Unfortunate Sunrisers let match slip away
One atrocious over from Thisara Perera. One questionable decision from Cameron White. And eight Kieron Pollard sixes in 16 deliveries. That, unfortunately, was the crux of this game. Unfortunate not because Pollard made a mockery of an asking-rate of 15.50. This is to take nothing away from Pollard's innings, an assault so brutal and so out-of-nowhere it numbed the mind. Unfortunate because it took five ordinary deliveries and one ordinary call to decide a game where both sides had been forced out of their comfort zones, and had fought a tense, undulating contest. Unfortunate because the world's best fast bowler had bowled his guts out. Unfortunate because a young, uncapped legspinner had come back to remove two fine players of spin.
Dale Steyn and Karan Sharma hardly deserved to lose. But this format is crunched so tight that even half a bad over from a bowler can undo all good work done earlier, and subsequently, by his colleagues. Admittedly, this was a seriously bad over. And Pollard was seriously ready to take toll. As ready as a hungry lion is when the prey walks into the den uninvited.
A slow long hop outside off. A full delivery around off. A short ball at normal speed, which at Perera's pace meant it sat up at Pollard. A length ball followed by a length ball followed by a length ball, the last one from round the stumps. 6, 1, 4, 6, 6, 6.
With as many as 62 needed off the last four overs, this was about as poor as you could get as a bowler. Not once in the over did Perera hit the blockhole. Not once did he go wide outside off to deny Pollard his straight hitting zone. Not once did he bounce Pollard with an effort ball, as he did later in the last over, by when the game was finished. Twenty20 puts enormous pressure on bowlers. Perera cracked wide open under it.
So did White, in picking Amit Mishra to bowl the 18th over ahead of Steyn, with 33 required. Steyn had toyed with Pollard in the over before Perera's meltdown. The first ball of Steyn's return spell kicked, straightened and sped past the outside edge. The fifth bounced at the batsman's throat and Pollard fended it awkwardly off the bat handle. Steyn gave just four runs off that over, including a leg-bye. Of the 23 that he conceded overall, there were two boundaries off thick outside edges from Dwayne Smith.
Steyn wanted to win this dearly, as he always wants to. He sprinted all the way to square leg to stop a second run off his bowling, and ran so hard he beat the wicketkeeper to the ball comfortably. Even after hitting Perera for four successive boundaries, there was little chance of Pollard going after Steyn, and succeeding.
At the very least, Steyn was more likely than a legspinner to contain Pollard in the 18th over. And Mishra is your conventional legbreak bowler. He is no Piyush Chawla to be able to dish out an over of quick darts. Instead, he tried to induce a false stroke from a charged-up Pollard with a flighted legbreak. Six. Mishra tried again. Six more. Game over.
To Pollard's credit, he connected with almost everything with only five specialist bowlers to come after him. And even when he mishit it, he smacked it deep into the crowd. Maybe a tight 18th over from Steyn would have given Mishra more chances of inducing that false stroke from Pollard in the 19th.
Instead, as Steyn tore in to bowl a testing penultimate over, the sheer futility of the situation matched the sheer intensity of his effort. It had started to look slightly futile for Sunrisers Hyderabad when Sachin Tendulkar and Dinesh Karthik had a partnership in Mumbai Indians' first chase at home this season. Tendulkar retired hurt after hitting Karan for a six and a four. And did the legspinner barge into the opening. Two deliveries later, he had Karthik popping a leading edge to extra cover. In his next over, he had Ambati Rayudu stumped after the batsman missed a flipper on the charge.
For 36 overs, Sunrisers painstakingly built a position of strength. Their batsmen, used to modest chases set up by the bowlers, posted a big total. Their attack made it increasingly difficult for Mumbai Indians for more than three-fourths of the chase, only to have it snatched away after one mediocre over. Unfortunately, that is how T20 often works.
Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo