Deccan benefit as Smith and Vaas prove their point
Deccan Chargers made two changes for this game and it changed their fortunes. Dwayne Smith hadn't played the last game and Chaminda Vaas hadn't played at all this season but Deccan bit the bullet and dropped Herschelle Gibbs, off colour after starting the tournament in a fury, and Ryan Harris, and reaped the benefits of their bold gamble.
Smith, with 214 runs at 30.57 and a strike rate of 164.61 this IPL, has shown the world and the WICB selectors what he can do. Actually, everyone knows what he can do; it's what he does in the middle - or not - that has thrilled and infuriated Caribbean fans. After a immensely promising debut, where he smashed a Test hundred against South Africa in South Africa, he has slowly let himself go the way of Ricardo Powell.
His script was simple: Flashy big hits, a thrilling six and an adrenalin-fuelled dismissal. Far too often he would get cleaned up by the full delivery or hole out to mid-on or mid-off, trying to force the length ball over the infield; no wonder he was nicknamed "Tarzan" in the Caribbean. Worse, he seemed to repeat his mistakes, unable to check the bat swing that starts slightly too early. Today, he played himself in, playing with soft hands and, importantly, showing immense wisdom in shot selection.
It was much later that he unfurled his trademark swings over midwicket and long-on to push Hyderabad to a defendable total. It was an innings that highlighted his steady improvement from those early days. Through this tournament, he has spoken about his commitment and desire to get a call back to the West Indies team and has, importantly, admitted his mistakes in the past. If the first step towards solving a problem is admitting you have one, Smith has taken some giant strides.
After the match, he revealed his gameplan. "All I wanted to do was keep playing straight, get singles and get to the end to have a blast." It's too early to say whether Smith Version 2 has arrived but it's very possibly in the beta stage. Asked about the fact that he seems to have got bit more methodical in his hitting, he pointed to his Sussex stint last year as the turning point - where, he said, his county coaches helped out with his mental transformation.
If Smith's is a story of a man trying to forget his past, Vaas is a man desperate to show he doesn't belong in the past. This IPL was threatening to go the same way as his international limited-overs career has been unravelling. The Sri Lankan think-tank wants to look beyond Vaas and build for the future but the man refuses to fade away.
Today, he got his first game in the IPL and he delivered. First ball. He trapped Smith with a delivery shaping in and, though it might have hit the batsman high, Vaas cashed in on his appeal. What a pressure-relieving moment it must have been, even for such an experienced campaigner. A little later, after a series of deliveries that strangled Lee Carseldine, he had him stumped by an alert Gilchrist. Swapnil Asnodkar tried to go after him but never found the ball in the slot.
Typical Vaas. He might have lost pace but his skills have actually improved with age. The inswing has got better, he learned reverse swing and mastered the variations of pace beautifully. Today, he deployed his repertoire to almost kill the chase even before the Powerplays ended. Smith and Vaas have created more selection headaches for Gilchrist - but he's unlikely to reach for the aspirin.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo