Taylor the stronger suit in Kiwi battle
This was a match between two struggling teams but the battle within that contest was between two struggling Kiwis. Brendon McCullum did everything that could have been asked of him in a whirlwind of an innings and threw down the gauntlet for Ross Taylor; he picked it up and replied with a flurry of boundaries. Taylor won the points, McCullum won the crowd's sympathy.
As he sank to his knees at the end, with the haunted look that he has worn almost right through this tournament, someone in the crowd shouted - "Don't worry McCullum, we love you". One wonders what he would have made of the sympathy, if at all he heard it; it's not a sentiment that appeals to sportsmen. Yet one could only sympathise with a man who had done almost everything he could to win the game - till the final overs, when his bowlers let him down and Taylor seized the moment.
Carpe diem is a fine aspiration but not everybody manages to do it. Like McCullum, Taylor was struggling so far, in and out of the team, but exploded in a spectacular way. "It was a relief to contribute," he said later. "It felt good to repay the faith of the management."
Perhaps it was the situation that released him from the recent past. There was only one thing he could do out there after the top-order had been dismissed and the required run rate shot up. Hit out. In moments of trouble, you turn to your strength, your stock weapon. Taylor's is the big mow across the line. Time and again, he walked across and swung everything out of sight to the legside. It revealed as much about his batting as it showed up Kolkata's bowlers. Of his 81 runs, 67 came on the on side with 47 in the arc from midwicket to fine-leg. The equation was 52 from 24 when he began the violent on-side hitting as the bowlers - Ajit Agarkar and Ishant Sharma -choked and sent down full tosses. Game over. As McCullum cursed, Taylor was hugged by his team-mates.
It wasn't all negative for McCullum, though. Indeed, his best moment didn't come when he was batting, although it was a indeed a fine return to form, but when he took a spectacular diving catch on the field. Bangalore had begun the chase well when McCullum flew full stretch to his left, arching back to pluck the ball that seemed to have gone past him. Kallis stood stunned. McCullum's team-mates mobbed him, hugged him, ruffled his hair. It was a private moment being celebrated in public. It was a moment of solidarity for a troubled skipper from a bunch of individuals who had failed to rally as a team. Until now.
McCullum was also one of the first to reach Ganguly and envelop him with a hug when he took a catch a short while later. It's a little moment, something you wouldn't notice or make a big deal off in normal circumstances but there has been nothing remotely normal for this beleagured team in this IPL. The two were involved in another little big moment when they were batting together. McCullum's innings graph might indicate that he settled himself in, willing to look ugly, before going for the jugular in the end. But it didn't exactly happen that way.
It was an adrenalin-charged start, as expected from an attacking batsman who has been runless so far. But he was living on the edge early on. After hitting a four, he charged out to Kallis and had a wild dash, missing the ball completely. Ganguly immediately strode across to have a chat and, as McCullum nodded, Ganguly put a hand on his shoulder and gave him a gentle pat. The next three balls were studiously defended before he unfurled a crisp square drive to fetch another boundary.
Ganguly soon departed but McCullum had got over the solitary moment of madness. He put his head down and, though not in fluent nick, started rotating the strike to the likes of David Hussey, who donned the attacking role. He didn't allow himself another impetuous moment and it wasn't until his 46th ball that he stepped out again, to play a classy inside-out lofted shot off Kumble. Soon after, he unfurled a couple of pull shots off B Akhil and it wasn't until the 19th over that he really tried to improvise. Twice in a row, he paddle-scooped attempted yorkers from Vinay Kumar to fine-leg boundary before swinging the next one to square leg. In the end, though, his bowlers could not ensure that he would be the happy Kiwi celebrating tonight.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo