No holds barred
It was once said of Brian Lara's batting that the opposing captain's only hope was to place his fielders in the gaps. Roughly the same thought would have gone through Virender Sehwag's mind today as he watched his bowlers being taken apart, brilliantly and brutally, by Adam Gilchrist . To reduce a Gilchrist knock to statistics is a crime but one number today tells a story: There were five dot balls in his 85. Just five. Within 17 balls, by when he had reached his fifty, he had killed the game and knocked out Delhi, the strongest team in the competition.
Gilchrist in full flow has to be one of the most pleasing sights in cricket. There is not a single ugly shot; the smooth arc of the bat swing and the clean hitting is what you take away. Through his career he has done the improbable - made happy both the purists and those who seek instant gratification.
Tonight, he exhibited his best, which was lapped up by a strong Centurion crowd. The white ball kept flying everywhere but the shot of the day was the one that never left the ground. He leaned forward to time a full length delivery from Ashish Nehra and it raced away through wide mid-off. Not that any of the other shots, barring a drag-pull, were anything but gorgeous.
The thing that most catches the eye is his extension of the arms. Where the traditional batsmen stop their arm-swing, Gilchrist's arms go cleanly through the line of the ball. You can only marvel at the absence of any self-doubt that allows him to play like that.
For, rest assured, any self-doubt in the mind would inevitably raise questions. What if the ball cuts away fractionally? What if it keeps slightly low or higher than what one expected? What if the length is fractionally shorter or fuller than what one thought? What if the pace is slower than anticipated? This is where it gets fascinating. Gilchrist has admitted that he is a very sensitive type prone to doubting himself in life; you can only gasp at the transformation when he has bat in hand. He is not a Keith Miller; with Miller or Sobers or Richards, the batting seemed a logical extension of their personality. Not so with Gilchrist. Perhaps it's the release from himself that he seeks while at the crease.
Gilchrist himself put it eloquently after the game. "All I have asked my team in the tournament is to make whatever is happening in that moment [while you are in middle] the most important moment in your life. The next delivery is the most important thing in your life because there is nothing else going around at that moment."
Nothing else but the sound of nerves shredding among the Delhi bowlers as they ran in. Yet you couldn't blame them. There weren't too many bad balls in the conventional sense; just a couple of full tosses, nothing wide or too short or too full. Even the two full tosses came at the free hits. The pressure to bowl the yorker or the unhittable ball must have eventually strangled them.
Only high-quality spin could have saved the day, as it did the other when Ramesh Powar bowled a magical ball to dismiss Gilchrist. Pace plays to his strength; to force the error, you have to make the adrenalin rush to his head by slowing it up and making him go after it. Delhi, though, didn't dare use Amit Mishra during the Powerplays. It was their only chance but Sehwag didn't want to take that risk. Perhaps it's a trick he missed; there's no guarantee it would have been effective - he could have disappeared for plenty - but given the seamers were so shell-shocked they didn't try a single slower one, that's the only thing he could have done.
Spare a thought, though, for Delhi. They were the strongest team in the competition, comfortably ahead in the league table and winning nearly everything in sight, but came undone in the semi-final. Gautam Gambhir and David Warner couldn't deliver when it mattered; nor could their quality seamers produce the one special ball that could have made the difference. They couldn't raise their game under pressure.
Their innings started off like Sri Lanka's game against India in the 1996 World Cup semi-final. Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana fell as soon as they arrived at the crease then; today Gambhir and Warner went early. Aravinda de Silva played one of the best innings in World Cup history to turn things around for them, then. Sehwag looked like he was on his way to reprise that knock but couldn't survive the strategy break. That killed the momentum and the innings, despite Tillekaratne Dilshan's efforts, fell short of a matchwinning total.
But when Gilchrist is such a mood, who can say what is a match-winning total? There is no shame in losing to a dazzling act like this. It doesn't happen every day. Or could it? We have to wait for the final to find out whether Gilchrist has more fuel left in his tank.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo