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IPL 2017: RPS’ Rahul Tripathi showed against KKR why he is the find of the tournament

It’s almost like a Marvel-Netflix superhero production:

Evil boss keeps sending cronies to beat up the hero, but one by one, they get sent back with swollen eyes and missing teeth.

Evil boss sends better henchmen, but they just come back with better beatings.

Evil boss cries with frustration, “Is there no one who can beat this man?”

That is the question most IPL franchises are asking about Rising Pune Supergiant opener Rahul Tripathi.

Rising Pune Supergiant's Rahul Tripathi drives against Kolkata Knight Riders. Sportzpics/IPL

Rising Pune Supergiant's Rahul Tripathi drives against Kolkata Knight Riders. Sportzpics/IPL

Mr Consistent

In his last eight games, Tripathi has crossed 30 seven times. He has done so at the strike rate of over 150, making the most of the field restrictions. So far, no team has been able to rein him in, despite mounting video evidence that can be used against him. When they tried bowling short, he has pulled nonchalantly. When they tried using spin, he has brought out the sweep. When they tried pure pace, all they did was play to his strengths. The one time he was dismissed cheaply, it was by his own hand, a poor call resulting in a run out. To paraphrase Jennifer Aniston’s character from Friends, they just keep lobbing them up, and he just keeps knocking them out of the park.

On Wednesday night, in front of a 59,000 strong crowd at the Eden Gardens, he put on his most brutal display ever, 93 runs off 52 balls, striking at close to 180. Yet never for a moment did it look like he struck the ball in anger. Complementing his belligerence was the guile of Jaydev Unadkat with the ball. Unadkat dismissed Sunil Narine in the first over of the game, denying the Kolkata Knight Riders the flying starts Narine had been providing them.

Pune’s two Indian talents have helped them climb to third on the ladder, and are good signs leading into the back end of the tournament. The team will be without Ben Stokes should they make the playoffs, and the performance of the local players is heartening.

Unadkat proves a point against ex-team

Unadkat had a brilliant run in the 2015-16 Ranji Trophy knockouts, snaring nine wickets in the quarter-finals and eleven in the semis. He was one of the chief constructors of Saurashtra’s final appearance in 2016. Yet he failed to make the West Zone squad for the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy this year, and was one of three Indian players released by KKR, a team with a reputation for player retention. (Unadkat’s Twitter display picture still has him in a KKR shirt.)

So it was an opportune moment for the 25-year-old from Porbander to shine. Against his old team, he started with a wicket maiden. Despite some help from the surface for his seam up deliveries, his third ball was a slower off cutter, and he would bowl two more of those in the over. It was that delivery that accounted for Narine, who has flourished as a pinch hitter in this competition.

Unadkat returned to bowl his third over late in the game, and again bowled a parsimonious one, dismissing Colin de Grandhomme, who was batting on 36 off 19 balls. At that point, his figures read 3-1-7-2. Unfortunately he didn’t finish as well, conceding 21 runs in his final over. Nonetheless, his spell was vital in restricting KKR to 155.

Overall, Unadkat’s season economy is under eight runs per over, which is outstanding considering he bowls primarily in the powerplay and at the death. It is also below his overall IPL economy rate, underlining his value to the RPS side this season.

Tripathi’s masterclass

The chase of 155 on a track that slightly favoured the bowlers was like a 400 metre race. RPS could either pace themselves, setting small targets, and keep wickets in hand to sprint at the end. Or they could treat the start as a sprint, break the back of the competition in the first 100 metres, and then hope there was enough in the tank to coast home. Tripathi preferred option two, and he had plenty left in the tank at the end, although he almost ran out of partners.

By the time the mandatory powerplay was up, RPS had lost both Ajinkya Rahane and captain Steve Smith cheaply. Normally this would be a cause for consternation, except that the score was 74, making it their best powerplay score. It also made Tripathi the highest run scorer in powerplays in this IPL, going past David Warner, despite playing one game less.

The highlight of Tripathi’s innings was how at ease he looked even against KKR’s sharp pace attack. The pull shot he played to Umesh Yadav, India’s best fast bowler, was half a foot above his head, yet Tripathi was in complete control of it, sending it from the off stump behind square for six. Australia’s Nathan Coulter-Nile was treated to four boundaries and a six in his second over. Throughout the tournament, Tripathi has countered international bowlers comfortably, never playing to their reputations, testament to his preparation and self belief.

If he looked right at home against pace, he has handled spin well too. He is not one to play the scoop or lap shots, and no doubt KKR knew that and so left short fine leg vacant while Narine was on. Tripathi immediately improvised, moving to the offside and helping the ball in that direction. That he played an out of character shot to bring up his fifty also tells us that he is not bothered with personal milestones, although he was visibly disappointed when dismissed within touching distance of a hundred.

Speaking at the post match presentation, Tripathi must have said the word ‘enjoyed’ about 15 times in two minutes. But even if he hadn’t, it was written all over his face. He could not stop smiling while talking, and it was genuinely infectious; everyone who was watching could not help but smile at him. This wasn’t a kid-in-a-candy-store grin, this was the kid-in-Willy-Wonka’s-Chocolate-factory version.

In a week where powerplays of a more ugly kind have grabbed the headlines, Tripathi’s knock and his smile were exactly what everyone needed. Simply by being himself, he has reminded us of the best of the IPL, and the best of cricket.

Updated Date: May 04, 2017 10:28 AM

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