March 20, 2010

Short's not sweet for Pathan


The way he bats, and that his big scores are often match-winning, means allowance must be made for a few scores for him © AFP

Watching cricket is that bit more rewarding if you can find a story within the story, and even Twenty20 can occasionally provide it. For me, the match between the Rajasthan Royals and Kolkata Knight Riders came down to Yusuf Pathan v the bouncer.

The way he bats, and that his big scores are often match-winning, means allowance must be made for a few scores for him. But there has been a worrying pattern to his batting: not only does he have only one gear – the fifth – he also has to deal with a shortage of scoring options. Against bowlers aware of, and capable of, exploiting his weakness, he can not only be contained, but made to look brittle.

Bangalore did this ruthlessly. Vinay Kumar, just above fast medium, hit him on the head, which Pathan responded to with two sixes. But against the short stuff from Dale Steyn and Jacques Kallis, he swished and flailed. One mistimed pull slipped out of Rahul Dravid’s palms, another barely eluded Vinay Kumar. Eventually, he was dismissed because his partner called him for a desperate single, but he never got going.

Shane Warne, who had earned some incredulity for describing Pathan’s 37-ball hundred against Mumbai as the “greatest innings” he had ever watched, promptly sprang to his defence. Try bowling short to Pathan, he dared, and if you get it wrong, he’d put you out of the park.

Sourav Ganguly, never a step behind in these matters, let it be known cryptically, when asked about his strategy against Pathan, that Shane Bond would sort him out.

He stuck to his tactics. Bond was given only one over at the start, and was summoned the moment Pathan arrived at the crease. The first one, full and outside off, Pathan hammered point for a single; the second was the short one, but it climbed limply and there was room outside off for Pathan to guide it to the third man boundary; he took a single off the next; and, back on strike for the last one, he found the ball in his half and clattered it over mid-off. Two more bouncers came in the next over, but Pathan managed to score three more runs off them. Pathan v Bond stood 7 balls, four bouncers, 13 runs.

And then Ashok Dinda materialised, and what a tease he was. The first one arrived at Kumble speed, which Pathan, perhaps surprised, managed only to pat back down the pitch. The second one was a bouncer, but it took ages to arrive. Pathan considered pulling but bailed out. The third one was full and much quicker, and Pathan managed to find the man at point. The next was a gentle leg-cutter that Pathan hit to long on for a single. His partner managed a single off the fifth, and Dinda’s last gambit was a bouncer, which Pathan shaped to launch into the crowd; once again, though, the horizontal bat failed to obey his will and the ball caught the top end of the blade hung and comfortably in the air for Brad Hodge to catch.

The match ended happily for the Royals and Pathan’s offspin was more than useful in containing the Knight Riders. But better batsmen than him – Graeme Hick and Vinod Kambli to name two – have had their international careers cut short by the short ball. Pathan’s challenge is to find a way around it.