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In the days leading up to the season, Royal Challengers Bangalore’s was considered among the strongest batting line-ups in the competition. One of the main reasons behind that top billing was the presence of Chris Gayle. The top run-getter in the T20s and the only batsman to score more than 10 centuries in the format, Gayle warmed the benches during the first couple of matches because of an injury.
However, after defeats at the hands of Kolkata Knight Riders and Rajasthan Royals, RCB needed to infuse new energy into their line-up and it came in the form of Chris Gayle, who took the field despite not being 100 percent fit. Though he got off the mark cheekily – edging one past the lone slip fielder to pick up a boundary – the Jamaican wasted little time in stamping his authority. He defended the second delivery back to the bowler, sliced the third ball to the point boundary, didn’t make contact while attempting a sweep off the fourth ball and deposited the fifth and sixth deliveries into the stands either side of the sight screen. In his first outing of the season, the Jamaican scored 20 off the first six balls he faced. Though he was dismissed off the next delivery, he had given us glimpses of what was to come.
There’s this general perception that T20 cricket is a fast-paced format and that it is all about power and big hits. However, in the match between Rajasthan Royals and Kolkata Knight Riders, Steve Smith showed that one needed to be clever as well to be successful in this format. At the end of regulation, both teams were tied on 152 runs and that meant they had to compete in the Super Over to bag the two points on offer. KKR batted first and posted 11 runs. Shane Watson and Steve Smith picked up four runs off the first three deliveries and five more from the subsequent two. That meant they needed three more runs to win the Super Over outright. Watson and Smith were well aware of the rules – in case both teams finished on the same number of runs in the Super Over, the winner would be decided on the basis of the boundary count for either side. RR had scored more boundaries than KKR and it was therefore no surprise that Smith punched the ball into the extra cover region with soft hands and picked up a brace – enough to tie KKR’s Super Over tally – and help his team to two points.
Several years ago, renowned coach John Buchanan – who was then with the Kolkata Knight Riders – had said that it wasn’t too far before one would see ambidextrous players in cricket. David Warner seems to have taken those words very seriously. In Sunrisers Hyderabad’s match against the Mumbai Indians, Warner – soon after he had brought up his half-century – had the audacity to attempt a switch-hit against one of the most challenging bowlers in world cricket. Playing a switch-hit or a reverse-sweep is difficult in normal circumstances. But to play it against Lasith Malinga – with his slingy action and unorthodox release from in front of the umpire’s face and not to mention his generally fuller length deliveries – is unthinkable. Not for Warner though, who attempted it, and pulled it off successfully to pick up a brace. The Australian executed everything perfectly – just as the ball was being released, he changed his stance to that of a right-hander, changed grip on the bat handle too, stayed low and late cut it to what would have been fine-leg had he not switched his stance.
Sea of Blue at Wankhede Stadium
There is no doubt that the Pepsi Indian Premier League produces some of the best cricketing action and is the most followed cricket competition in the world. But it is important to know that the IPL is not only about the contests between bat and ball. Apart from being a commercial entity, several franchises use their brands to support social initiatives. And the Education for All initiative – supported by the Mumbai Indians – is one such cause. On Saturday, when the Mumbai Indians clashed with Kings XI Punjab, entire Wankhede Stadium was dressed in blue. Literally! As part of their Education for All initiative – which supports equal and rightful education in our society – the Mumbai Indians drove 18,000 underprivileged children to the Wankhede Stadium to see their favourite cricketers in action. It was an incredible sight; all the children were sporting the Mumbai Indians blue, occupied every seat in the house, and backed their team vociferously chanting ‘Mumbai, Mumbai’. With so many kids rooting for the team, it was not a surprise that Mumbai Indians went on to register their first win of the season. Here’s hoping at least a handful of kids from the many who watched the game at the Wankhede get inspired to take up the game and go on to don the revered blue and gold jersey worn by their heroes.
Gautam’s caress six
Mumbai Indians wicket-keeper CM Gautam played one of the more difficult shots in cricket – driving a fast bowler for a six over extra cover. The shot calls for a lot of elements to come together – balance, picking the line and length early, timing, elevation and leaning into the shot to get the distance. In the fifth over, Kings XI Punjab medium-pacer Sandeep Sharma delivered a slower delivery wide outside the off-stump. Gautam was up to the task; he picked the pace, line and length to perfection, planted his left foot forward, gave himself enough room to free his arms, picked the extra cover region, got under the ball and played an exquisite cover drive that sent the ball sailing over extra cover. In a format where batsmen rely on power, this was all about timing – the stroke was straight out of the coaching manual and had the finesse of a surgeon.
With RCB needing 28 from the final two overs, RCB fans would have firmly believed their team could still get the runs; especially given the history between AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn. de Villiers, on strike for the first ball of the 19th over, stood rooted to the crease, picked the length of the delivery early and dispatched the ball over the square-leg fence. The following delivery, he stood his ground – in line with the off-stump – and hit the ball over the long-on boundary. He scrambled for a leg-bye off the third ball of the over. Back on strike on the fifth ball, de Villiers gave himself enough room to free his arms and sent the ball racing towards the extra cover boundary.
De Villiers, however, was not done yet. He walked across to the off-side – almost the edge of the pitch exposing all his three stumps to the bowler – leant over to the off-side, made contact with the ball and took full toll of the final delivery of the over. The ball sailed high and deep into the stands at fine-leg. It was cricket and drama at its best. Even allowing the benefit of familiarity from facing Steyn in the nets, it was an astonishing assault from de Villiers – ranked by many as the best batsman in the world currently. What generally escapes the attention is the batsman’s clarity of thought – despite facing one of the quickest bowlers in world cricket today and despite the pressures of the run-chase, the choice of shots and the quick footwork reflected acute confidence. It was the perfect way to draw curtains on yet another action-packed week in Pepsi IPL 2014.
Despite the presence of the menacing Mitchell Johnson and the experienced L Balaji in their ranks, the one Kings XI Punjab medium-pacer who has been very impressive so far this season is Sandeep Sharma. The 20-year-old, who was part of the Indian team that won the ICC Under-19 World Cup in 2012, warmed the benches in his team’s first two matches. But when given an opportunity, he grabbed it with both hands. He has swung the ball mostly in – sometimes very late in the trajectory – and has picked up nine wickets in four matches to become KXIP’s best bowler. In the match against Royal Challengers Bangalore, he picked up two big wickets – Chris Gayle and Virat Kohli. In the match against the Mumbai Indians, he struck twice in his first two overs, dismissing Ben Dunk and Ambati Rayudu.
In his first four outings in the Pepsi IPL – two matches for RCB in 2013 and his first two matches for RR in the 2014 season – Karun Nair had managed a total of 18 runs from 29 balls. In a short and competitive tournament like the IPL, many teams would be compelled to bench a player after two poor scores. Not the Rajasthan Royals though, who backed the 22-year-old and gave him a third chance to prove himself. The technically correct Nair, who is known for his temperament too, opened the innings in the match against the Delhi Daredevils and anchored his team’s chase of 153. Despite losing his partners at the other end, Nair – who scored hundreds in three consecutive matches in his debut Ranji Trophy season – remained unflustered and saw his team past the finish line. After scoring at just over a run-a-ball during the first 30 deliveries he faced, he stepped on the accelerator when the required rate was at its highest. After playing second fiddle to Ajinkya Rahane and Sanju Samson, Nair dominated his partnerships with Rajat Bhatia and Sanju Samson. He was fluent through the off-side – scoring the bulk of his runs through cover and point – and worked the ball through the leg-side to pick up ones and twos.
Wriddhiman Saha’s glovework is so highly rated in Indian cricket circles that his batting prowess is generally overshadowed by it. In Kings XI Punjab’s match against the Mumbai Indians, the 29-year-old once again illustrated how good he was with the bat. In a batting line-up that boasts dangerous players like Virender Sehwag, Glenn Maxwell, David Warner and George Bailey, Saha held his own and guided his team to a competitive score. Batting at No.3, which is usually reserved for the best batsman in the team, Saha took his time to get going. He walked out to bat in the third over and stayed in the shadow of the stroke-makers well into the second-half of the innings – facing only 29 balls until the end of the 13th over. He then cut loose, scoring 38 runs off 18 balls (which included 15 runs from a Kieron Pollard over) to help his team finish with a flourish.
Kedar Jadhav | 28* v RR
Just what can the confidence of scoring runs do to a batsman? Ask Delhi Daredevils’ Kedar Jadhav. The Maharashtra batsman was the top run-getter in the Ranji Trophy in the season that just went by – scoring 1223 runs, which included six centuries. The 29-year-old carried that confidence into Pepsi IPL 2014 and impressed as soon as he got his opportunity. In the match against the Rajasthan Royals, he walked out to bat when Dinesh Karthik was dismissed in the 16th over. DD were placed at 95 for four at that point and were looking at a total of around 140. Jadhav, who scored at a strike-rate of 80.30 in the Ranji Trophy last season, wasted little time at the crease. Of the 14 deliveries he faced, two were dot balls, eight produced singles, two produced boundaries and two others sailed over the ropes. His 14-ball cameo in the company of JP Duminy meant DD realised 49 runs of the final four overs of the innings and finished at a competitive 152.
The Kolkata Knight Riders, given to chase 153 in the match against the Rajasthan Royals, were in the driver’s seat heading into the dying overs of the contest. KKR needed 16 from the last two overs with two well-set batsmen at the crease. James Faulkner, who turned 24 on that day, was given the ball in the 19th over. And the Australian turned the match on its head with three deadly strikes. Off the first ball of the over, he picked up the wicket of Suryakumar Yadav with a low full-toss. Off the fourth ball of the over, he castled Robin Uthappa – who walked across to attempt to work the ball away square on the leg-side. The following delivery, he deceived R Vinay Kumar with a slower one and had his stumps rattled. RR, who were staring at their third defeat before the start of the 19th over, were suddenly back in the game. They held their nerves, even in the Super Over that was contested after both teams finished on the same score, and converted that opening into a victory.