May 2, 2008

Screamers, snorters, scars

April 2008 will forever be remembered for the dawn of the IPL, but there's plenty of action from elsewhere in our round-up of the month's on-field highlights

Ganguly v South Africa: difficult pitch, what difficult pitch? © AFP

The Catch
Usually, a spectacular catch is accentuated by the tightness of the match situation, the quality of the batsman, and so on, but this one was so good it stood independent of the variables. R Sathish, representing Chennai in the ICL, took audacity to a new level when he caught Kolkata's Upul Chandana on the midwicket boundary in their third-place playoff game. Having taken the catch, Sathish realised he would fall over the boundary and lobbed the ball back into the playing area, recovered his balance, came back in and dived full-length to catch it again.

The Innings
Looking to avoid an embarrassing series defeat, India took on South Africa in Kanpur, on a track that started cracking on day one, spinning in the first session, and making batting look extremely difficult. Advantage India? Not quite. After South Africa scored 265, their fast bowlers made life hell for the Indian batsmen, and at 123 for 4 India looked like they might lose on a track tailormade for them. Up stepped Sourav Ganguly, who not only survived, but took control of the rest of the innings, scoring 87 out of the 166 runs that were made during his stay at the crease. His runs came in just 119 deliveries, but he never looked hurried. His innings carried India past South Africa's total, and laid the foundation for a face-saving Test win. Ganguly later called it one of his best innings in Test cricket, and for good reason.

The Freak
The ICC Technical Committee and the Association of Cricket Statisticians will do well to meet soon and decide on an official bowling style for Ajantha Mendis. Chances are they will have to settle for an arbitrary choice or an insufficiently descriptive one. Mendis, who made his international debut against West Indies earlier this month, bowls orthodox offbreaks, legbreaks with a flick of the middle finger, googlies, and doosras, all without major changes in action between each, seemingly caressing the ball out of his fingers. Mendis has already drawn comparisons for freakishness with the original mystery spinner, Jack "Wrong Grip" Iverson. The West Indians didn't pick him, and nor, apparently, do the Sri Lankans themselves, who say they have a hard time reading him (he has taken 111 wickets in 19 first-class games so far). A delicious new chapter might be waiting to be added to the annals of spin bowling.

The Finish
Chetan Sharma hasn't recovered from the full-toss he bowled Javed Miandad on his legs on a Sharjah evening in 1986. It will take some time before Chaminda Vaas recovers from the one he bowled to Shivnarine Chanderpaul in Trinidad on April 10. Earlier in the game Chanderpaul had helped keep West Indies in the contest, and finally brought it down to 13 runs needed off the last over. With nine wickets down and two balls to go, West Indies needed ten. Chanderpaul hit the first one down and along the ground for four, and the next, the full-toss, over midwicket, where Mahela Jayawardene, the captain, could do no more than cast an anguished look at his most experienced bowler.

Mendis has already drawn comparisons for freakishness with the original mystery spinner, Jack "Wrong Grip" Iverson. The West Indians didn't pick him, and the Sri Lankans say they have hard time doing so as well

The Snorters
Three absolute peaches bowled in April will be remembered for some time - at least by the batsmen who faced them, at any rate. Two of them were faced by Rahul Dravid. In the Ahmedabad Test, Dale Steyn got him with one that looked to be angling in, pitched on middle, and took the off stump.

On the minefield in Kanpur, Morne Morkel nailed Dravid with one that rose abruptly from a good length and hit him on the hand; Dravid lost his wicket and almost his wrist.

Mahela Jayawardene got the third jaffa, from Jerome Taylor, at the Queen's Park Oval. It was almost a repeat of Steyn to Dravid - a little better perhaps: a bit shorter, it squared Jayawardene up and took the bail on its way to the wicketkeeper. It even momentarily fooled the bowler, who appealed for a caught-behind, and the umpire, who raised the finger.

The Blitz
The IPL may have been launched with much fanfare, but it also had its work cut out, having to overcome skepticism from various quarters. The tournament needed a kickstart, and that's exactly what it got. What Brendon McCullum did in Bangalore on opening night will possibly not be bettered anytime soon: there have been three further centuries so far, but none so scintillating or as big. A score of 158 in a 50-over game would qualify as a monstrosity; this was a 20-over game. And it was not a rank featherbed by any account: the next best score in the match was 20.

The Maximums
In a month full of six-hitting, two stood out for their sheer size. And one came from, surprise, the Ahmedabad Test. AB de Villiers, during his marathon of 217, was beaten in the flight by Harbhajan Singh, but managed to adjust, heaving the ball onto the roof of the Saradar Patel Stadium, one of the biggest grounds in India, before losing his balance and falling over on his back.

The second was by another South African wicketkeeper-batsman, Mark Boucher, who in the process of pulling off a chase for Bangalore against Mumbai, hit Ashish Nehra straight onto the roof of the Wankhede Stadium - a hit that decisively turned the game Bangalore's way.

Sealed with a six: Chanders gets the better of Sri Lanka © AFP

The Blow
For Dominic Thornely, who plays first-class cricket for New South Wales and is now representing Mumbai, the IPL has proved to be a short-lived venture. It ended with the fifth ball he faced, a lifter from Zaheer Khan that he top-edged into his helmet. The TV telecast cut away for a break, and when the transmission came back, Robin Uthappa had come out to replace Thornely, and blood was being mopped off the pitch. Thornely needed 15 stitches above his eye, and is unlikely to play another game for Mumbai this season.

The Sequence
In the course of his 41-ball 94 for Delhi against Hyderabad, Virender Sehwag took Andrew Symonds for the most expensive over of the tournament so far: 30 runs. And he managed to carve out a certain rhythm (4, 6, 4, 6, 4, 6) as he toyed with Hyderabad's most expensive pick. The first one went over extra cover, the second over long-leg, the third through square-leg, the fourth over cover, the fifth through midwicket, and the last sailing over long-on.

The Mismatches
The ICC World Cricket League, Africa Region, was a great breeding ground for mismatches. In the semi-final, Ghana bowled Rwanda out for 23, extras being the highest contributor to Rwanda's total, with 9. Ghana's opening bowlers took all the wickets: six went to Isaac Aboagye, and four to Abdul-Karim Sumaila, and the scorecard looked like the proverbial telephone number.

Earlier in the tournament, Mali made for a good punching bag, getting bowled out twice in two days for a total of 36 runs. They replied with 12 to Sierra Leone's 391, and batting first, scored 24 against Ghana.

Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo