Rajpoot Winks, Pollard sinks
Misplaced hubris followed by introspection is common in life. In the IPL, it can happen In the space of two balls, sometimes even fewer. On Wednesday, Mumbai Indians were stumbling a little chasing down an unlikely target of 198 against Kings XI Punjab. Then Kieron Pollard started conducting one of his brutal yet purring acts of subterfuge to leave his side needing 15 off the last over. On the first ball, Ankit Rajpoot ran in to bowl but at the last minute pulled away, it was unclear why, leaving Pollard looking unimpressed at the crease. Rajpoot, whose pulsating eyes (if not bowling) are a little reminiscent of Shoaib Akhtar, gave the West Indian a cheeky little wink.
That may have been an error. For the next ball the quick not only overstepped but Pollard dispatched his full toss high over mid-wicket and followed up with another four for good measure. Next ball the Mumbai stalwart thought he had won the match as he again sent Rajpoot sailing towards the boundary. Pollard even sank on his haunches at the non-striker’s end and took off his helmet getting ready to revel in the win, only to have both his celebrations and the ball interrupted by David Miller’s safe hands. Suddenly Rajpoot was back in the role of redeemed hero, and Pollard faced a nervous wait in the dugout to see Mumbai eventually scramble home.
Hardik's coffee and regrets
In Hardik Pandya’s post-match interview in that game, there was some evidence of life lessons learned. Not so long ago Pandya appeared on the talk show Koffee with Karan where he spoke about his sex life, discussing the type of women he liked and generally being a bit too laddish for some people's taste. He was roundly criticised and accused of being disrespectful. Interviews with female presenters haven’t always been bastions of humility and decency in cricket, but at the end of the game Pandya was on his best behaviour, nodding intently to all Lisa Sthalekar questions. At the end he offered up one of the most humble “Thank you so much, thank you” you'll ever hear. What a nice young man. You could almost take him home to meet your parents. As long as he doesn't discuss the topics he does with his own.
Captain Dhoni loses cool
Extraordinary scenes in an extraordinary match on Thursday as CSK squeaked home — they are surely the greatest squeakers in cricket history — against Rajasthan Royals. In a move that raised a few eyebrows in England and a few titters in the West Indies, Ben Stokes was asked to defend 18 off the final over. On the last ball, Mitch Santner, who destroyed India with the ball at the start of that 2016 World T20 that ended in such disappointment for the England all-rounder, hoisted a six over long on to claim the points.
Santner’s swipe wasn’t even the most dramatic part of the over. Earlier, a high full toss from Stokes was called a no-ball by umpire Gande. Unfortunately he was at the bowler’s end so, like a drunk ex, should not have made the call. Bruce Oxenford at square leg saw nothing wrong with the delivery, leading to an on-field debate and then an on-field Dhoni as the Chennai captain strode out to the wicket to make his case. Gesticulating with vigour, MS approached the umpires pointing out that the no ball had been signalled. Oxenford tried to make the point that it hadn’t been by him. Steve Smith came in to smooth things over, luckily without using sandpaper, and then Stokes himself tried to calm the irate Dhoni. You know things have taken a turn for the peculiar when Stokes is acting as peacemaker.
Kuldeep Yadav the thinker
While awe-inspiring, there was little particularly surprising about the image of a black hole 500 million trillion kilometres away that NASA released this week. Little that is, apart from the fact there was no ball thunderstruck from the blade of Andre Russell disappearing into it. The West Indian, one of the most decorated cricketers in T20 history, has been in astonishing form this IPL, hitting the ball in a way that at times seems to defy the laws of physics. He gets himself in some ridiculously contorted positions. His head in a state of unbalanced flux. He strikes the ball off the toe and splice. It still more often than not sails over the mid-wicket boundary.
Bowlers seem to have no answer, but this week one rather boldly announced that he knew how to stop him. Unfortunately it was one of his teammates, Kuldeep Yadav, who is unlikely to be sharing his secret dossier with other franchises. Noting Russell tends to hold back against the spinners, the slow left-armer said, “I’ve a different plan against him. I am very clear in my mind how to stop him.” Kuldeep knows what it means to have a mystery code cracked. In last year’s ODI series in England, he initially left the home side in more slithery knots than Medusa’s hair, before the hosts found a way to counter his wiles at Headingley. We’ll have to wait until the summer’s World Cup to see if whether he can do the same to Russell’s rather less nuanced form of destruction.
On Saturday AB de Villiers revealed he's been staying up until 5 am watching the Masters.
While RCB fans might hope their tired looking team might be getting a little more sleep, watching golf is probably a bit less exhausting than what AB's old teammate and nocturnal party king Chris Gayle is up to at that hour. There are, of course, teams of scientists at CERN working without success to find a sport at which AB doesn’t excel. Golf certainly isn't it, as plenty of youtube videos of his majestic swing will testify.
Yet there was another player taking cross-sport inspiration from another sport this week as Rohit Sharma on Saturday decided to showcase his talent as an hockey goalkeeper. When Krishnappa Gowtham twirled a wide delivery down the legside as Rohit advanced, it seemed as if the Mumbai opener was doomed to be stumped by some distance. Instead he merely adjusted his body and buffeted the ball away with his shin. Everyone vaunted his football skills but this was pure PR Sreejesh. India’s pedigree with sticks as well as bats is clearly well founded.
RCB's bottomless hell
Virat Kohli was putting a commendable brave face on his side’s run of six defeats before their match against KXIP. He spoke about the team trying to have “the best time of their life together" in the last six games which, given their past results, seemed to be on the Wily E. Coyote side of optimism. Kohli himself had also been seen in the nets practising his rarely attempted scoop, perhaps inspired by his former team mate Sarfaraz Khan, who plays the shot so often his bat tastes of raspberry ripple.
Anyway, in an event to rival the black hole photo for galactic wonder, on Saturday RCB finally won a game thanks to AB de Villiers and Kohli downing Punjab. It’s not clear what eventually propelled them to achieve this previously unattainable feat but perhaps they were spurred into action by the Times of India, who this week published the IPL league table, but without including RCB. Things have been pretty bad for RCB, but wiping them from existence was a little bit harsh.
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Shikhar Dhawan is approaching the end of a relatively successful career, but not without one more push for an international bow on the grand T20 World Cup stage.
Things have gone pear-shaped for CSK since their win over MI in the tournament opener on 19 November.
Not considered for the tour of Australia despite his consistent run in domestic cricket and IPL, Suryakumar led MI's chase of 165 and helped the defending champions reach the target with five balls to spare.