What is a Super Over? Is it just those six deliveries that three batsmen from each side must score the hell out of? Or is it a gauntlet thrown down to that one bowler to exceed himself and provide victory at all cost?
Is a Super Over relief for the chasing team that could only manage 8 off 9 balls when 9 were needed? Is it exasperation for the defending team because they must do it all over again, for another six deliveries, and then, bat again? Is it a mental battle for the players?
How about those watching from beyond the boundary and confines of their living rooms? Isn’t the Super Over sheer delight? An extension of the game you cannot get enough of, stretching into the unpredictable and replete with myriad possibilities. And if one Super Over is not enough, how about two? No? Three? For, currently, the 2020 edition of the Indian Premier League is serving them on a platter.
Sundays should officially be renamed Super Over Days. Four of the five Super Overs so far in this IPL season have happened on Sundays. Three of them happened this past Sunday – two of them in one game. It was about Lockie Ferguson’s arrival on the IPL scene, knocking back stumps with searing pace. It was about Mohammed Shami’s pinpoint and repeated yorkers. It was about Mumbai Indians playing safe and faltering. It was about Mayank Agarwal’s leap of faith. It was about the controversy and confusion over whether Kieron Pollard could bat or not. It was about Chris Gayle’s swagger, nay, and unflinching faith in his own ability even at age 41.
These Super Overs encapsulated the drive for excellence, the push for victory, the exasperation of defeat, and the delight of millions watching together. These Super Overs were not just a brilliant advertisement of the IPL, but also a popular bonus track of cricket’s greatest hits album. In the middle of a global pandemic, these Super Overs were an escape. They were life itself.
Post-match, you could see what this game meant. Social media deemed it arguably the greatest IPL match ever, and for good reason. Mumbai Indians were disappointed but not overly worried. It has been a smooth ride this season and it was only their third loss, a second one in the Super Over, another speed breaker in the overall scheme of things.
Alternately, it was a second Super Over for the Kings XI Punjab and their camp was ecstatic for crossing the finish line. Preity Zinta was jumping around and Agarwal was toothy grinned for pulling off a heist at the boundary. Shami was smiling; the coaches were relieved – they had come close in two matches and have not finished things.
One man was experiencing all of it though, and at the same time. KL Rahul’s face was a painting of different hues – disappointment at not finishing the job before Super Over madness, excitement at how it all panned out, happiness with those two points further added to their tally, and relief, perhaps most of all. He is a burdened man at the moment, not beaten, not tired, just carrying a weight heavier than perhaps he has ever managed.
As concerns white-ball cricket, Rahul is in a continued purple patch that has extended from 2019. It is almost as if he was never away for those five months of lockdown. Other top Indian batsmen have shown good form too – Agarwal is striking the ball well, Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan are also off the blocks rapidly, and Virat Kohli took some time going but he too is creaming the ball again. Even so, they are all trailing Rahul in the manner he is scoring runs – at will.
Consider his first outings in this IPL 2020 season. 132 off 60 balls against Royal Challengers Bangalore, 69 off 54 balls against Rajasthan Royals, and 63 off 52 against Chennai Super Kings – it was red-hot form and Rahul was blazing away consistently at 140-plus strike-rate, especially in the powerplay overs. And like all ace batsmen, he was expecting results to show for his efforts. Only one win in seven games – half the tournament gone just like that!
Something changed thereafter as Rahul wanted to play the finishing hand. Against Kolkata Knight Riders, he let Agarwal take the lead and brought his own strike-rate down. It was the dual role kicking in – the senior batsman who also dons the captaincy hat. How could he let the team down when his red-hot form should have helped them to a string of victories?
This new approach didn’t work either. Punjab are so dependent on Rahul – and their top-order now that Gayle is back – that the middle-order simply doesn’t kick in. Nicholas Pooran has had a couple of interesting outings. Glenn Maxwell has had none. Their middle order has been marred by some poor selections – Karun Nair, Mandeep Singh, and Sarfaraz Khan all discarded one by one. Deepak Hooda, who along with Chris Jordan was instrumental in forcing the Super Over mayhem, played only his second game of the tournament on Sunday evening – sit back and wonder!
This past year, Rahul has performed multiple roles in any team structure with aplomb. Leading the run-charts in IPL 2020, he isn’t doing too badly in the triple-role at Punjab either. There is a visible weight on his shoulders, his face stooping with every defeat, and captaincy perhaps is not sitting right at the moment. Till two matches ago, there was a veritable selection merry-go-round in the Kings XI Punjab camp and it is to be expected with Anil Kumble and Andy Flower – two strong figures – on the coaches’ bench. Who was responsible for some of the selection fiascos, however, is a debate for another day.
Bottom-line here being about Punjab relying too much on individual brilliance throughout this season. Apart from Rahul, you can count on one hand the number of players who have stepped up consistently for them – Shami, Agarwal, Ravi Bishnoi, and Arshdeep Singh. The imbalance in the team is so bad that all of them are lacking support. Shami doesn’t have a stable partner, nor does Bishnoi. Mujeeb ur Rahman, to everyone’s amazement, has played only two games thus far.
It reflects in the manner Rahul bats, bearing that burden alone, pushing himself to finish the job yet falling short. In the first Super Over, he refused a second run because he wanted strike for the last two deliveries. He could only get 2 runs and then lbw against Bumrah. It was a near repeat of his dismissal earlier on – an inch-perfect yorker ending his bid to win the game for Punjab.
Until then, Rahul had batted in the steady manner seen in recent matches. He allowed Agarwal to take the lead, and even dovetailed behind Gayle at No 3, whilst anchoring his way to 46 off 34 balls. Then came the acceleration as the chase was on, but he cannot do it all alone every time.
For once though, thanks to some Super Over (x2) madness, Rahul’s night didn’t end in despair.
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