Canny spinners keep Punjab alive
What a game. There were several heart-stopping moments - Ramesh Powar's magic ball to Adam Gilchrist; Yuvraj Singh's ripper to remove Andrew Symonds; Rohit Sharma's sensational hitting; Irfan Pathan's composure at the death. But the key moment of the game came after the second ball in the last over.
Rohit had just let a wide pass him by and took a mini-stroll towards point. Perhaps he was trying to control the adrenalin. Perhaps he was thinking about that one big match-winning hit. Irfan stood at the top of his run-up. As Rohit returned to the crease, Ryan Harris, the non-striker, started to walk towards him to say something. Rohit waved his hand and Harris returned immediately. The chat never happened. It's that confidence that allowed Rohit to win the game last night and almost steal it here.
He likes to be his own man. He has the skills to go with that attitude but perhaps that chat might have helped him cool down. We'll never know. With only the tailenders to come, Rohit went for the mighty slog but was cleaned up by the slower one. The cooler man - in this case Irfan - triumphed. Harris shook his head.
"I knew he [Rohit] was waiting for the yorker next ball, but I tried a different kind of slower ball," Irfan said later. It was still not over but it was when RP Singh also went for the ugly swipe.
Punjab have once again done the Houdini act to stay alive in the competition. Every time Deccan Chargers threatened to get away, Kings XI Punjab came roaring back. Powar was the first to put his hand up. Besides Shane Warne, Powar in full flight is the spinner who provides the most visual delight in world cricket today. The sheer courage to flight as he does is admirable. The confidence to keep slowing the ball and almost pausing it in the trajectory is a jaw-dropping delight - and you have to love fat men who do well.
Kumar Sangakkara had earlier told Cricinfo how much he admires Powar. "As a wicketkeeper I don't know when the ball is going to come to me and I am not even trying to hit him! Imagine the batsmen's plight." As Gilchrist found out today. It was the ball of the IPL from a spinner.
Let's examine the context first. Gilchrist, one of the most destructive batsmen around, was in full flow, and had just carted Irfan around the park. Powar was thrown the ball within the Powerplays. Powar's strength is the ability to lure, almost tempt the batsman's ego to commit a mistake. Gilchrist stepped out but the ball never came. He took another step and the bat had already started its downward swing. He couldn't check it. He had to go the whole hog. And he did. Gone!
T Suman, who always seems to be playing in fifth gear - that's his role - tried to hit Powar first ball. Powar is especially lethal when the batsman is trying to go after him and when he hasn't played him much. When you are settled and used to his pace, Powar can be easy to put away but Twenty20 doesn't allow batsmen to take their time. The various ways he deploys to lose pace is fascinating.
"Sometimes you don't tweak the wrist - just let it go. Sometimes you hold the ball in the palm, sometimes you hold it in two fingers rather than three," Powar had said earlier. It's a tough art to retain in this modern day of meaty bats where top-edges go for sixes. But he sticks to it like only he can.
Then there is Yuvraj. Who would have thought he would take another hat-trick? He didn't even know it today. He only realised when the big screen flashed it. This effort easily topped the one against Royal Challengers Bangalore. Despite Powar's efforts, the match was hanging on a knife's edge with a resolute Symonds intent on staying till the end.
Yuvraj tried the armer, the slow not-turning-much left-arm breaks but couldn't get Symonds go after him. He had attempted the sharply turning left-arm spinner in his previous over, and nearly had his man stumped. Emboldened, he tweaked another in the next over and a stumbling Sangakkara whipped off the bails to remove dismiss a stranded Symonds. Yuvraj was ecstatic.
But Rohit was still not thinking about a loss. It took Irfan, with a bit of help from Rohit, to close the lid. "Yes there is lots of money, but I swear to you there is nothing greater than the sheer joy of doing well, a great wicket, a match-turning wicket or an innings. This is what I live for now," Irfan said earlier this week. When one saw the sheer joy on his face at the end, one had to believe what he said then.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo