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Handling the pressure in the final six overs of a tight game is perhaps the most nerve-wracking aspect of Twenty20 cricket. It not only requires some very specific skills, but also the tranquility of mind to exercise those skills.
In this season of Pepsi IPL, there’s a player who has displayed these virtues with aplomb not once but twice in the last three matches he has played. James Faulkner, who scripted Rajasthan Royals’s stunning Super-Over win against Kolkata Knight Riders in Abu Dhabi a few days ago, once again held his nerve in the death overs to defeat the same opponents in Ahmedabad.
After Shane Watson and Pravin Tambe reduced KKR to 123 for six from 121 for no loss, leaving them needing 24 from 12 balls, Faulkner fired in some yorkers and fuller deliveries in the 19th over to ensure Suryakumar Yadav and Shakib Al Hasan scored only seven runs off it. 17 runs from six balls proved to be a bit too much, even for the hard-hitting KKR batsmen and RR stole a 10-run win from under KKR’s nose.
After the match, Faulkner revealed to IPLT20.com how he has managed to achieve twice what even the best bowlers in the world have faltered at.
Here are excerpts from his interview:
You are turning out to be a death bowling specialist, which is a dream of every T20 captain to have.
I suppose that’s what I am in the team for – to bowl in the death following a couple of overs here and there in the first six overs. Tonight it worked out well with the team. We weren’t in the game at all coming into the last seven overs. Somehow we took one wicket out of nowhere and then just managed to snatch it from there. It’s a pretty good feeling.
It is my job and I’ll be disappointed if I cannot execute it; and there will be days when that will happen. But the feeling that you get on the days when you manage to execute it and see the winning faces of your teammates, it is worth it. We will enjoy tonight and then I will have to restart my batteries for the next match to do the same.
How do you prepare for death bowling in the nets?
Personally, I just try to pick the best batsman in the team, preferably the one that generally bats at the death and is used to facing yorkers, slower ones and slower bouncers. I try and pair up with him when I can. It is a win-win situation as we both get to work on our respective death games with the help of each other.
How do you formulate your plan when bowling in slog overs?
It depends on everything. Some players don’t like the straight yorkers, while some cannot reach the wide yorkers. Also, a lot of it comes down to luck – an edge here and there can fly to the fence. It also depends on whether you are setting a target or chasing it. Tonight, I just tried to get as many yorkers as I could, knowing that we didn’t have too many runs to defend. All I was concerned about was they should not be able to hit the ball to the fence. However, the stage was set by Watson, who took three wickets in an over and then the hat-trick that Pravin Tambe got. Those were a couple of best IPL overs we have seen.
Does being a hard-hitter at the end of the innings yourself also help you think like the batsman and hence trick him?
It certainly does. When you are also a batsman, it helps you read the game better. I have been lucky to have been given opportunities at RR to play a real all-round role right through last IPL, CLT20 and now in this tournament, and grow more in that role. Hopefully, I will be here for the next few years, play that role and own it. It’s good to be playing again; it’s been a long couple of months trying to sort my body out and it’s good to be back.
What is more important in such situations – nerve or skill?
You are always going to have nerves and feel the pressure in such situations. Good players overcome them better than the ordinary ones do. You need to block the crowd out, which is not as easy as people think it is. But if you can do that and concentrate on taking in the field what you have done in the nets, it really helps.
The more you find yourself in such situations, do you become more comfortable when you’re in it again?
Definitely. The first time you do something, whether it is in Tests, ODIs or T20s, it is the hardest. If you do it once, it certainly makes you better equipped mentally to handle a similar situation again. Cricket is a game of confidence and currently our team has a lot of it. But having said that, there is still a lot of time left in the tournament.
Several Indian uncapped players have used the Pepsi Indian Premier League as a stage to impress cricket administrators of their abilities. Sanju Samson is one of them. In his debut season in 2013, the teenager from Trivandrum impressed the owners of the Rajasthan Royals to the extent they retained him prior to the 2014 IPL Players Auction. In the coming week, young Samson – who is bestowed with the gift of timing – will possibly come up against two of the world’s best bowlers in Sunil Narine and Dale Steyn. How will the 19-year-old fare against the two experienced pros? Apart from providing a stage to impress administrators and cricket fans, the IPL also gives the players the opportunity to compete with the world’s best and learn from them. Will young Samson come up triumphant against Narine, Steyn and co.?
Samson’s performance in Pepsi IPL 2014: 127 runs at a strike-rate of 113.39, 9 fours & 8 sixes
In just over a year since making his debut for India, Bhuvneshwar Kumar has seen the highs and lows typical to the lifecycle of a sportsman. He arrived with a bang, getting the ball to move prodigiously and picking up wickets by the bagfuls. Slowly, the swing disappeared and with it the ability to take wickets too. However, last week, the 24-year-old showed signs of rediscovering his ability to swing the ball. In his three outings during the last seven days, he returned with combined figures of 12-0-56-6, which haves put him right on top of Sunrisers Hyderabad’s most successful bowlers list this season. He got Faf du Plessis and Virat Kohli out with outswingers and breached Rohit Sharma’s defense with a peach of an inswinger. In the coming week, Sunrisers Hyderabad tour Ahmedabad and Delhi where the surfaces are known to assist spinners. It will be interesting to see if Bhuvneshwar Kumar can get the ball to swing even on those surfaces.
Kumar’s performance in Pepsi IPL 2014: 10 wickets, economy-rate of 5.78.
Given how destructive he can be, Chris Gayle will always be on the list of players to watch out for. The Jamaican missed the first few matches but was in his merry ways once he was back in the RCB line-up. He isn’t 100 percent fit and still moves gingerly on the field, often turning down quick singles. Yet, the big shots keep flowing from his bat; 36 of the 47 runs he has scored in his first two outings have been through boundaries. RCB play three matches in the next week – against Mumbai Indians, Kings XI Punjab and Rajasthan Royals. Let’s hope the big sixes continue to flow from his willow.
Gayle’s performance in Pepsi IPL 2014: 47 runs at a strike-rate of 180.76, 5 fours & 4 sixes.
Quinton de Kock
Quinton de Kock wasn’t among the Delhi Daredevils’ first-choice openers at the start of Pepsi IPL 2014. However, since being introduced into the playing XI in the match against Sunrisers Hyderabad, the South African has made it hard for the team management to leave him out. In three innings so far, the 21-year-old has scored 48, 13 and 42 and in the company of Murali Vijay, and has seen his team off to good starts. In the next seven days, he will go up against the spin twins of the Chennai Super Kings and then against Kolkata Knight Riders’ Sunil Narine. Will de Kock – who has already been dismissed twice in three innings by spinners this season – survive his impending spin trial in the coming week?
de Kock’s performance in Pepsi IPL 2014: 106 runs at a strike-rate of 121.83.
Since finding a place in the Kings XI Punjab line-up, Sandeep Sharma has put up performances that must have made the team management rue not including him in the playing XI in the first couple of matches. The 20-year-old has been sensational, getting the ball to swing late and has picked up some big wickets in the past four matches. Among others, he has seen the back of Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli and Chris Gayle. At this level of cricket, with so much support staff and technological aid available to them, teams tend to study opponents very closely and pick out every player’s strengths and weaknesses pretty quickly. So will young Sharma be able to stay one step ahead of his opponents? Does he have the skills to outsmart the likes of Dwayne Smith, Brendon McCullum, Chris Gayle, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh and AB de Villiers, who he is likely to bowl to in the coming week?
Sharma’s performance in Pepsi IPL 2014: 9 wickets, economy-rate of 6.42