How do you play that possible? How are you not ready for a ball that wicked? How many hours does it take to bat in the net? How many sets of repetitions of weight to condition the muscles? How many hours of treadmill and cycle fat strip which can slow you down?
How many coaches to watch, how much footage, how many balls tackled, from how many angles?
Second ball of the day at Wankhede, Dilshan Madushanka What would normally be the best bowling of the day. A contender, even, for the ball of the tournament. He turned his fingers on it, kept his wrist straight behind him, it bounced off the surface and beat Rohit Sharma’s bat and sent it off stump in a cartwheel, thwarting all preparations in a split second by one of the best batsmen. Planet has taken over for this match.
It was a ball that Rohit had to pitch almost exactly that length to pin down at the crease, bowled fast enough to beat Rohit and still clear the deflection off the pitch and land. Almost exactly on that line to take off stump.
A magic ball.
The kind – from your early days, braking on your front foot, and whipping your body through the action – you dream of bowling. Even just once in a lifetime.
But these are not normal situations and Sri Lanka is not facing a normal attack.
In the first possible example, Jasprit Bumrah Summons magic from an even higher realm. He comes from wide of the crease, angles it towards leg, dances it outside the seam, hits Pathum Nisanka in front of the stumps. How do you play it? How do you prepare for it?
Mohammad Siraj, with his first delivery, flirting with the supernatural, bowling tight to the stumps, it seemingly across the left-armer Dimuth Karunaratne. It continues that way for most of its course before suddenly and sharply turning back. Karunaratne such a tangle, he repeatedly pants out of his boot instead of the ball, falls off balance, gets hit in front of middle stump.
In the sheer praise of this delivery it is almost forgotten that both batsmen reviewed these decisions, refusing to trust the corners. The wicket raised six roars from the elated Wankhede – once when the stadium went in for appeal with the bowler, once when given out lbw, once the review confirmed each.
More to come in quick succession. Siraj swings again late on, draws another batter into another false shot, but the batter is not good enough to edge it. Later in the over, knowing he was in a desperate fight, Sadira Samaravikram came out of the crease and tried to hit Siraj on his length. Siraj just pulls it back, flicks it wider, gets Samrabikrama’s edge anyway.
Next over from Siraj, more magical first ball, angle in, swinging late, seaming away, hitting Kusal Mendis over the off stump, breaking the bails. After Bumrah bowled an over where he hit Mendis on the pads with a wicked ball that swung, and Bumrah beat Mendis’s edge with an away swinger.
The crowd watched as the opposition failed to even give a semblance of a fight. But they’re out of their seats anyway, slapping thighs and backs, gasping when the ball goes over the edge, living every electrifying moment. They are as impressed as the batters. Thrill of a group of bowlers stringing magic balls together, bowling magic overs, turning magic spells. At one point it seemed the Sri Lankan dressing room had more bewildered and dismissed batsmen than the number of runs on the board.
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The batsman who has somehow resisted is Angelo Mathews. First change bowler for him Mohammed Shami There is another ball, straight out of imagination. A yorker that swings spectacularly outside off, dives under the bat and hits the stumps. Even the hope of hitting a late tail feels distant. Shami took 5 wickets for 18 runs.
It’s a batting line-up that has crossed 320 twice this tournament, with a batting average of 66.20, another who has hit four consecutive half-centuries and a 46 in World Cups, and a player in Mathews who has 193 ODI innings and some great knocks on his record. Collectively, there are thousands of hours of batting practice, hundreds of coaching hours over the past three months and decades of dressing room knowledge.
But India now has seven. Their pacers have codified the top order for the second time in a row. And they have now bowled Sri Lanka below 100 for the third time this year.
They can do all this, defy all this history, question the batting order, how they can play and produce incredible numbers, because now a sense is forming: the attack could be once in a lifetime.