could say he didn't.
Bishnoi began sloppily sliding wrong'uns wide outside off, and then down leg. But from thereon, a mesmeric two overs changed the face of the game entirely. Up until then, Pooran had started to tuck in, quickly allowing West Indies to move past a middle-overs stutter. This approach came with the knowledge he had more explosive batters for support. Kieron Pollard, Odean Smith, Romario Shepherd and Roman Powell. But when Bishnoi struck to dismiss Chase in his second over, West Indies sputtered again.
What stood out with the Chase wicket was the set up. Midwicket was left open. The ball was on middle and off. It was a wrong 'un. Chase knew all of this and yet could do nothing about it. Bishnoi's flatter trajectory and fizz off the pitch left him with no time to really react. He was tempted by the gap on the leg side. He went for it and was out lbw. Could he have survived had he tried to play straighter? Perhaps. Here, he was looking to nudge the ball and closed the face of the bat. It was a grave mistake. Chase was as close as Bishnoi would get to bowling to a "Test-class" batter on the night - at least the stats say so - and getting him the way he did would have been particularly satisfying. Two balls later, Powell's attempt to unleash a fierce slog sweep led to his finding wide long-on.
When Akeal Hosein walked in ahead of Pollard, supposedly to negate the effects of a legspinner, the left-hander was left befuddled, because he was welcomed by another ripping googly. Bishnoi's wry smile at the end of a double-wicket over told you he'd outfoxed the new man. Was he really expecting him to spin the ball back in? This was an exhibition of wrong 'uns bowled at similarly rapid pace but different lengths. By the time the batters had realised it was time to treat Bishnoi as a googly bowler, he had figures of 2-0-7-2.
Bishnoi's fearlessness, even against a batter of Pollard's repute, was a refreshing sight. He kept delivering his stock ball - the googly - knowing fully well that the batters were expecting it. And therein lay the beauty of his effort. The team management let him be his own boss; they trusted him to do a job and he did.
"Bishnoi is a very talented guy, no doubt about it," Rohit said at the presentation. "We see something different in him that's why we drafted him in the squad. He can bowl anywhere from the powerplay to the back end of the innings as well, gives us options to rotate other bowlers. Very happy with his first game for India, he's got a very bright future. He's got solid talent. It's just about us now, how we use him."
The team management sees "something different" in Bishnoi. They're also in that phase of T20 World Cup preparation where they're happy to try different things, like fielding two legspinners of different varieties in the same XI. Where Chahal teases batters with his loop and dip, Bishnoi is fast and fizzy. On Wednesday, we may have seen the start of a blossoming partnership. For Bishnoi, already an IPL star, the journey in the big league may have just begun.

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo