Sam Curran is reducing his number of heartbreak victims. Last year in England, he tortured the souls of all Indian fans with his match-changing Test performances. Last week it was just supporters from Delhi he subjected to his young devilry. Things had seemed to be going well for the Delhi Capitals (DC) outfit, renamed but not entirely reinvented, on Monday as they cruised towards King's XI’s modest total of 166 in Mohali. Then Curran returned to the attack, with his face of a schoolboy and arm of a slingshot, to take four wickets in five balls including a hat-trick.
Curran has always come across as having a lust for knowledge and improvement. He is sure to be browsing avidly through the cricketing Wikipedia that is found in franchise changing rooms. He is also very lucky to have Ryan Harris as his bowling coach and Curran's iceman efforts this week reminded of the great ex-Australia quick's in 2014. Back then in the third Test in Cape Town, with the World number one side South Africa five overs away from drawing the match and series, “Rhino” arrived, weary and wounded, on the scene. Despite having a knee swollen to almost the size of his skill levels, Harris somehow took the final two Proteas wickets with a masterful display of skill and courage.
When interviewed after Monday's match, Harris spoke about how he and Curran had discussed executing their plan to force Kagiso Rabada, the castled middle victim of the hat-trick, to hit square to the biggest boundary at the IS Bindra Stadium. But even rhinos can have their advice trampled over by the intuition of starlets. By bowling full and straight Curran, as Harris noted, “did the opposite to what we talked about”. These youngsters.
Malinga the winger
It's not been an easy year for Lasith Malinga, the low-armed talisman of Mumbai's attack. Back in January, his wife caused a kerfuffle in the Sri Lankan dressing room with a Facebook post alleging her husband's teammate Thisara Perera had asked the nation's sports minister to secure his place in the side. Then Malinga led his country in their all-floundering white-ball tour of South Africa, seeing his side lose the ODIs 5-0 and the T20Is 3-0. You could then have forgiven the fast bowler for trying to take things easy during this IPL. Well, as easy as possible for 35-year-old bowler in a blitzkrieg T20 tournament.
But Malinga was having none of it. Late, Dhoni levels of late, on Wednesday evening, he played a pivotal part in Mumbai's victory over CSK, taking 3 for 34 with Shane Watson, Kedar Jadhav and Dwayne Bravo his not inconsiderable trio of wickets. You might have thought Thursday morning would involve a bit of light training and a leisurely trip to one of Mumbai's premier peroxide stockists, but instead Malinga was to be found on a plane to his homeland. By early afternoon he was kitted out in the colours of Galle to play in the domestic Super Provincial ODI tournament.
He was there to also have a look at the local talent in the run-up to the World Cup but he won't have given much confidence to any young hopefuls in Kandy's batting line-up. The veteran ran through the opposition, taking 7 for 49, his best ever in List A cricket, to end up with combined 24-hour figures of 10 for 83. Whether or not he then permitted himself a little lie down is not known.
Buttler's mantra dismissal
Mankad musing continued into the third week of the IPL as Jos Buttler, back in the runs against RCB on Tuesday, suggested the rules surrounding the controversial dismissal needed to be clarified. Speaking after Rajasthan Royals' (RR) first win of the season, the opener also admitted the furore had got to him a little. “It distracted me for the next couple of games which is why it was nice to get some runs in the win and get back to thinking about batting and not worrying about how I back up at the non-striker's end."
Ravichandran Ashwin meanwhile maintained his air of suave aloof over the incident. “People can say that they believe it is right or wrong, that is their opinion, but you can't say that Ashwin is a villain. That is not in my character," he said, speaking in the third person like a cartoon villain.
Meanwhile, there were surely nervous scenes in TV control rooms when Buttler did one of those 'teammate vs teammate' interviews with Shreyas Gopal. The all-rounder asked his English colleague what his cricketing mantra was, which must have drawn a sharp breath from the production studio given that last year it was revealed Buttler writes "F*ck it" on the top of his bat handle to maintain his carefree approach to big hitting. Fortunately, he told Gopal his maxim is just to “stay relaxed”, keeping his previous fruity language firmly in its crease.
For every RCB match, one member of the TV crew is charged with operating ‘Kohli cam’. This is a camera trained on the Indian captain to ensure producers can cut to his fist pumps, elated screams, grimaces, more frustrated screams and, all too often in the IPL, bewildered looks of despair. As Andre Russell pillaged victory for KKR on Friday, viewers were thus well able to see the blood draining from the RCB skipper's cheeks, the intense lava heat of his eyes doused by the cool realisation that another match had gone. Joaquin Phoenix's rebooted Joker may have been the most talked about movie moment of the week, but the post-match ‘Kohli cam’ montage was almost as cinematic.
Kohli's facial features are a microcosm of those found all around the home crowd stands. RCB fans, aided by the pressure cooker acoustics of the Chinnaswamy are perhaps the most audibly passionate in the IPL, but not even they can fight back the pessimism borne of years of experience. In these matches where RCB squander a huge advantage, there is always a moment when the screams of "Arrr-Sea-Bee" change to an awkward hum of anxiety. On Friday it was when Russell, like a warp-speed contortionist, managed to hit a shoulder high full toss from Mohammed Siraj over long on. Maximum, no ball, free hit and Siraj — who had bowled a similar delivery earlier on — barred from completing his over. The first two balls of it had been dots, with the third debatably called a wide causing the pacer to reload with such disastrous consequences. On such fine margins do matches, and facial expressions, swing.
Don't rush, baby
There's been much talk of substitute fielders being over-deployed this IPL, with teams giving their more mature stars a little break with a conveniently lithe and eager young pup coming on in their place. Delhi assistant coach and all-round behemoth of goodness, Mohammed Kaif, even revealed that he now talks to umpires pre-match to ask them to crack down on the practice. On Saturday at the Chepauk there was an interesting new bit of skullduggery, admittedly possibly unintentional, when a cheerleader scurried across the stands just as Harbhajan was coming into bowl to Chris Gayle.
No batsman, of course, likes anything in their eyeline when awaiting a delivery. For Gayle, already getting a bit of a bamboozling from Bhajji, the sight seemed to be a particular burden on his powers of concentration. The very next ball he got a thin edge, taken by Dhoni, and the umpire's finger went up. It would be very cheap to assert that Gayle, self-appointed Universe Boss and global ambassador for nocturnal frolicking, was fatally distracted by a cheerleader but that did appear to be the case. Perhaps, if only for the sake of poor Christopher, it might be about time the IPL stopped having pom-pom wielders altogether.