Bowlers' grunt expectations, Sunrisers' slips, and Morris' time under the sun in lighter side of things
Chahar improves Dhoni’s fortunes
Ever vigilant against excess, the IPL has this year warned teams to bowl their 20 overs within the allotted 90 minutes. If they want to speed things up so much they could just do away with the CEAT Tyres Strategic Timeout but, as Mark Nicholas put it, these sacred pauses are something “we have all come to know and love.” It’s a testament to Nicholas’s suave professionalism, and fans’ acceptance of the IPL’s merry commercialism, that a commentator can say these things without it sounding completely ridiculous.
The BCCI order to hurry up has had mixed results for captains. Cricket’s giggliest man and Delhi skipper, Rishabh Pant, used it as an opportunity to cheekily berate the umpire for taking too long to check the fielding restrictions were properly in place.
For MS Dhoni, it was no laughing matter, as he found himself fined for his side’s sloth in the field in CSK’s opener and at risk of a ban if further sluggishness occurred in their next match. In this context, Deepak Chahar’s brilliant spell in Chennai’s win against Punjab Kings on Friday was very timely. Despite foolishly slowing the game down by taking four wickets, the quick redeemed himself and CSK’s over rate by bowling an astonishing 18 dot balls from his 24 deliveries. Dhoni, and his wallet, will have been thrilled with that sort of military discipline.
Can't wait to get you to the Bharatiya Sansad
Another reason for CSK’s resurgence was Jadeja’s exceptional yet typical fielding. What was also significant was that the left-armer bowled his full four miserly overs against Punjab, having been given just two in CSK’s opening loss against Delhi. A tad expensive in that game, Jadeja's regular spin cohort, R Ashwin, was then also under-bowled in Delhi’s tight and frustrating loss against a chasing Rajasthan. In terms of Ashwin-based strategies from wicketkeeper-batsman captains, Pant’s proved about as effective as Tim Paine’s at the SCG.
At least Pant's blunder brought Ashwin and Ricky Ponting closer together after their previous intellectual jousting over the mankading of Jos Buttler. The Delhi coach said he’d be talking to his skipper about the apparent misuse of bowling resources, but Ashwin himself was nevertheless probably still left wondering what he'd done wrong not to be given a fourth over.
Fortunately, wondering about things is one of his core skills. This week, alongside the regular and perceptive cricketing updates to his YouTube channel, the cerebral spinner also tweeted about the growing COVID-19 crisis in India and chastised Pakistan Prime Minister, Imran Khan, for some antiquated views about how women should dress. When cricket captains no longer have any use for him, don't be surprised if Ashwin, like Khan, has leadership aspirations of his own.
It's Morris time!
A few eyebrows were raised when Rajasthan made Chris Morris the most expensive IPL buy ever. In the shiny world of franchise cricket, this is partly because the South African is granite among the glitz, putting in the hard overs while conducting interviews with a voice as steady and unwavering as his temperament. On Monday evening, however, the South African quite fancied a bit of limelight. Chasing 222 to win, Rajasthan needed five off the last two deliveries when his captain, Sanju Samson, turned down a single and kept Morris off strike for the last ball.
Samson holed out for 119, but that absurd century indicated why his choice to keep strike was more than reasonable. Morris was understandably disappointed, but his skipper was so set it felt like he could have attempted the newly invented Brazilian Shot and still cleared the ropes.
On Thursday, Morris, aided by the knock of his compatriot David Miller and that Pant snubbing of Ashwin, got the chance to remind everyone why, with bat or ball, he's a greater death specialist than Poirot. He saw the Royals home against Delhi with some brutal hitting, not least treating Tom Curran as if he was related to him. South Africa coach, Mark Boucher, this week said he had talked to AB de Villiers about a possible international return for the World T20. He could also do worse than see if, unlike the Delhi bowlers, he’s got Morris’s number.
Sunrisers got no chill
For a side built around staying calm and squeezing out results, Sunrisers Hyderabad have been surprisingly panicky this IPL. Against KKR and RCB, they failed to close out promising positions and were, in the week following Wrestlemania, ground into submission by the now familiar Mumbai chokehold on Saturday. Set a modest 151 to win, Warner and Bairstow were sailing along with the latter even managing to shatter his dugout’s fridge with a six, doubtless infuriating CEAT Tyres who had to witness a drinks break go unsponsored.
Chahar’s brother, Rahul - followed expertly by Bumrah and Boult - then applied the pressure and the Sunrisers batsmen, probably not aided by Bairstow’s assault on their refreshments, lost their cool and the game. SRH could, of course, pick a world-class batsman famous for his icy temperament to steer these tight chases in the sort of low-scoring games they deliberately try to set up. For now, though, they seem oddly content to leave Kane Williamson on the shelf.
Punjab’s Aussie pacemen Riley Meredith and Jhye Richardson have found it quite tough so far this IPL, but the loud grunts both make when bowling suggests it's not for lack of effort. While tennis has been the sport most associated with these exclamations of exertion, cricket too has its fair share of noise merchants with, among others, Kemar Roach, Stuart Broad, and Shane Warne being regular or constant grunters on delivery. In the north of Britain, a local council once even had to intervene after residents complained bowlers at Darlington CC’s net sessions were causing too much noise pollution.
But in a modern data-driven sport looking for every minor advantage, are bowlers under-utilising their vocal chords' duping potential? Meredith and Richardson's grunting seems involuntary, particularly at the back end of an innings or spells as tiredness sets in, but if they could learn to just do it when they wish it could be a useful deception.
Richardson, in particular, bowls a lot of slower balls, and so keeping quieter for more of his stock balls then throwing in a grunt for his change-up might further add to the bluff. If the strategy takes off, Warne could help players develop an arsenal of different grunts, and Richardson - if picked to add to his two Test caps - could announce he’s developed a new variation ahead of the Ashes. Yes, of course, the legal sticklers may say Law 41.5.1 outlaws “wilful” deception or distraction by word or action, but good luck to any umpire trying to prove a slower ball bluff grunt was deliberate.
Andre not so giant
What's the most terrifying sight with which a cricketer can be faced? An email from Andy Flower with "See me in my office" as the subject? Hard to say, but certainly, Andre Russell had two of the more intimidating ones in his line of vision this week. On Tuesday, as KKR went the same way as SRH against Mumbai, Rohit plonked the imposing figure of Kieron Pollard down in front of him at silly mid-off. Russell immediately offered up a fluffed caught and bowled chance to Krunal Pandya (try warming up with a medicine ball, Krunal - it works a treat for Arshdeep Singh's return catch prowess), then flailed about unproductively until Boult put him out of his misery a couple of overs later.
On Sunday, Russell was confronted by his ABête noire as De Villiers, like many times before, took his bowling to the cleaners. When he later came out to bat, IPL fans got something they really do all know and love, a Russell blitz, but it was curtailed by Mohammed Siraj, whose 19th over to the Jamaican went for a remarkable five dots and a single, which is rather like taking Warne for a drink and limiting him to one barbecue anecdote.
In truth, Russell was out there too late, an occurrence some suggest happens too often due to KKR’s solid but slightly staid middle order. Even for a player who bats himself in by walking to the crease, it’s all a bit too Dre rush at the moment.
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The last time Ravindra Jadeja entered an IPL auction was back in 2012 where he emerged as the costliest pick when CSK snapped him up for $2 million. It will be intresting to see him back in the auctions.
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