The introduction of a bowler to bowl his first over of a T20 game isn’t a remarkable feat by itself, apart from the promise of his forthcoming spell. But when Yuzvendra Chahal was tossed the ball by captain Virat Kohli to begin the 8th over of the Australia chase, there was more than just the normal level of flutter around the Manuka Oval in Canberra.
Why? For Chahal wasn’t part of India’s original playing eleven in the first place. His presence in the second innings did not pass unnoticed, causing its fair share of controversy.
In the final over of India’s batting innings, Ravindra Jadeja – who had rescued India with a late salvo for the second time in three days in Canberra – was hit on the helmet by Mitchell Starc, and at that point little was made of it. The second delivery of the 20th over rose sharply towards Jadeja, who tried to pull the ball but only managed to find the edge on to his helmet and ran a single.
The Indian physio did not rush on to the field to check either Jadeja or the helmet’s post-blow health and the over carried on seamlessly, with Jadeja twice smashing Starc for boundaries after he got back on strike. He finished unbeaten on 44, a knock that hauled India’s score to 161.
But behind closed doors during the innings break, the Indian team doctor deemed that Jadeja had suffered a concussion and informed the match-referee, David Boon, that India would require a concussion-substitute in Chahal and Boon approved the request. This did not go down well with the Australian camp.
The broadcast cameras caught Australia coach Justin Langer exchanging angry words with Boon by the boundary rope before the start of Australia’s batting innings, even as opener and captain Aaron Finch looked on. “Boony was just letting us know that the doctor had ruled Jadeja out with a concussion,” Finch said later. “There’s not much we could say to that.”
But there was little Boon could have done about his decision either, for the new concussion rules in cricket state that “the decision of the ICC Match Referee in relation to any Concussion Replacement Request shall be final and neither team shall have any right to appeal“.
The rules also state that only like-for-like replacements are allowed, and both Jadeja and Chahal are frontline spinners for India. But Langer’s body language indicated that he felt India had taken advantage of the nascent laws to bring in a leg-spinner immediately after two Australian leg-spinners in Adam Zampa and Mitchell Swepson had proved that the track had purchase for their art. Swepson had dismissed Kohli and Zampa had got the wicket of Manish Pandey.
“Suddenly I got to know I was going to play,” Chahal said after the game. When, he was asked. “Ten to fifteen minutes before the break… Here I saw how Zampa had bowled so I followed that.”
Before India’s first concussion-substitute (across formats) had bowled a ball, Australia were cruising at 54/0 after seven overs. Almost instantly, he applied the brakes. Chahal removed the well-set Finch for 35 in his first over, the dangerous Steve Smith in his second and finished off his spell with a last ball wicket of Matthew Wade. His figures of 3/25 restricted the Australians by 11 runs and also won him Man of the Match — salt into Australia’s wounds.
“There were no plans of him being in the team,” Kohli said at the post-match presentation. “Concussion replacements, they are a strange thing. Today it worked for us, but at another time maybe we wouldn’t have found a like-for-like.”