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In T20 cricket, batsmen always wait for that one moment to pounce on one bowler in the opposition’s attack. In Kings XI Punjab’s away match against the Royal Challengers Bangalore, there was a fear that the weak link in the attack would be the four overs of debutant Shivam Sharma. The 20-year-old off-spinner, who was unheard of, was introduced into the attack in the seventh over of RCB’s run-chase with the dangerous AB de Villiers and Yuvraj Singh at the crease. Not influenced by the presence of the two destructive batsmen and not bogged down by a very vocal crowd supporting the home team, the Delhi lad concentrated on doing the basics right, kept bowling in the right areas and returned with impressive figures of 4-0-26-2. The two batsmen he dismissed were Yuvraj Singh and Albie Morkel.
Piyush Chawla | 3/19 v KXIP
No batting line-up has done more damage so far this season than that of Kings XI Punjab. However, one bowler has held his own in both his team’s matches against the table-toppers. 25-year-old Kolkata Knight Riders leg-spinner Piyush Chawla finished with identical figures of 4-0-19-3 in his two matches against KXIP. Not only did he keep the runs down, he got the big wickets too. In the second outing against KXIP in Cuttack on Sunday, he struck in his first over when he had the dangerous Glenn Maxwell caught at deep square-leg. He then fired in a quicker delivery, which a well-set Virender Sehwag didn’t pick and played back onto his stumps. KKR will thank Chawla for the timely dismissal of Sehwag, in the 15th over. The dashing opener was well-set on 72 and looked good to cut loose. That dismissal derailed KXIP in the final stages of their innings – they added only 37 runs in the final 5.3 overs, finishing around 20 runs short of what they’d have desired at the start of the match. Chawla – who did not concede a single boundary despite bowling to the most destructive batting line-up in the competition – signed off in style, castling Rishi Dhawan with the final delivery of his spell.
Yuzvendra Chahal | 1/24 v RR
The Rajasthan Royals pulled off a heist when they chased down 191 against the Royal Challengers Bangalore from what looked like an improbable position. However, on a high-scoring surface, one bowler’s performance stood out. Yuzvendra Chahal was brought in to bowl in the eighth over of the innings and he struck with his first delivery when he had a well-set Ajinkya Rahane caught behind. He generally concentrated on an area just outside the off-stump and didn’t give the batsmen too much room to play with. The discipline he showed, coupled with the ability to get the ball to skid off the track meant the RR batsmen found him very difficult to score off. He bowled overs 8, 10, 12 and 16, yet conceded only 24 runs. That the next best economy-rate in the RCB bowling attack was Yuvraj Singh’s (8.75), puts the young leg-spinner’s outstanding performance in perspective.
Steve Smith | 48* (21 balls) v RCB
Rajasthan Royals pulled off an unlikely win against the Royal Challengers Bangalore when they chased down 191 after being reduced to 106 for five in the 14th over. Much of the credit for that win must go to Steve Smith who put the run-chase on track with a blitzkrieg that lasted till the end. There were all the characteristics of a typical Steve Smith knock; he was moving all over the crease, he outwitted the bowler at the very last second, he played the cheeky shots and he ran like a hare. The first signs that he hadn’t given up on the chase yet came in the 15th over when he hit Varun Aaron for two boundaries and a six. Ashok Dinda was deposited twice into the stands straight down the ground and was picked for two boundaries in the 18th over. RR at one stage needed 65 from the final four overs, but Smith and James Faulkner – who matched him stroke-for-stroke – made light work of the chase as RR romped past the finish line with seven balls to spare.
Kevin Pietersen | 35 (19 balls) v SRH
Delhi Daredevils captain Kevin Pietersen certainly wouldn’t have enjoyed the first few weeks of Pepsi IPL 2014. An injury to his hand forced him to warm the benches in the first few matches, and when he returned to the side, he seemed like a shadow of the match-winner he was expected to be. In the match against the Kolkata Knight Riders, he appeared to be completely out of place, struggling for timing and finding it difficult to get the ball away square of the wicket. In a bid to get moving, he attempted a non-existent single and ran himself out. In times when form deserts them, batsmen usually slip down the batting order and let the men in form take charge. Not KP, who walked out to open innings in DD’s match against Sunrisers Hyderabad. And he played the kind of knock that was expected off him. He scored only 35 runs, but the manner in which he scored those runs was enough to suggest he had rediscovered his touch. He was quick on his feet and was quick to pick his spots too. He hit two sixes and four fours, and all – barring one – came off the middle of his bat. His cameo was cut short when he attempted to hit Amit Mishra over cover, but didn’t get enough elevation and holed out to the man in the circle. But sufficed to say that KP has finally arrived!
‘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.