Adam Zampa wouldn't have imagined dismissing Virat Kohli in Mumbai - for the fourth time in ODIs - would be the talk of the town even in Rajkot. As he arrived for the pre-match press conference on Thursday, everyone wanted to know his approach and mindset while bowling to the top-ranked Test and ODI batsman.
"It's got to be an attacking approach," Zampa said. "I think if you're on the back foot and have a defensive mindset, then that's when he can get on top of you. The most important thing playing in places like India against these guys is to have a little bit of character. You probably know you're going to get hit for boundaries but it can really get worse if you make that affect you.
"Virat, I have got him a few times now but I don't think there is anything in it. He still scores at over 100 against me, he is a very hard guy to bowl to. There have been a couple of occasions where I have dismissed him. If you bowl a bad ball to him he can get on top of you but if you let that affect you it gets on top of you even more. He's one of the toughest guys I've ever had to bowl to. I think he will be even more switched on [Friday]. It's a big challenge."
Zampa had just been taken out of the attack in Mumbai when Kohli walked out at No. 4, but was brought back almost immediately to bowl along with Pat Cummins. After getting smashed for a six, Zampa took a sharp return catch with a tossed-up delivery and dismissed Kohli for the fourth time in 11 innings, joint-best with Suraj Randiv among spinners in ODIs. Zampa explained it was a part of Australia's plans to make Kohli face legspin early.
"We basically just find that Virat finds legspinners hard to line up early in his innings, to be honest," Zampa said. "He's such a great starter, even the other day he was 16 off 14 or whatever it was, how much energy he brought to the crease, his running between the wickets, some of the cover drives he played off the quicks. I think it's important to try and have a game plan to him, so we figured out for that last game that it would be good to start with legspin to him. It might be different next game."
The numbers back Zampa's statement. The perception of Kohli's apparent early weakness against legspin may have stemmed from the IPL in which he has been dismissed by googlies from Rashid Khan and Shreyas Gopal in the last couple of seasons.
Across white-ball cricket, IPL included, Kohli scores briskly against legspinners but is also most susceptible to them in his first 15 deliveries. Not only does his average dip against legspinners (34.3) compared to other spinners (70.30) and fast bowlers (47.60), his balls per dismissals ratio (27.30) is also the lowest against legspinners.
Kohli himself had praised Zampa prior to the series opener. He was asked about the threat Zampa could pose having done well during the course of Australia's 3-2 series win last year. At the time, Kohli said Zampa's "mindset" had impressed him.
"He was pretty good last time, when Australia played here," Kohli had said on Monday. "He was probably one bowler who had more belief than others. Throughout the game, even when he was hit for boundaries, he kept coming at the batsmen and try and get them out, which I think is important for a wristspinner. And his mindset was a standout for them in the last series. And he made those important breakthroughs in the games that they won after having lost two."
Zampa has gained much respect with his consistency in the BBL and for Australia in the last few years. He has expanded his repertoire and is Glenn Maxwell's "go to man" for the Melbourne Stars. With the delivery that got Kohli, Zampa showed he does not hold back to flight the ball even on smaller grounds in India, and he mixes things with pace variations that vary from 60 to 90-plus kmh in one over.
He often attacks the stumps to not give batsmen much room, throws in the odd wrong'un, and goes wide of the crease with his quicker deliveries to surprise batsmen further. Zampa said it was not easy to be a wristspinner in the middle overs, compared to T20s, which give you an extra fielder in the deep.
"One of the most important things I have always tried to do is have strong character," he said. "To be a wristspinner in one-day cricket in the middle overs is not easy at all. It's probably one of the hardest formats. At least in T20 cricket you have five guys out the whole time and you know that guys are going to attack you. That's fine. But one-day cricket is a whole different beast. From my point of view character is important."
Until now it was believed India had to mainly face a strong pace attack led by Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins, and now there is the added threat of a legspinner the hosts need to also take seriously.