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The Pepsi Indian Premier League is the most coveted tournament in cricket. Performances here – against quality players from across the globe – are keenly followed by almost every stakeholder in the game. Be it selectors of various national teams, owners of league sides, coaches of county outfits or corporates keen to sign on cricketers as brand ambassadors. Hence, there is always going to be someone or the other seizing the opportunity with exceptional performances. Here’s a look at some key players who set the stage ablaze with their performances in the last week:
Smith, who turned out for the Mumbai Indians previously, was acquired by the Chennai Super Kings in the 2014 Pepsi IPL Player Auction. And the 31-year-old from Barbados has wasted little time in establishing himself in his new team. Given how reluctant CSK and MS Dhoni are to ring changes in the team, it was important that Smith made an impact early in the season. And he has done just that! Starts in each one of his five innings so far – three of them converted into half-centuries – and a rocking partnership with Brendon McCullum means Smith has now nailed his place in the team. At the end of Week 2, Smith was second only to Glenn Maxwell in the Orange Cap standings; his 240 runs – 70 percent of which were scored in boundaries – came at a strike-rate of 143.71.
There’s a school of thought that players need to be young, very fit, agile, athletic and possess sharp reflexes to do well in T20 cricket. But Pravin Tambe – all of 42 years old – has broken that myth. The leg-spinner from Mumbai – who has grown to be an integral part of the Rajasthan Royals team – has shown that performance (in whichever particular discipline – batting or bowling) should be the foremost criteria to judge players. Tambe picked up five wickets in his last two outings – including the scalps of the ever-so-dangerous MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli – conceding only 47 runs in eight overs.
Royal Challengers Bangalore sprung in a surprise when they fielded Yogesh Takawale in their playing XI for their match against KKR. After a brief stint with the Mumbai Indians in the inaugural season of the IPL, the 29-year-old fell off the radar and was banished to the wilderness. However, this time when opportunity presented itself, the Maharashtra-born – who scored 839 runs in the Ranji Trophy this season – did not let it slip. Takawale set the ball rolling for his team by scoring an impressive 28-ball 40. What was impressive about that knock was his attitude against the best; he singled out the menacing Morne Morkel for special treatment, hitting him for six boundaries and scored 27 runs off 12 balls against him.
T20 is fast-paced cricket… but not so much for Kings XI Punjab’s L Balaji. The 32-year-old is capable of surprising batsmen every now and then with a delivery that skids off the surface. But his strength lies in taking the pace off the ball and making batsmen generate bat speed to take chances against him. And his ploy worked brilliantly in his two outings in the last week. Apart from conceding only 34 runs in seven overs, he returned with five wickets – including the scalps of destructive batsmen like Jacques Kallis, Aaron Finch, David Warner and Darren Sammy.
Akshar Patel continues to impress with his left-arm spin in Pepsi IPL 2014. The 20-year-old from Gujarat, who never got an opportunity to play for the Mumbai Indians previously, has excelled in all four matches for KXIP so far. With not-too fussy action, Patel hits the right areas consistently and has a deceptive arm-ball. In his last two outings, he picked up four wickets, conceding only 36 runs in eight overs. Not only has he been KXIP’s most economical bowler so far this season, he is also the only one in the team to bowl the complete quota of four overs in every match. Impressive stuff!
The Pepsi Indian Premier League 2014 juggernaut rolls on and as the second weekend of the season drew to a close, one was witness to plenty of mind-blowing action. Here are some of the top picks from the week that has gone by:
Glenn Maxwell had blown away two formidable sides in the first five days of the season. Chennai Super Kings – despite posting 205 on the board – were demolished by the Australian who smashed 95 off 43 balls. The Rajasthan Royals were at the receiving end next; playing a wide range of shots, finding the unmanned regions on the field precisely and packing some muscle in his strokes, Maxwell smashed six sixes and eight fours in his 45-ball 89.
Maxwell’s first innings last week mirrored his efforts against CSK. His 43-ball 95 versus SRH contained an incredible nine sixes – including a 98 m hit, which set the record for the longest six in the tournament at that point. The leg-side was undoubtedly his preferred scoring area – he scored 74 percent of his runs on that side of the pitch. There was a lot of rationale in Maxwell’s choice of shots; he normally packed a punch in his sweeps and slog-sweeps, but he pulled out the unorthodox reverse-sweep and switch-hit from his repertoire when the bowlers packed the leg-side field and bowled a restrictive line. And he picked the gaps playing those unorthodox shots too!
Dropped catches continued to cost teams during Week 2; some 16 catches were put down in the 10 matches played in that period. However, there were some screamers too.
Chennai Super Kings’ Faf du Plessis pulled off two stunning catches in the space of one over in Chennai Super Kings’ match against the Delhi Daredevils. The two catches he took – to send back Murali Vijayand Manoj Tiwary – reflected on how complete an athlete he is. With the airborne cricket ball flying away from him, du Plessis – stationed at mid-off – ran in pursuit of it, covering a lot of ground. He kept looking upwards to keep his eyes on the ball, and as the ball came crashing down, he lunged and came up with the ball in both hands.
The second effort was even better – he had to stretch completely at the last moment and had to be airborne for a moment even as the ball made contact with his palms. Such catches happen once in a while. But to pull it off twice in quick succession is simply astounding. Lynn’s Limbo near the Fence
If one thought du Plessis had set the new standards for catching, there was more to come in Week 2. Kolkata Knight Riders’ Chris Lynn pulled off a screamer against Royal Challengers Bangalore. With RCB on the brink of victory, AB de Villiers made good connection as he attempted to deposit R Vinay Kumar into the stands at midwicket. Chris Lynn positioned squarer on the leg-side boundary, ran to his left in an attempt to take the catch.
Just as he appeared to get to the position where the ball was coming down, he slipped – right on the edge of the fence – almost as if he was doing the limbo. The Australian was not one bit distracted despite losing his footing. He held his poise, settled down nicely under the ball, with his knees firmly on the ground. And as the ball came down, he raised himself ever so slightly, and then, arched backwards to come up with the ball.
What was more astonishing was the follow-up. The 24-year-old lost his balance during the act of arching backwards to get enough elevation to come in contact with the ball. However, he showed good awareness as he realized the momentum would have resulted in his head landing on the padding of the boundary rope. He dragged his body forward just enough to ensure he landed inside the field of play with the ball in his hand. Unreal!
One of the innovations of Pepsi IPL 2014 has been wiring the on-field Umpires with cameras and getting to see bits of action from their perspective. And one got to see two fantastic visuals from the Umpire’s Cam during Week 2. First up, in RCB’s match against KKR, the camera mounted on Umpire Vineet Kulkarni’s hat provided visuals of Yuvraj Singh muscling Umesh Yadav for a six over midwicket. The camera gave an insight into the pace of things in the middle – the speed at which the ball travels to the batsman, the time the batsman has to react and play the shot, how well Yuvraj Singh middled it on that occasion, and finally how far he hit it.
There was another piece of brilliance captured by the Umpire’s Cam in the match between the Mumbai Indians and Delhi Daredevils. DD opener Quinton de Kock pounced on a wide delivery from Corey Anderson and cut it right out of the middle of the bat. But 38-year-old Michael Hussey, positioned at point, moved swiftly to his left and pulled off a sharp catch right in front of the Umpire at the striker’s end. The Umpire’s Cam gave us a good look into the positioning of the point fielder, how quickly the ball traveled to him and how agile Hussey was to move swiftly to his left and pluck a sharp catch.
This is as close as one can get to all the action in the centre!
Selection of the Week
‘Why fix things when they ain’t broke?’ they say. But Kolkata Knight Riders skipper Gautam Gambhir made the huge decision of leaving out R Vinay Kumar, who had bowled the fantastic last over – successfully defending nine runs – in KKR’s previous match against Royal Challengers Bangalore. Speaking at the toss, Gambhir explained his team was going with “horses for courses” and had hence picked leg-spinner Piyush Chawla for their match against Kings XI Punjab. And didn’t the move work! The 25-year-old spinner returned as the most successful bowler for KKR with figures of 4-0-19-3. Who were his three scalps? The dangerous David Miller, George Bailey and Virender Sehwag!