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Feature

Shami and Joseph crank it up on spicy Kotla pitch

The two quicks are wired differently but can be equally lethal and, alongside Rashid Khan, give Gujarat Titans the cushion of an all-weather attack

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
05-Apr-2023
Three weeks ago, Mohammed Shami saw deliveries repeatedly scoot low to the wicketkeeper from the good-length areas that he hit consistently at Feroz Shah Kotla. Such a prospect in the very first over of a Test can be deflating. But Shami still bounded in to pick up four wickets to skittle Australia in the first innings.
Last night, Shami was in for a surprise upon his return to Delhi. The ball was zipping around, there was lateral movement, and the carry was largely consistent. All he needed to do was to land it on good length like he does, with a bolt upright seam, and let nature take its course. After all, it's a method that's brought him rich rewards in the powerplay since last year.
In Ahmedabad, at the IPL's opening game, he picked up the season's first wicket with a Test-match dismissal of Devon Conway, bowling him through the gate with a sharp in-ducker. And the early evidence in Delhi seemed to suggest he wanted to have fun, even if it meant conceding a few extra runs in search of that perfect delivery.
Especially after seeing how the ball behaved after a pearler of a first delivery to David Warner, the ball leaving him late to kiss the stumps only for the bails to remain intact. Shami just wanted to let it rip. And the short square boundaries weren't going to dissuade him.
Prithvi Shaw was in the firing line and was roughed up by a short delivery as he spooned a catch to mid-on. Shami, the joint-highest powerplay wicket-taker for the Titans during their march to the title last year, had struck again.
This Test-match length would have its second victim in Mitch Marsh in his next over when Shami had him play on. The opening spell was a spectacle, even if it wasn't quite as thrilling as Shami flattening the stumps, like he did to Conway. But it set the tone for the Titans.
It gave their attack markers on a surface where captains can often opt for the insurance of a score to defend. Hardik Pandya, though, was having none of it. Titans have been chasing well, and this surface was right up their ally. It took all of two overs for Shami to justify his decision to bowl.
If Shami set the scene, Alzarri Joseph truly owned it. Five nights ago, he was in Jo'burg, delivering a telling T20I spell for West Indies on surfaces where 435 runs were smashed for fun. And he's carried on doing the same at the IPL, where he's got some unfinished business.
In 2019, he arrived as a replacement and ended up with the tournament's best bowling figures with his 6 for 12 for Mumbai Indians against Sunrisers Hyderabad. He had made 136 seem 180 and beyond that night. But an injury soon had him missing the remainder of the season. It wasn't until he was signed by Titans last year that he started getting games regularly.
There's some fire in his bowling that can be deceptive, because he doesn't make an outward effort to bowl fast. His bowling is just so naturally wired and in sync that he can let them rip without seemingly meaning to. In the first game, he was largely responsible for Super Kings' slowdown after they threatened to make 220 at one stage. Here, again, he went short of a length on a deck that offered to be his ally. And he found success.
When Titans assembled a squad that was ridiculed by some last year, they did so knowing they weren't going to play at home immediately. On red-soil decks with decent bounce and carry, they knew they needed fast bowlers. It perhaps explains why they got Shami and Joseph, among others.
Here, Joseph had a batter of Warner's calibre hanging back more often than not. Warner is as much of a white-ball destroyer as anyone can be but brought with him the inherent risk of playing back to a full ball, and was snuffed out after being late on the shot to a ball angling away.
Joseph then went on a sustained short-ball barrage that had Sarfaraz Khan ducking and weaving under them uncomfortably until one pinged him on the helmet. Debutant Abishek Porel also copped one on the helmet in trying to pull. But the ball he bowled to Rilee Rossouw summed up his spell. It reared up from short of a length and ballooned off the shoulder of the bat to point.
Joseph had combined seam movement, up-and-down bounce and "inconsistent pace" to have the night of his life. Two for 29 to boot, alongside Shami's top spell that felled Shaw and Marsh, gave Titans the advantage.
"This is a name that is well back in the archives, but the great West Indian fast bowler Andy Roberts was like that. Different in stature to Alzarri Joseph but ... he's got that great change of pace, and has now got control of his line. He's a weapon."
Tom Moody on ESPNcricinfo's T20 Time:Out
"He's a gun," former Australia allrounder Tom Moody gushed of Joseph on ESPNcricinfo's T20 Time:Out. "He bowls genuinely quick, and what I like about him is he's unpredictable with his pace. And that's intentional. So he's either bowling one in the high 140s or he's bowling in high 130s. And that's why he's hitting people in the head, because of that inconsistency.
"This is a name that is well back in the archives, but the great West Indian fast bowler Andy Roberts was like that. Different in stature to Alzarri Joseph but you talk to some of the greats like Ian Chappell, who have played a lot against Roberts, and they will say you put the pull shot or hook shot away because he's got two bouncers and you never know which one it is. So, he's got that great change of pace, and has now got control of his line. He's a weapon."
This variety that Shami and Joseph bring, along with Josh Little's left-arm angle and Hardik Pandya's seam-ups give them the luxury of using Rashid Khan in the second half, when teams don't have the option of playing him out. Rashid had never been introduced as late as he was here - in the 13th over - in the IPL, and it needed all of two balls for him to strike.
That nipped in the bud a flourishing stand between Sarfaraz and Porel that could've yet given Capitals 180. Rashid would walk away with three wickets in the end, benefiting from the work done by the fast bowlers on a surface that was as fast-bowler friendly as Kotla could get.
The treat of two fast bowlers, wired differently but operating on a same wavelength, and a gun legspinner bamboozling batters with a modus operandi that can't be novelty anymore brought thrills. And it gives Titans more than just an edge. It gives them the comfort of being an all-weather IPL attack.

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo