Sometimes, all it takes is one moment of madness for life to change. In Richard Levi's case, it was an hour of madness. An hour of leather-thwacking at the Seddon Park in Hamilton, which ended with 117 runs off 51 balls, 13 sixes and a thumping T20I win for South Africa against New Zealand. It was Levi’s second appearance for his country and one that will likely be synonymous with this young cricketer for a while to come.
The knock played in New Zealand by a South African sent shockwaves in a remote nation on a faraway continent – India. The IPL franchises – who till the definitive knock were asking ‘Richard Levi who?’ – were now caught in a frantic race to have him in their side for IPL 2012.
“The century came just before the IPL and with the World Twenty20 coming up in September, so I definitely put my best foot forward to get to there,” Levi said, revealing a canniness typical of contemporary cricketers.
“It’s been overwhelming. I got phone calls from fans in the morning when I got back home and there were people with cameras outside my house, which I had never experienced before.
“It hasn’t quite sunk in yet, but people remind me of what I’ve done and they hope I can do it again and again,” he said, still reeling from his own performance.
Mumbai Indians calling
Levi had gone unsold at the IPL Player Auction 2012. But after the century, his market-value soared. Mumbai Indians outbid the other franchises, winning the services of the 24-year-old hard-hitting Cape Cobras batsman. Levi is obviously not complaining.
“Playing in the IPL is going to be a great experience, going out to bat with the crowd going ballistic. Wearing the colours of Mumbai [Indians] is going to be a very special moment for me,” he gushed.
“Mumbai Indians is one of the biggest IPL teams and have always done well. And for them to pick me is a massively humbling experience.
“Being in that changing room with Sachin Tendulkar, [Lasith] Malinga, James Franklin, [Kieron] Pollard – it’s going to be an unbelievable experience. I’ve only seen these guys on TV,” Levi said, unabashedly excited at the prospect.
“To get the opportunity to bat with a legend of the game like Sachin Tendulkar is going to be unbelievable. Hopefully, I can stay there [on the crease] long and score many runs with him.
“I’ve seen Malinga bowl and it’s a very unique experience. I am very lucky to have such a skillful opening bowler in my side. I am looking forward to having little battles with him in the nets,” he said, eager to join forces with the biggies of the league.
Outshining the Caribbean star
Most of the records that Levi shattered during is brutish innings in Hamilton belonged to West Indies dasher Chris Gayle. The burly South African concedes Gayle “would probably have hit 20 sixes” at the small Seddon Park.
“The wicket was great to bat on and one side of the boundary was very short, so he would have got some more than me. Hopefully, I can keep going and do it for a few more times. He’s been doing it for years consistently in international cricket and the IPL,” he said.
His pyrotechnics against the Kiwis means Levi will come to India with his reputation enhanced. Expectations will be more than he has ever faced in his life. Is that a good or bad thing?
“I think it’s a bit of both. It takes a bit of time for the bowlers to figure you out, but after what I’ve done, people obviously know who I am and how I play. That will make their task easier.
“But on the plus side, when they know what you’re capable of, it puts them under pressure and they can’t execute their plans as they’d like to. You can try and take advantage of that,” he surmised.
Levi was four when he fell in love with the game and smashing the ball, his main pursuit. Ironically, his first cricketing hero was the dogged, eternal defender, Gary Kirsten.
“I was watching [the game] on TV and I thought it looked like fun. At nine or ten I first represented my province, that’s when I realised it’s something I could do well.
“I was always bigger than other kids my age and my body kind of allows me to be stocky and strong. I enjoy hitting the ball far.
“I admired Gary Kirsten at a young age. I met him as a 10-year-old. Jacques Kallis was obviously one of my heroes; he too is from Cape Town and played for the same province as I do. Then there is the big Matthew Hayden who scared bowlers and Virender Sehwag,” Levi said.
With his blinding T20 century, Levi has already established a kinship with some of the game’s biggest hitters. Over to IPL 2012 – the perfect stage for an encore.