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March 13, 2010
The fastest bowler in cricket was in town. His tussle with Sachin Tendulkar had already created the buzz, and thousands braved the scorching afternoon sun to line up outside the Brabourne Stadium two hours before the scheduled start. Shaun Tait paced around marking his run-up minutes after Mumbai chose to bat, aware of the hype preceding his IPL debut.
The sense of drama was heightened further when Shane Warne delayed Tait's IPL baptism by asking Dmitri Mascarenhas to bowl the first over. Finally, when Tait charged in with his rhythmic run-up, he started poorly, slinging two wides behind Sanath Jayasuriya's legs. But his first legitimate ball nearly took out Jayasuriya, whose 40-year-old reflexes were too slow to pick the toe-crusher, and, if not for a bottom edge, the Sri Lankan's stumps would have been splayed. Unfortunately, Tait never repeated that delivery again in the innings.
Last evening, Adam Gilchrist, who used to keep wickets to Tait for Australia, had said raw pace on Indian pitches would be ineffective if the ball was not pitched in the right areas. It is a cliché, but it also happens to be one of the basic rules of fast bowling. Tendulkar had already knocked down Tait's challenge with two neatly tucked on-drives that raced to the ropes.
Once the big-name opening pair was dismissed, Tait had a golden opportunity to hit back by winning the smaller duels, like the one against another newcomer Aditya Tare. Instead of dominating Tare, Tait ended up being dominated as he bowled short on to the batsman's hips to begin with and later pitched it short on the off side, giving enough space for the batsman to free his arms.
Warne had already taken Kamran Khan out of the attack after his first over and was relying on Tait to halt Mumbai's charge. Last year, Kamran's debut IPL season was aborted after a few games due to a suspect action. By picking him today ahead of a senior bowler like Munaf Patel, Warne had taken a big gamble. Tait's inconsistency only added to the captain's worries.
Clearly, Tait was still struggling when he came back at death. Immediately, he sprayed five wides and then delivered half-volleys, picked and dispatched easily by the Mumbai batsmen.
In stark contrast, another bowler with a slingy action, Lasith Malinga, was at the top of his game at the Brabourne. Unlike Tait, who relied solely on pace, he allied accuracy to pace, making an instant impact. Pitching much fuller, Malinga suffocated the batsmen for space while smartly varying his speed all the time. The slower bouncer was deftly utilised - it even beat the marauding bat of Yusuf Pathan, the first centurion of the third IPL.
Malinga was brought in during the crunch moments and he did not disappoint. Unlike Warne, who had split Tait's four overs into two spells at the two ends of the innings, Tendulkar brought back Malinga for an over when Yusuf had just started his rampage and then for the crucial final over. Rajasthan had ransacked 62 runs in three overs, forcing Tendulkar to re-think his strategy. Next over, the 14th, Malinga came back and kept Paras Dogra tied for the first five balls before Yusuf biffed a resounding straight drive for four.
The atmosphere inside Brabourne had reached a crescendo when Malinga returned to deliver the final over, which he started with an athletic run-out of Dogra, followed by Amit Uniyal playing on to the stumps. Chants of "Malinga, Malinga" reverberated across the stadium as Rajasthan lost their steam. Tait sat in the dugout deflated, and could only appreciate the Sri Lankan's skills. "Malinga showed what you can do in the end and hopefully Shaun can learn from that," Warne said after the defeat.
In the absence of Shane Watson, Warne will rely heavily on Tait to make an impact. Perhaps, he got carried away today after his captain had sold him as the season's best-selling ticket. Tait needs to start delivering or he could end up as a flop show.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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