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I exaggerate (but only slightly). There is Muttiah Muralitharan of course. But IPL Murali isn’t quite as compelling as normal everyday Murali. He whizzes through his overs smartly enough and there is plenty of smiling, but using the greatest offspinner of all time in this fashion is rather like asking Mozart to play an Abba song on a kazoo. Very nice and all that, but you can’t help feeling that you haven’t quite got your money’s worth.
Still they do have lots and lots of batsmen. Some say that Matthew ‘Matty’ Hayden is over the hill. Tell that to the poor little cricket ball he assaulted on Thursday. He remains, along with Yuvraj Singh, the most brutal leather abuser in the world. He hits the ball so hard you wince at the moment of impact. He was in awesome form against Zaheer Khan, chopping four boundaries with the anger of a mad axe man who had not received his invitation to the annual convention of psychotic wood choppers.
But at a crucial juncture, he called for The Mongoose (sadly not in the way that Tarzan used to summon up the beasts of the jungle) and departed soon after. Bhajji was the Hayden-slayer and celebrated in the traditional manner; that is haring off towards third man roaring like a Samurai warrior who’d just discovered he had the winning lottery ticket. The yellow-shirted Hayden meanwhile retired to a white plastic chair on the boundary, where he demurely sipped a cup of tea looking for all the world like a children’s entertainer taking a break at a village fete.
Cue Suresh Raina who started with a nonchalant cuff to score his first maximum (it was sponsored, but I forget the name of the company). But the most significant boundary of his charming innings came when Dwayne Bravo, around the wicket, aimed a stinging bouncer in the general direction of his nose. Raina leant back like a boxer evading a flailing upper cut and without flinching, merely touched the ball, sending it looping to third man. It was a vast improvement on the eyes-closed swishing technique he employed against the short ball last summer.
Not all the Chennai willow-wielders acquitted themselves quite so well. English viewers retain a soft spot for Parthiv Patel who came on the 2002 tour as a plucky teenager. Indian supporters haven’t always held him such high esteem, but he was doing nicely on Thursday, until he tried to emulate his more illustrious team-mates. Hopping outside the leg stump, he was horrified to find the ball following him. Ryan McClaren’s yorker demolished first Parthiv and then the stumps. In ten pin bowling terms, it was an excellent spare.
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Andrew Hughes is a writer and avid cricket watcher who has always retained a healthy suspicion of professional sportsmen, and like any right-thinking person rates Neville Cardus more highly than Don Bradman. Providing his ransom demands continue to be met, he has promised never to write a whimsical book about village cricket. @hughandrews73