Cut-price Gony outshines pricey stars
When Ishant Sharma went for US$950,000 at the IPL auction in February, Manpreet Gony's name would have elicited a blank stare from most Indian cricket aficionados. You couldn't blame them either. In five first-class games, Gony had just 13 wickets, and there were no howls of protest when he was signed by the Chennai Super Kings rather than his home franchise, the Kings XI Punjab.
On Saturday night, with a global audience watching, he returned to silence the thousands that had been given Punjab flags to wave in the stands. He had finished the league stage with 14 wickets, twice what Ishant managed, but he saved his best for the biggest game that he's ever played in.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni had gambled by opening the bowling with Muttiah Muralitharan, but after a relatively tidy over, he sensed that pace was the key to settling the contest. With Makhaya Ntini back to his spring-heeled best at one end, Gony was unleashed from the Garware Pavilion End.
It took Gony just two balls to justify his captain's faith. When he moved one away from Kumar Sangakkara, there was little response from the Chennai fielders and only a half-hearted plea from his side. Astonishingly though, Sangakkara walked, as Adam Gilchrist had in a World Cup semi-final against Sri Lanka at Port Elizabeth five years ago.
In his next over, Gony landed the big fish. It was a short delivery and when Yuvraj got into position for the pull, Chennai fans must have feared the worst. Few hit the ball harder, and most eyes had already veered towards the rope by the time Murali stuck his hands out to take a blinder. At 28 for 3, the game was slip-sliding away from the men in red and grey.
When he next stepped up to the bowling crease, Gony came up with what must count as the T20 equivalent of a tiger sighting - the maiden over. And he wasn't bowling to some chump either. Irfan Pathan can wallop the ball a long way, but he couldn't even play it out of the circle as Gony bowled the perfect length at lively pace. And though Mahela Jayawardene finally tapped one behind point for four in his final over, the match had effectively been decidedly two balls earlier, when a catastrophic mix-up sent Pathan on his way.
Gony's delight as he whipped off the bails was palpable, and his spell a true reflection of the manner in which Chennai have revived their season after a really sticky patch. His 16 wickets are the second highest for an Indian fast bowler and it was no surprise that his name came up for consideration when the squad was being chosen for the tri-series in Bangladesh and the Asia Cup.
Compared to what he has gone through recently off the field, bowling six dot balls would have been a breeze. He and his wife lost their first child, a boy, 15 days after he was born. For him, the IPL hasn't just been a chance to stake his cricketing claim, but also an opportunity to move on. Jayawardene lost a younger brother to cancer when he was a star in the making, and has often spoken of how that traumatic experience helped him to treat what happened on the field with equanimity. The man who shredded his team's hopes tonight would probably be inclined to agree.