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The spring in his feet as he strides through his run-up, the eyes as wide as plates as he is about to release the ball and the look of a guileful assassin on his face as he waits to see if his prospective victim has fallen for his trick. And when the batsman has been removed, the display of unbridled joy belying his ripe age – Muttiah Muralitharan has still got it. All of it.
Playing only his second game of Pepsi IPL 2014, the Sri Lankan legend struck in the first over, removing Murali Vijay lbw with the one that went straight to the batsman, who fell in his attempt to sweep the ball. From there began Delhi Daredevils’ downslide and Royal Challengers Bangalore’s eventual win.
But Murali’s contribution to RCB’s revival goes much beyond that. He is, in a significant way, responsible for the return to form of Yuvraj Singh, who has piled up scores of 83 and 68* in his last two innings after a famine of runs.
In his interview with IPLT20.com after RCB’s 16-run win over DD, Muralitharan talks about Yuvraj’s sensational return among runs and what he thinks about the left-hander’s future with Team India. Here are excerpts from his interview:
You have still got it!
It’s not like before, but I was lucky today. All the boys bowled well too. It is very hard to defend scores on this ground, and I thought we all did very well.
How do you keep the magic intact after all these years?
I don’t know, maybe it’s God’s gift. I just keep working and trying hard to maintain my game and play whatever little while I still can.
How did it feel when you took that wicket of Vijay? Felt like a boy again?
Yes, I did (smiles). It was a good wicket because getting a wicket in the first over gives your team a firm upper hand. Personally, it boosted my confidence, and I think from there, I bowled very well through the match.
How does it feel to have a coach who is younger to you, in Daniel Vettori?
A few times, actually when I played for a few teams in West Indies, there were many coaches younger to me, and some of the guys I played against at the international level are now coaches. I still love playing the game and want to enjoy it a little more by playing in these T20 leagues. Do you think this season is the one that will see your gradual transformation from player to mentor?
I don’t know about that yet. We will see what happens. But currently, I have a few coaching assignments. There’s an academy in Kolkata where I have a three-year coaching contract. I go there for 10-day camps every three months. There are also other opportunities opening up, but right now, I would still like to play a bit more.
Have you been helping Yuvraj Singh with his game against spinners?
Who told you that? (laughs). Yes, I have been talking to Yuvi a lot. He is a great limited overs player, but his confidence was low. After the World Twenty20, the whole country put a lot of pressure on him. I know the situation well as I played for 20 years at the highest level. I knew it was just a matter of helping him regain his confidence. I was sure once he did that, he would be a different player. And after the way he has performed in the last two games, it seems I was right. I honestly think Yuvi has still got it and India should look after him because I feel he will play a big role in the 2015 World Cup. He will be India’s match-winner there.
How would you try to get AB de Villiers out in his current form?
I don’t want to say anything about that because I honestly don’t know how to get him out! I’m just glad that AB and Yuvi are in our team.
What is the reason the leg-spinners are doing so well in this IPL?
The leg-spinners generally get the ball to turn, and when they slip in a googly, it is difficult to read for many batsmen. Also, often we have seen a leg-spinner’s bad ball being hit straight to the fielder, resulting in a wicket. So, even lesser bowlers can take wickets in the T20 format, but you cannot guarantee similar success in the 50-over format or Test cricket. To succeed there, you need to be exceptionally talented like Shane Warne or Mushtaq Ahmed.
To open the batting and score a quick-fire 30, and then, to open the bowling as well and claim two for 20 in your first match for your new team is nothing short of impressive. Playing for Rajasthan Royals in Pepsi Indian Premier League 2014, Ankit Sharma put up the aforementioned all-round performance, but he was unfortunate to end up on the losing side in the closely-contested game against CSK at Ranchi. The 23-year-old is yet another uncapped player to come out of the RR stables and perform on the big stage.
Speaking to IPLT20.com after the game, Ankit said that he was told by Shane Watson the previous evening that he would be playing the match against the Chennai Super Kings. The left-hander also said, “Rahul sir (Dravid), Monty sir (Desai) and Zubin sir (Bharucha) had told me that they were planning something like this; so it was a good outing for me.”
To debut for a franchise towards business end of the tournament, and that too against one of the strongest teams, would have put additional pressure on a youngster. However, Ankit said that he was ready for the challenge. “I was prepared because the coaches had already spoken to me about what line and length to bowl. We also watch a lot of videos, so you get a good idea of what needs to be done.”
Speaking about his contribution in the game, he said, “My performance was good. The support staff had helped and everything worked out well for me. The line and length was good while bowling, and my batting was good too.”
Ankit has been seen more as a bowler in the domestic circuit. However, he also has three half-centuries in first-class cricket and considers himself an all-rounder. Speaking about his batting, Ankit said, “I have been batting. I bat lower down the order in domestic cricket. I do look at myself as an all-rounder, but also the way the think tank had made me practice was very good. And because of that I have been able to perform today.”
When asked about the target RR were looking to set CSK, given the opposition’s strong line-up, he said, “We had decided to take the measure of the wicket for the first couple of overs. Then Watson, who was batting with me, said that now we can try and go for runs. And we were looking to get the team off to a good start.”
Speaking about batting with Watson, Ankit, who was involved in a 60-run opening stand with him, said, “I liked batting with him. I was batting with a batsman of Watson’s stature, and opening with him. So it felt really good.” The first-time IPL opener, who was visibly enjoying his batting and was encouraged by his captain, said that he practices his regular shots in the nets while preparing for different situations.
After helping RR lay a solid foundation with the bat, he gave his team vital breakthroughs with the wickets of Brendon McCullum and Suresh Raina. “It was good to get a wicket up front. The team needed that,” he said while speaking about his performance with the ball.