December 2, 2008

November madness

Cricinfo staff
A crazy debut, bonkers hitting, and a wacky collapse

Yuvi goes bananas in Rajkot © Getty Images

The Debut
The joke doing the rounds was that Yuvraj Singh, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli had punished Jason Krejza too much in the Hyderabad tour game, thus denying India easy pickings in the Tests. Then Krejza finally debuted in the Nagpur Test, and Virender Sehwag welcomed him to the big, bad world. The first ball Krejza bowled sped over his head for four; the next went over long-on for six. Call him a masochist: Krejza kept flighting the ball, kept suckering the batsmen, who were either too apprehensive (Rahul Dravid), or over-confident (Sehwag, VVS Laxman). The runs flowed freely, the wickets kept falling, and a weird debut was completed: 12 wickets for 358 runs. Only three bowlers have taken more wickets in their debut Test; none of those gave away even half as many runs as Krejza did in Nagpur. In fact, only one man - West Indies' Tommy Scott - has ever conceded more runs in a Test: 9 for 374 in the famous nine-day-long timeless match in Kingston in 1929-30. Long live the spinning millionaires.

The Finish
What do you do with Kamran Akmal? He has got to the point where when he takes a clean catch, those around him react like Justin Langer used to upon being dismissed in any manner save clean bowled. With the bat Akmal has been rather more reliable, producing extraordinary rescues - like in Karachi in 2005-06, where he pulled a century out of his hat to guide Pakistan from the depths of 39 for 6, and in Kolkata and Mohali where again his hundreds help salvage draws. Akmal's latest rearguard resulted in a win. In the first one-dayer against West Indies in Abu Dhabi, Pakistan had struggled to keep up all through the chase of West Indies' 294, and needed 17 runs off the last over, to be bowled by Jerome Taylor, whose figures till then read 9-0-37-2. Down went Akmal on one knee, and almost straight-swept the second delivery of the over for a six over long-off. The next one he sliced over point for maximum - and this in a proper cricket ground, not the pocket-sized masqueraders we get nowadays. The fourth ball went for three, courtesy an overthrow, and Pakistan went on to complete an incredible win.

The Catch
In the dying stages of the second of the best-of-three ICL finals, as Saqlain Mushtaq and Mohammad Sami moved steadily closer towards towards stealing another win for the Lahore Badshahs, Justin Kemp produced a feat of freakish genius. Fielding on the long-off boundary, he knew exactly where the rope was, inches behind him, and he knew when and how high he would need to jump to catch the ball when it headed for the fence off Sami in the 18th over. Kemp leapt to his left, twisted, stuck his hand out, completed the catch with his palm facing the ground, and got his right foot around just in time to get the amount of control he needed to ensure he fell inside the boundary. Saqlain and Sami had added 30 runs in 17 balls for the ninth wicket, bringing the target down to 27 off 15, but that proved a bridge too far for the Badshahs.

The Stroke
Yuvraj Singh hit not a few stunning shots in his 78-ball 138 in the first ODI, in Rajkot, and two of those were striking enough to give MS Dhoni's patented topspin whip a run for its money. In the 47th over of India's innings, Andrew Flintoff bowled a perfectly decent delivery, just a touch shorter than a yorker. Yuvraj's bat went high and came down heavily, whereupon it seemed to hesitate, as if he had changed his mind about playing the shot. The bat-swing stopped on contact; it was like a chip shot in golf. The result was a six over long-off. For good measure, Yuvraj provided an encore in the 49th over, this time for four.

A drive here, a dab there, and what do you know, that's the 200 up © AFP

The Test Innings
That Laxman's double-century of pure bliss came at the ugly Feroz Shah Kotla made it all the more striking. That it came against Australia was predictable, and such was the beauty of the innings that it was as exhilarating as it was unsurprising. He flicked the full, wide ones past mid-on; whipped the slow bowlers against the spin or inside out; drove the fast men wristily past covers; and for as long as he was at the crease, made the fielders and their placement more or less redundant. Laxman's innings put into the shade Gautam Gambhir's maiden double-century, the various altercations between Gambhir and the Australians, and perhaps even Anil Kumble's retirement, announced during the match. Fittingly, it was the innings where he went past 2000 Test runs against Australia, and his second highest Test score.

The Twenty20 Innings
Lahore Badshahs had lost the second ICL final, a tight match, to let Hyderabad Heroes back into the series, much like they had done the previous season. But if they were beginning to be haunted by the memories, those were quelled almost as soon as Imran Nazir came out in the final game to chase Hyderabad's 158. The first ball he faced, from Abdul Razzaq, who had been colossally successful in the series till then, he deposited over the extra-cover boundary. The next delivery went wide of fine leg for four, and there were two more sixes, back to back, in the over. It set the tone for an innings of exquisite carnage, as violent as it was brief: 11 sixes, seven fours, in 43 balls, capped with an extraordinary last over, the 14th, that read 6, 4, 6, 4, 6. The innings was a delight for close to 50,000 who had come to watch, but a pain for the cheerleaders, who had to strut their stuff after just about every delivery.

The Allrounder
Yuvraj followed up his murderous assault in Rajkot with a responsible and calculated effort in Indore, his second century in a row. India were 29 for 3 on a tricky pitch when he came in. Stuart Broad and Flintoff had their tails up, sniffing blood. This was no slam-bang, hit-and-giggle affair. An innings had to be rebuilt, and a late impetus provided. Yuvraj did that and more. He scored only 12 off the first 26 balls he faced, but once he was settled he played at a consistent pace, never letting England control the game, scoring at or near a run a ball and finishing with 118 off 122. Then, just to make sure the effort was not lost on England, he dismissed four of their top five batsmen. Remember Sachin Tendulkar, the allrounder, from the nineties?

After me, the deluge: Stuart Matsikenyeri is out for 21, triggering the mother of all collapses © AFP

The Move
If you're looking for smooth operators, cast the eye no further than Chris Gayle. There's no proving it, but the most imperturbable figure in the game pulled off what just may have been one of the slickest tricks seen on a cricket field, during the third ODI against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi. Rao Iftikhar Anjum was in the middle of an inspirational spell that had pulled West Indies back from 168 for 1 to 193 for 4, when Gayle guided one from Anjum off the face of the bat through to the keeper. A big shout followed - though short-lived, because the fielding side saw Gayle walking… but only as far as the middle of the pitch, it soon became apparent, to confer with the non-striker, because it was the last ball of the over. The celebrating Pakistanis didn't know quite what to do; the moment had passed where they could cast questioning looks at the umpire. They came up instead and had a chat with Gayle, but obviously their skills of persuasion weren't the greatest. Gayle, on 99 at the time, went on to score 122. Mercifully for Pakistan, the incident didn't much matter - they won comfortably, by 31 runs.

The Collapse
No one with even a passing familiarity with the game would do more than raise a casual eyebrow on hearing of a Zimbabwe batting collapse. The latest, though, in the first ODI against Sri Lanka took the cake, the plate it sat on, and the table beneath, in a five-star effort designed to rouse just such jaded watchers from their stupor. From the positively rosy-cheeked health of 124 for 3, Zimbabwe tottered dramatically to six down with no runs added to their score in the course of one Muttiah Muralitharan over. Tatenda Taibu managed to add one run before a further two wickets fell in the next over, from Ajantha Mendis. No. 10 Tawanda Mupariwa hung on like grim death for all of four balls, during which Taibu managed to score another run. Christopher Mpofu lasted three balls for none. And that was that: 127 all out, six ducks by the last six batsmen, Taibu not out on 36, Murali finishing with figures of 4 for 14, and Mendis shockingly profligate in comparison with 3 for 26.