Gopal bags bunnies
"How was the match, darling?"
"It was rained off after a few overs."
"Oh dear. What a waste of time!"
"Well, not entirely."
We can’t be completely sure what conversation took place when Shreyas Gopal arrived home on Tuesday night, but it may have been along similar lines to this. For while everyone else was left damp and disappointed when RCB and Rajasthan couldn’t complete even a five-over game, Gopal himself made quite the splash. Virat Kohli's side, who needed to win to stay alive, set off at a rampant pace, scoring 23 off their first over. Gopal was soon introduced and soon in possession of an extraordinary hat-trick, as his subtle, googly-heavy leg spin armoury saw off Kohli, de Villiers and Stoinis in consecutive balls.
It was the second time Gopal has got AB and Kohli in the same match this season. He also dismissed the illustrious twosome in one innings in last year’s IPL. They are an elite pair of bunnies for the man born in Bangalore, who also manages to make Imran Tahir look like a tortoise as he hares off around the pitch to salute his wickets. Gopal was actually originally a batsman before putting in hours in the nets, with help from Anil Kumble and Shane Warne along the way, to hone his leg spin art. With considerably more understatement than found in his celebrations, earlier this season Gopal told ESPNCricinfo that taking up slow-bowling was “one of his better choices.” Only Kohli and de Villiers might disagree.
Kings to be dethroned?
Sapporo, Japan’s fifth largest city, might not immediately be thought of as having a great influence over the IPL. This could all change soon, however, for this week a court sentenced Kings XI co-owner Ness Wadia to two years in jail for a drugs offence committed while on a skiing holiday on the northern island of Hokkaido. The sentence was suspended for five years, meaning Wadia himself was free to watch his side end their disjointed season with a win over CSK, but his actions could yet mean the entire franchise goes up in smoke.
Under tournament rules, a team can be sanctioned and even expelled if the behaviour of an owner brings the IPL into disrepute, with Rajasthan Royals and Chennai Super Kings both being suspended in recent times for, at least in part, the actions of franchise officials. The BCCI has thus far decided not to hand the case over to the IPL Ethics Committee, the body with the power to issue punishments, but one insider told Scroll that the incident had created “bad optics”. It's probably unlikely cricket will be saying sayonara to Kings XI, but a Mankad and drugs scandal in one season?! It’s enough to make even their most famous fan, the Dalai Lama, get a bit agitated.
No mercy from Captain Cruel
During India's horror tour of England in 2011, the home side's former ODI keeper, Paul Nixon, diagnosed MS Dhoni as having a case of "sore hands". The ex-Leicestershire stalwart had helped the Indian glovesman on his previous tricky tour and when Dhoni was again struggling with English conditions, Nixon thought there were this time at least some mitigating circumstances.
On Wednesday, against Delhi Capitals, Dhoni was again suffering, revealing he had had a virus the previous few days, complete with throaty cough. Any post-match diagnosis of his hands, though, may well have seen them labelled “cruel” rather than sore, as the India keeper produced two frankly evil stumpings in the same over off Ravi Jadeja. First it was Chris Morris who had the misfortune to overbalance for a split-second after a forward defensive, but a split second of folly is all a batsman needs to topple into the venus flytrap of Dhoni’s gloves. A few balls later it was Shreyas Iyer who departed in similar fashion.
To say split-second is not even hyperbole. In February, Dhoni's stumping of New Zealand's Tim Seifert in a T20I was timed at 0.099. Last year he took just 0.08 seconds to dispose off the West Indies’ Keemo Paul in an ODI. The Avengers’ Captain America may have left the stage this week. Captain Cruel’s superpowers remain very much intact.
Super Over Pandyamonium
"We've got extra time, Baby! Super over! You'd better believe it!"
It would be nice to report these were the words of Sunil Gavaskar as Manish Pandey lofted a last-ball six against Mumbai Indians to secure a tie on Thursday, but inevitably they were Danny Morrison's. Even for a man who may get excited opening a new tube of toothpaste, a Super Over is especially stimulating, and not least when Hardik Pandya is one of the batsmen involved.
Although the all-rounder has been in godly form with the bat of late, there was added pressure on him as it was he who Pandey and the ever impressive Mohammad Nabi took apart in that dramatic twentieth over. Personal setbacks are merely opportunities to be avenged for Pandya, though. His confidence levels are as unshakable as Morrison’s voice and it was almost a surprise he didn’t insist on bowling the six extra balls. That responsibility instead went to Jasprit Bumrah who, with the help of a run out and his own icy yorker, restricted Sunrisers to just 8. Pandya strode out to face Rashid Khan and promptly spanked him over long off first ball. After pausing to admire his shot he took a single and Kieron Pollard did the rest.
Post-match, Mumbai’s two heroes interviewed each other on the Wankhede pitch. Bumrah asked Pandya, “How should the bowlers bowl to you? The best way is to not bowl to you?”. “Maybe…" replied young Hardik with a modest smirk. They make an engaging pair.
Dinesh Karthik has been unfortunate. His life as a keeper-batsman has overlapped with that of Dhoni. His first ever international victim behind the stumps was Michael Vaughan way back in 2004, a flying leg-side stumping that would have made both MS and Superman swoon, but inconsistency and confusion over his role has been kryptonite to his India career ever fully taking off.
The KKR skipper has nevertheless always endured the fluctuations of professional sport with good grace. In post-match interviews he is so polite and self-effacing you sometimes feel he might apologise to the mic-holder for taking up their time. It was therefore something of a shock to see him shouting so angrily at his side as they huddled round during a strategic time out against Kings XI on Friday. Things, of course, have not been serene in the KKR camp - not least after Andre Russell’s recent disgruntled comments about his captain - but in the field in Mohali they looked a particularly grumpy mess. Even Sunil Narine, normally as chilled as champagne, was getting angry with his teammates.
Russell stood hands on hips as Karthik issued his tongue-lashing, seeming to tellingly break away from the huddle just a little earlier than his ear-bashed colleagues. Whether or not Karthik’s uncharacteristic borrowing of Alex Ferguson's hairdryer had a significant effect is open to debate. Kings XI, fighting their own ultimately futile battle to stay in the play-off running, still posted a decent 183/6. The home side did at least manage, with the sublime young gifts of Shubman Gill, to chase it down with relative ease. KKR lived to fight another day. If only amongst themselves. Until they crashed out on Sunday.
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