They say a game can be won or lost in one ball. It's a lovely cliché that normally produces a cynical chuckle in us, but we secretly hope and wait for the day it rings true. We watch sport for its clichés and sometimes, just some times, a game is indeed lost or won in one delivery. Today we witnessed one such instance, when Harmeet Singh took out Robin Uthappa to seal Deccan's third successive win. The equation read 18 from 12 and Uthappa appeared to have had one hand on the Man-of- the-Match award, before it happened.
You felt Harmeet would bowl the slower one. Not only because, like Rajasthan Royals' Siddharth Trivedi, that's his go-to ball under pressure, but also given that Uthappa hadn't yet faced a slower delivery. And so you wondered how Uthappa would face the challenge. There was a deep midwicket, a long-on and a deep square leg in place. The IPL 2008 version of Uthappa would have shuffled to the off and tried scooping it to the boundary. The 2009 version would have just tried walking down the track and hoped, almost desperately, for the best. The 2010 version was the most mature of them all. Surely, you thought, he would be expecting a slower one.
Just before the ball was bowled, there was a delay that added to the drama. Uthappa wanted some water. It was Vinay Kumar, his partner, who frantically signalled the dug-out at the end of the 18th over to come out with refreshments. Uthappa wandered towards the men rushing in from the boundary and Adam Gilchrist was in conversation with Harmeet. Several other team-mates joined in.
Meanwhile, the DJ used the break in play to try his best to pump up the heartbeats. The crowd, at least in the enclosure this writer was seated, looked largely relaxed and yet very curious. There were none of the nail-baiting visuals that would have occurred had it been India playing. Or even if there was a state team playing. Parochialism wasn't in the air tonight. And it was fun to watch. The spectators actually enjoyed the spectacle for what it was. A bowler, a batsman and a game to be won. Or lost.
And it was the slower one. What's more, it was the one bowled like the legbreak. It was something that Sreesanth bowls a lot, but rarely finds success doing so. There are a few things that could go wrong with a back-of-a-hand slower one. The change in action can be easily spotted. It's difficult to control, as Sreesanth has found out various times. It's very difficult to hit the right length with, for many a time the bowler tends to either float it too full or drag it too short. But it's something Harmeet, as he said in the post-match ceremony, has been practicing a lot for this IPL. And so he ripped the ball across.
Uthappa, until then, had been working with a very simple technique. Like Harmeet, it's something Uthappa has worked a lot on. His first move is almost straight back as opposed to back and across. He reckons his big frame is not suitable to be going back and across, as he tends to fall over a bit. He likes to keep things still and this straight-back movement enables that. He presses back and then almost lurches forward, in a movement not unlike a batter in baseball. In the course of this IPL, as was evident in his innings tonight, that is how Uthappa has loaded up for the big hit. Press back, lurch forward and then smoke through the line. Carve. Slash. Blast. Pull. Flat-bat. Slice. And so, Uthappa pressed back.
The ball squeezed out of the fingers, slowed up appreciably in the air, and this is where it all started to go wrong for Uthappa. He was forced to wait, forced to halt the bat-swing, forced to slow down his forward movement and the whole balance, so carefully constructed and something that a batsman is so heavily dependent on, began to go awry. The ball landed and skidded like a legcutter towards the stumps. Uthappa could, perhaps, have tried checking his shot and jabbed the ball away, but he may have been too much into his bat-swing and the execution of his initial thought that he tried to compensate for the slowness by dragging his bat across the line. No luck . The bat met thin air and the ball skidded through to find the stumps. Game over. Sometimes, a game is really decided in one ball. Or so they say.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo