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‘Cometh the hour, cometh the man’ they say. Shane Watson did just that during Rajasthan Royals’ match against the Kolkata Knight Riders.
Needing 171 to win, the KKR openers, Robin Uthappa and Gautam Gambhir, had added 121 runs on the board and it looked all but certain that KKR would run away with the match. Then came an inspirational spell that turned the match on its head. Despite being a reluctant bowler, given his history with injuries, Shane Watson picked up the ball and came on for a second spell. He tasted blood with his very first delivery when he angled the ball away and had Gambhir nicking to the wicketkeeper. Two deliveries later, he had Uthappa’s scalp too, with the batsman not picking a slower delivery and holing out to deep square-leg. He struck for a third time in that over when he foxed Andre Russell with a slower delivery that breached through his defenses and had his stumps rattled. From 121 for no loss, KKR slumped to 122 for three, and never recovered.
Watson’s week was only about to get better. After that match-winning spell against KKR, the RR skipper picked up yet another three-wicket haul – against Sunrisers Hyderabad. It was off three consecutive deliveries. With the final delivery of his first over, he delivered a peach of an out-swinger, which beat the outside edge of Shikhar Dhawan’s bat, who thought he had his off-stump covered. But the ball swung away ever so slightly to kiss the outside of the off-stump, just enough for the bails to dislodge from the groove. It was not until the 17th over that he got to roll his arm again. But he didn’t waste any time, picking up wickets with his first two deliveries to register the 13th hat-trick of the IPL. He had Moises Henriques caught at long-off with the first delivery and then had Karn Sharma edging one to the wicketkeeper the very next ball.
Tambe’s Two-Ball Hat-Trick
In his inaugural stint with the Rajasthan Royals, Pravin Tambe was so impressive that the team management signed him up prior to Pepsi IPL 2014 as well. After some striking performances in the first few matches, the leg-spinner made headlines when he picked up the first hat-trick of the season. After skipper Shane Watson had derailed the Kolkata Knight Riders’ chase of 171, Tambe sealed the deal with three strikes in three deliveries. Manish Pandey was his first victim. The KKR batsman danced down the track, but was outsmarted by the bowler, who fired the ball down the leg-side and had him stumped. Yusuf Pathan fell next ball, driving a full delivery back to the bowler, who held on to a return catch. The icing on the cake was the dismissal of Ryan ten Doeschate – with a yorker that landed flush on the toe of the batsman in line with the off-stump. Despite being 42 years old, Tambe seems to be playing his best cricket and getting the most enjoyment out of it currently.
Maxwell KOs CSK
Glenn Maxwell seems to have a special liking for the Chennai Super Kings. In his first outing against the two-time champions, the Australian demolished the CSK bowling line-up, scoring 95 runs from 43 balls and singlehandedly powered his team’s chase of 206. When the two teams met in the return fixture, at the Barabati Stadium in Cuttack, he was at it yet again. He hit only one boundary off the first 11 deliveries he faced, but he cut loose as soon as R Ashwin was introduced into the attack. He picked two sixes off the off-spinner’s first over, and followed it up with two more sixes and two boundaries in the next over. There was no stopping the 25-year-old as the ball kept flying to all parts of the Barabati Stadium. Just when it appeared that he would eventually get to the much-deserved three-figure mark, he picked a slower delivery from wide outside the off-stump and attempted to deposit it into the stands at midwicket, but didn’t get enough power and holed out to the man patrolling the region. The Australian has missed four opportunities to post a three-figure score this season, and would perhaps consider reining in the big shots when on the brink of a century next time.
Mishra Turns a Corner
At the start of the season, Amit Mishra was spoken about as an integral component of the Sunrisers Hyderabad bowling attack. However, few matches into the tournament, form deserted the leg-spinner so much so that he lost his place in the SRH line-up. From being among India’s top wicket-takers in the recently concluded ICC World T20, to being dropped from the SRH side, the 31-year-old had seen the highs and lows of the game in the space of a few weeks. Given how low he must have been on confidence, it was incredible to see him come out and perform the way he did in SRH’s match against the Rajasthan Royals. With just 135 runs to defend, SRH needed all their bowlers to do well. Given the kind of form he was in prior to being dropped, there were fears that Mishra could be the weak link in the SRH attack. But the leg-spinner performed really well under pressure on that particular night. He tossed the ball up, got it to spin off the track, threw in the googly once in a while and kept the batsmen guessing all the time. He didn’t pick up a wicket in that particular game, yet his spell of four overs – in which he conceded only 13 runs – was invaluable.
Resurgence of the Old Pros
Twenty20 cricket can be very cruel on players struggling for form. In the first few weeks of Pepsi IPL 2014, we saw heavyweights like Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Kevin Pietersen and Yuvraj Singh struggling to hit the ball. In 21 innings together prior to start of the fourth week, they had collectively scored 364 runs, with just one half-century to show. However, come week four, all that changed. Kevin Pietersen broke the shackles by walking out to open the innings in DD’s match against Sunrisers Hyderabad; his body language was positive, his footwork was precise and the shots flowed from his willow. He scored only 35 runs, but there was enough evidence in his 19-ball stay in the middle to suggest that he had left his poor form behind. Gambhir, who’d scored just one run from his first four innings, turned up the heat this week with three consecutive half-centuries, while Sehwag, who’d struck the ball beautifully in his cameos earlier in the tournament, posted his first half-century when he scored a 72 against the Kolkata Knight Riders.
But the biggest gain of the week for Indian cricket was the return to form of Yuvraj Singh. The southpaw had scored only 144 runs in eight innings (52 of which came in one knock) at a strike-rate of 102.13. However, all that changed on Sunday night against the Rajasthan Royals when, despite walking out to bat at 40/3, he announced his presence with an astonishing innings. He scored the bulk of his 83 runs – which is his highest score in the T20 format – through the leg-side and played shots which were reminiscent of Yuvi of the yore. He worked off the toes effortlessly and deposited the ball into the stands on seven occasions – each one timed better than the earlier one.
Daniel Vettori has achieved everything young in his life. At 18, he became the youngest Test cricketer from New Zealand, and then took over the captaincy at 27. Now, at only 35 years old, Vettori is the head coach of the Royals Challengers Bangalore.
The transition from player to coach has been sudden for the former Kiwi captain, considering he was part of the RCB squad in Pepsi IPL 2013. Although RCB’s losing streak has denied him a honeymoon period as a coach, it has been an enriching experience for Vettori.
He spoke to IPLT20.com about the challenges of this new role after RCB’s shock defeat to the Rajasthan Royals in Bengaluru. He also spoke fondly of Yuvraj Singh, who left his lean patch behind him with a 38-ball 83, and expressed pleasure at the rise of leg-spinners in the tournament.
Here are excerpts from his interview:
How has this coaching experience been for you?
It has been very different. The transition from being a player to a coach in such a short span of time is very similar being a captain. You try to set things up for the team and organize so that the team works as smoothly as possible. Then you just let the players go out there and play their game.
Is this the path you want to take in the future?
I don’t know. Coaching in the IPL is a unique opportunity and I enjoy this challenge. But it requires me to stay away only for a few months. I have a young family and I don’t know if I want to stay away from them for long periods of time.
Last year, you were one of the players, and although you didn’t play a game, you were a mentor to the players. This year, you are the head coach. Does the change in designation bring about a lot of change in what you do?
I hope not. You have to put a little bit of effort, I suppose because you’re looking after the guys, helping out with the fielding and throw-downs and stuff. There’s a lot more physical aspect to it than I probably understood when I took over the role, but it is part of the job that I have enjoyed. I have also tried to bring in some planning and strategising, which is again similar to captaincy. The bulk of the job is to develop the younger players.
Generally we see the head coaches double up as batting coaches. Does being a bowling all-rounder help you understand both batsmen and bowlers?
I hope so. But again, there’s not much to contribute in terms of bowling or batting. They all know what they are doing. T20 is more of a confidence game. We saw today how hard it can be – you can be in an excellent position and slip quickly. It’s more about trying to keep the guys confident when these things happen and preparing them for the next challenge mentally.
How do you do that? What do you tell the boys after a heartbreaking loss like this?
Just try to look at the things that actually went well during the match. Yuvraj, for instance, was under a bit of pressure, but he came out today and played exceptionally well with the bat and the ball. The likes of AB de Villiers and Chahal have continued to perform for us consistently. You look at those things, but you also realise that at the end of the day, it all boils down to winning or losing. If you keep losing, you’ve got to change a few things here and there.
As a left-arm spinner, you must have had a big role to play in getting Yuvraj back in form.
Ah, very little. He just worked it out for himself. He worked hard on his game against the spinners and made subtle changes. He gave himself a chance, got himself in and then we all saw the Yuvraj that we all have known so long. His performance really should have won us the game, but unfortunately we slipped up in the last four or five overs.
He was batting with a different stance today. Anything to it?
He was trying to move his feet a bit more. He was getting caught in the crease in the previous matches and so today he made a conscious effort to premeditate his movement. It worked. Do you bowl a lot to the likes of Gayle, Virat, Yuvraj and AB in the nets?
Yes, of course. That’s one thing I hope I can bring in to the team more than anything – that close experience of playing in the IPL and trying to transfer some of that knowledge to the guys playing.
What is the trend you see in this season of IPL?
I think this has been a leg-spinner’s tournament – (Pravin) Tambe and (Rahul) Tewatia today for RR, (Amit) Mishra and (Karn) Sharma for SRH and Chahal for us. We’ve seen the rise of the leg-spinners, which is great because everyone loves watching a leggie in action. It’s a really tough art to master, but when you see these guys do so well, it inspires youngsters.