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Harbhajan Singh's intense opening over ended with the big wicket of Chris Gayle, and consequently put Mumbai Indians on course to win the Champions League
October 9, 2011
In his utterly brilliant debut novel Chinaman, Shehan Karunatilaka vividly likens the six balls in an over to the six bullets in a revolver. He writes that a bowler should not mind firing one or two into the air, as long as one of the remaining bullets finds the mark. Harbhajan Singh's first ball in the Champions League final was one such bullet - it did not get Chris Gayle's wicket, at least not immediately - but it set up an intense over that ended with his dismissal, and consequently put Mumbai Indians on course to win the Champions League Twenty20.
The game was set up beautifully in the first five overs of the chase. Royal Challengers Bangalore had started well in pursuit of 140, with Tillakaratne Dilshan trying to hit the Mumbai fast bowlers out of the attack. Harbhajan persisted with Lasith Malinga for a third over, and the bowler of the tournament delivered a 148-kph yorker to detonate the needlessly-aggressive Dilshan's stumps.
With one member of their top-order troika out of the game, the Royal Challengers needed Gayle and Virat Kohli to stick to the script that had worked for them in the lead-up to the final. Harbhajan would have known that separating them early would give Mumbai an opening into the Royal Challengers' underdone middle order.
The outcome was in the balance when Harbhajan wind-milled into his action, round the stumps to Gayle, who had only faced six balls in the first five overs. The first ball looped in at an angle, and landed on a length outside the off stump. Gayle indifferently reached out and felt for it with an opened face. It wasn't a poor choice of shot, given that the pitch had not shown signs of spin through the night. The ball, however, gripped the surface and veered away sharply as if it had a life of its own, squaring Gayle up.
With the echo of that first bullet still ringing in the air, Harbhajan used skill and subterfuge through the rest of the over to work Gayle over. The second ball spun even more than the first, and was called a wide as it darted away from Gayle's attempted cut. The viciousness of the spin consigned Gayle to the crease, and Harbhajan kept him guessing with one more fizzer that broke away wildly, and a couple that straightened from a flatter trajectory.
Sensing the kill, Harbhajan brought in an extra fielder in the covers and positioned a slip for the final ball. He curled it in with his trademark drift, got it to land on off stump and hurry in straight. Gayle was well forward, but the umpire upheld a marginal appeal - not the first slice of fortune that had gone Mumbai's way in the tournament.
With two of their three big guns spiked early, the Royal Challengers subsided in astonishingly limp fashion. Harbhajan continued to bowl beautifully, and went on to nip out the two batsmen most likely to resist Mumbai - Kohli and Daniel Vettori - on his way to figures of 3 for 20.
"That first ball actually got Gayle out," Harbhajan said after the match. "I knew that was an important over in the match, and obviously getting Gayle out was going to be crucial. After that ball, he was not sure which one was going to spin and which one would go straight. The first ball surprised him, and that probably did it for him."
Mumbai had made up for their lack of consistency through the tournament with the uncanny ability to win the big moments. On the day of the final, their captain's opening over ensured they won the biggest moment of the Champions League, and it was all smooth sailing thereafter.
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