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The Bulletin by Siddhartha Vaidyanathan
May 30, 2008
This was Shane Watson's match. Imposing himself on the first semi-final, he boosted Rajasthan Royals with an electric fifty before rattling Delhi Daredevils' top order with an outstanding opening spell. Shane Warne had complained about being deprived of home advantage but his side adjusted perfectly to the conditions at the Wankhede Stadium, putting on a show that illustrated exactly why they have been the stand-out team in the competition.
Delhi were like a side struck with stage fright. Their bowlers were rattled by a brand of unconventional strokeplay - even the peerless Glenn McGrath went wicketless for 38 runs - before their batsmen succumbed against a disciplined attack. Virender Sehwag's decision to field may come under scrutiny but Rajasthan's ruthless efficiency might have steered them to the final either way. The farcical end to the match - when Mohammad Asif took an age to get his bat into the crease - summed it up.
The scorecard may indicate a hopelessly one-sided contest but Rajasthan had their shaky moments. Losing the toss meant facing up to McGrath and Asif on a juicy pitch and three quick wickets for Farveez Maharoof pushed them from 65 for no loss to 76 for 3.
Graeme Smith, who was aided by a runner once his hamstring injury resurfaced, and Swapnil Asnodkar, who broke a window pane at fine leg with an audacious pull, provided the early impetus but the innings could have easily lost its way with Maharoof, utilising the bounce and movement on the surface, luring the top order into loose strokes.
Watson's arrival put the innings back on track. From the moment he took 21 off the 11th over, with two ferocious pulls for six, only one team bossed the contest. With the high, straight back-lift that's been the feature of his batting in the tournament, Watson swung through midwicket and square leg. He targeted specific bowlers and went through with shots even if he wasn't to the pitch of the ball, allowing the timing to take care of the rest.
Amit Mishra, the legspinner, teased with his flight and loop but Watson was intent on spoiling his rhythm - going down on one knee, he slog-swept him over midwicket, a technique that Yusuf Pathan was to pick up later.
Such a commanding total wouldn't have been possible without the final flourish. Yusuf celebrated his recall to the one-day squad with a blistering 21-ball 45, an innings where four mighty sixes dripped off his bat. Without the Watson back-lift, without too much initial movement, he showed what brute force could do, blasting over long-on and midwicket. He spotted slower balls too, smearing McGrath over midwicket for the shot of the evening.
Delhi have their fielders to thank for avoiding further embarrassment but their effort was put in the shade by some acrobatic catching by Rajasthan. Shikhar Dhawan pulled off a diving catch to dismiss Smith but it was Tauwar Kohli's peach of a dive, throwing himself to the right of cover to latch on to a Gautam Gambhir slash, that will stick in the mind.
Watson may have top scored for his side, but his job wasn't done yet. Up against one of the most formidable opening combinations in the IPL, he cranked up his pace. Sehwag was done in by the extra bounce, holing out to deep point, Gambhir was frustrated into slashing in the air and Dhawan pulled straight to square leg. Every wicket was accompanied by an ecstatic expression - one that indicated the triumph of a well-laid plan.
Tillakaratne Dilshan's furious swinging was never going to be enough against a constantly mounting asking-rate and he kept losing partners who misread the bounce in the track. Manoj Tiwary top-edged a bouncer from Munaf Patel and Yo Mahesh struggled against a short one directed at the shoulder. The rest were clueless against Warne's fizzers.
He admitted he would have bowled first if he had won the toss but would have been pleasantly surprised at the amount of turn and bounce the surface offered. He toyed with the tailenders, mixing legbreaks and sliders as if this was a Test, and he could afford to wear an impish smile through the spell, considering the match was in the kitty.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is an assistant editor at CricinfoFeeds: Siddhartha Vaidyanathan
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