Rohit Sharma allowed himself a visibly irritated grin and a sharp glare, the one that gives questions he doesn’t want to delve deep into. The question was about packing four spinners to the West Indies. Sharma took a deep breath and explained in an assertive tone: “I don’t want to go into details on this. I definitely wanted four spinners. There are technical aspects involved in this. I won’t reveal it now.”

Rohit exuded a resounding conviction about the quartet, which has been gloriously vindicated as the tournament has progressed. If India’s pace trio had grabbed most of the bouquets in the group games, the spin trio had spread their wings and fluttered in the latter games of Super Eight and the semifinal against England. Sharma knew exactly when to unleash them—Kuldeep Yadav was preserved for the Super Eight, and his wristy cunningness makes him as dreaded a proposition as Jasprit Bumrah.

Irrespective of how the strip in Kensington Oval in Barbados for the final behaves, he daunts on South Africa’s batsmen. And Sharma knew exactly when to use him.

India's Kuldeep Yadav is congratulated by teammates after taking the wicket of Australia's Glenn Maxwell during an ICC Men's T20 World Cup cricket match at Darren Sammy National Cricket Stadium in Gros Islet, Saint Lucia, India’s Kuldeep Yadav is congratulated by teammates after taking the wicket of Australia’s Glenn Maxwell during an ICC Men’s T20 World Cup cricket match at Darren Sammy National Cricket Stadium in Gros Islet, Saint Lucia. (AP | PTI)

The Guyana pitch shared the soul and habits of a third-day subcontinent pitch. A distant cousin of the Green Park deck in Kanpur. The bounce was low, the pace was slow, some balls turned, though not sharply, and some did not. The semi-filled stands swayed to Bhojpuri and Bhangra tunes, ringing in subcontinental festivity. So he summoned Axar Patel, the prince of parsimony, but here in the terminator’s armour. Of all his spinners, Patel hits the stumps the most, he is the smartest exponent of using the crease and varying the releasing points.

So, as early as the fourth over, Sharma threw him the ball. And clapped, as though exhorting him to “go for the kill.” And so he did. As though he had mastered the mind of Jos Buttler, the England captain and their biggest hope in taking them a step closer to defending the title, he flung in a flat ball from wide of the crease at Buttler, as though anticipating a reverse sweep. But he did exactly that, only the ball dipped and arrived at a much slower pace than Buttler had anticipated. That he toe-ended rather than top-edged shows how early the England batsman was into the short.

Festive offer

There was no magic or marvel about the ball, but an irresistible precision, shocking simplicity, a battlecry that you needn’t possess a bagful of variations to gather wickets. He is an artist in his own way, one Quinton de Kock and friends would be as wary as they could be of Yadav, the left-arm spinner as indispensable to Sharma as the left-arm wrist spinner is.

He unpacked another blow. Jonny Bairstow, after all his experience facing Patel in IPL, ODIs, and Tests, faced him like a novice would. He left his gate wide open to let a straight ball through it. In the first sighting, it looked like a gift-wrapped wicket. But here, Patel went really wide, released the ball from a lower point and gave an almighty rip. You could see the edges of the seam whirring in the air. The angle sucked Bairstow’s eyes into it. A fundamental error, but that’s how Patel steals his wickets. In plain-sight, a daylight heist, when you know what he could and could not, yet let him take the wicket. When batsmen expect his deliveries to skid on, he slows them down, and when they anticipate him to slow his pace, they end up getting beaten by his skid, not so much zip.

Like his bowling, his words too are simple, almost underselling himself. “I knew the wicket was assisting and didn’t try too many things. Wicket is slow, so I didn’t want to push the pace too much,” he said when receiving the man of the match cheque. Moeen Ali’s wicket was clumsy, not that it would bother Patel much.

India's Axar Patel bowls a delivery during the ICC Men's T20 World Cup second semifinal cricket match between England and India at the Guyana National Stadium in Providence, Guyana India’s Axar Patel bowls a delivery during the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup second semifinal cricket match between England and India at the Guyana National Stadium in Providence, Guyana. (AP | PTI)

Soon, Yadav took over the show and whipped up three wickets including the prized one of Harry Brook, twinkling him out with delectable drift. Yadav is perhaps the antithesis of Patel, wields the most exotic of arts in the game, has an aura around his edges of curls and a deep pocket of tricks. For Sharma, they are but two men treading different paths to the same goal of influencing games. Another box too was ticked—the sparsely used Ravindra Jadeja bowled three overs of stifling lines. He showed no rust or restlessness in being used as a bit-part bowler.

That Sharma could afford to slot both Jadeja and Patel in the eleven is partly due to their batting skills. Both emphasized that in Georgetown. Jadeja’s nine-ball 17 and Patel’s six-ball 10 are the sort of mini cameos modern day teams expect from all-rounders. Suddenly, the team could boast a splendid balance—three spinners, of which two could crunch boundaries, three seamers, of which one could launch lusty blows. Give Sharma any type of track, he has the ammo to blast opponents. New York was seam friendly, so he unbolted his seamers, St Lucia was a shirtfront, so he harnessed the best of his pitch-transcending bowlers, Bumrah and Yadav; Guyana was spinner-friendly, so pushed Patel upfront. It’s a classic case of a resourceful bowling firm used resourcefully by a worldly-wise Sharma. The nature of the Kensington Oval pitch would hardly pique Sharma in the hasty dash to the final. And by now, he has eloquently answered the spinner question.