Shaun Marsh is dismissed by a Jasprit Bumrah slower ball

Out to lunch: Bumrah's slower ball works a treat on Shaun Marsh

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The top 20

The balls of the century, No. 12: Jasprit Bumrah to Shaun Marsh

What's for lunch? A slower one, served hot

Sidharth Monga  |  

Australia v India, Melbourne, 2018

Somehow Australia has become the land of magic on the last ball of a session or a day's play. A large part of it is down to those conspiratorial mid-pitch meetings between Shane Warne and Ian Healy. Channel 9's Bill Lawry and Richie Benaud would add to the drama.

This was a torturous time for the batsman. The final over had begun before the clock ticked over. He had been stretched to the fullest by a battery of world-class bowlers, and all he could think of was surviving that ball to get a break from the constant pressure. And then look forward to resuming the contest the next day. He had absolutely nothing to gain from that last over even if he hit a boundary or two. Then Warne would slow things down, the crowd would get into it, and Warne would pull off something unexpected. Or not.

But the Boxing Day Test of 2018-19 was the very embodiment of the notion that the past is a different country. The days of Warne and Channel 9 were over. Australia were missing Steven Smith and David Warner because of ball-tampering bans. It was the home batsmen who were under the pump from a formidable Indian bowling unit. The MCG pitch, slow and turgid, had taken away any advantage their own bowlers might have wanted to latch onto.

Australia had conceded 443. That those runs had come in almost two days gave them hope they could save the Test and go into the series decider with scores level. There was rain forecast for parts of the last two days. They practically just needed to bat out the third day on what seemed a benign surface. They didn't know then, but the rain forecast in Sydney the following week meant this would be the day the series was decided.

But nobody was looking to Sydney just yet. India were desperate to turn their impregnable position into a win. Their bowlers were accurate, their plans spot on. As a result they had taken three wickets in the first 20 overs. This is when the Kookaburra usually starts to go soft. Shaun Marsh and Travis Head were getting into a bit of a partnership. They had played out 12 overs when the last one before lunch began. Had they gone into the break unseparated, they would have come back with some confidence and a soft ball to face on a dreary pitch.

There was the last over to face, though. All through the series, Jasprit Bumrah had had gloves jammed against bats with his pace. Earlier in the day he had hit Marcus Harris repeatedly with bouncers. Marsh, at the best of times, is not a big mover of his front foot. Now in the last over before a break, against a bowler with an unusual action that makes him seem quicker than the gun tells you, Marsh was more circumspect. Ball after ball, watchfully, he negotiated his way through, until Bumrah walked back for one last time in the session.

There was no pause of the Warne-Healy variety, but Bumrah did have a quick exchange with his IPL captain, Rohit Sharma, stationed at mid-off. Bumrah began his slow walk towards the crease, then it became an uneasy gallop, just ten steps in, that slingshot ready to lash another thunderbolt. Marsh moved slightly across, hoping no doubt for a wide delivery but ready for a quick straight one, and out came only the second slower ball from Bumrah in the series.

The problem with facing a Bumrah slower ball is that his release point is in front of the body. As it is, his noodle arm makes it difficult to pick him; that late release gives you even less time to adjust. And this one was the perfect loopy slower ball, straight at the stumps, dipping late and even swinging in a little, squeezing under Marsh's bat, hitting his toe on the full. It didn't have the build-up of a Warne classic nor the legendary commentary to go with it, but the moment was just as magical.

And Sharma and Bumrah were not discussing the lunch menu. "Nothing much was happening," Bumrah said of the plan. "So, last ball before lunch, Rohit was there at mid-off, and he told me, 'You can try a slower ball like you bowl in one-day cricket.' So I thought, 'Yeah, I could give it go. Nothing is really happening and maybe a slower ball there and some of their guys play with hard hands...' So I wanted to try that, the execution was good on the day. Yeah, really happy."

The balls of the century

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo