AB's shy exhibition and Pollard the punisher
Paging the match-winner
A team that lost steam and had to scrap for a playoff spot could not have asked for a more defining innings. Shane Watson went out against Kolkata Knight Riders and came back with a brutal, unbeaten 104 of 59 balls. Included were all of his strengths - hitting through the line and a preference to biff down the ground - but the response to a must-win game was the most striking aspect. Only six days ago had he given up captaincy of the Rajasthan Royals to play more freely. Rahul Dravid explained, "He realised that his role as a batsman and a bowler was a lot more important."
The shy exhibition
AB de Villiers had Wankhede stadium, the Mumbai Indians' stronghold, chanting his name. "I was panicking a bit after five dot balls," he admitted later. The next 54 though went for 133 runs and he was undefeated, a personal T20 best without much of his usual amendments to the coaching manual. It heralded praise from his peers as well. "Fear of spiders is arachnophobia. Fear of tight spaces is claustrophobia. Fear of bowling to AB is logic," noted James Neesham. But de Villiers didn't think it was his best innings. Bowlers worldwide might have asked, "how much better can you get?"
The runaway train
Ninety-one runs off 55 balls in an opening partnership of 130. Kolkata Knight Riders found themselves in a stampede of David Warner boundaries - only once in the 15 overs he was around for could he not find a four or a six. Despite a slow Visakhapatnam pitch, the kind Knight Riders spinners thrive on, Warner had no trouble unveiling full range including the switch hit. Sunrisers Hyderabad's captain, their best batsman, and IPL 2015's top-scorer with 562 runs at an average of 43.23. Warner's matured since he was dropped by Australia in the Ashes 2013, and his consistency only raises the threat he already poses as one of the cleanest strikers in world cricket.
Kieron Pollard is often typecast as a back-overs bully. The first qualifier against Chennai Super Kings exemplified why. Second ball in, during the 15th over, he launched one over midwicket and hurtled to 41 off 17 balls. "We played one of the perfect games," he said after the match Mumbai Indians have amassed the most runs in the final five overs and he has been key. But he hinted at his evolution when he arrived in the seventh over and lasted till the end against Knight Riders, and then came back to defend seven runs in the final over of the chase. A major contributor to Mumbai's second IPL title.
#MuscleRussell is the hashtag Knight Riders have coined for their finisher. With a strike rate of 192.89 in 11 innings, the best for any batsman having faced at least 250 balls, there is very little argument. The Eden Gardens pitch is normally slow and not conducive to strokeplay. Russell's 51 off 21 balls - the joint-fastest fifty of this IPL season - was made on such a surface. Kings XI Punjab's spinners had used it to their advantage to have the hosts at 83 for 4, needing 101 runs in 55 balls. Russell's power had rivalled compatriot Chris Gayle's in the Caribbean Premier League. The IPL was a bigger stage and he did not disappoint. Nor did he mince his words after his match-winning knock. "They were scared to bowl to us," he said.
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Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo