Moises Henriques struggles for fluency. The Delhi Daredevils bowlers offer little scope for leverage. Back of a length and on fifth stump from Zaheer Khan and Nathan Coulter-Nile. Offspinning darts from Jayant Yadav, against whom Henriques scores only 5 off 11 balls. With only five overs left, Sunrisers Hyderabad are 99 for 4. Henriques is 28 off 27. It is an ugly innings, but he has managed to last long enough to reassess.
Batting has not been easy. The bounce is spongy, and pace erratic. The Raipur pitch doesn't know whom to support. Rather like the Raipur crowd, whose allegiances see-saw like a split-personality. Eventually both settle on something; the people are content to court the camera and have fun at the cricket and the surface mellows once its ransom is paid: time. Henriques stays till the 20th over.
Blind heaves and mistimed cuts give way to nudges and dabs. The humongous outfield allows him a taste of fluency. Nine of his 12 twos are thus found, after the 15th over. He concentrates on lengthening his stay at the crease in hope of bargaining the return of his timing and a competitive total. Off his final 19 balls, he hustles 46 runs, including four sixes and Sunrisers set a target of 164.
Quinton de Kock stands outside his crease. He is a stunning timer of the ball and relishes hitting through the line. His potential astounds AB de Villiers, his national captain and the best batsman in the world. Today, de Kock would make a believer out of David Warner: "He took us by surprise."
Two points lurk as Sunrisers repose faith in the shortish length that constricted strokeplay until now. They forget about de Kock's touch, though. And his fast hands. The second ball of the chase bisects the two fielders square on the off side. Seven more fours and a six would follow that stroke before the Powerplay ends. Daredevils rollick to 49 for 1, de Kock is responsible for 43 of them.
It is a concerted effort to dominate; to ensure the first bite Daredevils took out of the target was a substantial one. And de Kock is hungry. He has been stuck on the bench for 11 games. That's over a month of flitting between cities, going through training and wondering if you'll be picked. Today, Daredevils need a win to stay alive. Today, they decide to use de Kock and he sucker punches Sunrisers, who could have fed him less pace. It took legspinner Karn Sharma two balls to showcase that plan's merits.
Kedar Jadhav walks in with the asking rate approaching double-figures. Nimble-footed and canny, he is a batsman that profits by working angles. A support act of good order but he doesn't look like a batsman who scores at 185.29.
Perhaps that is a curse of perception. He hasn't been a headturner, lately. Spent an India tour to Bangladesh on the sidelines. Made the cut for the 30 probables for the World Cup, but couldn't go further. His Ranji Trophy 2014-15 was disheartening and his eight IPL innings since have barely been ripples. He was fast becoming the generic Indian player in an IPL middle order who gets shunted up and down as the situation merits.
The one he found himself in is dire. At the final time out of the match, his team needs 60 off 30 balls - despite the four fours he struck off his last 10 balls. Tom Moody lingers as the crowd counts down from ten. He points at Ravi Bopara, then Henriques, then specific parts of the ground. An extensive plan is being concocted.
First ball upon resumption, from Praveen Kumar, is hoisted over cover for six by Jadhav. Two full tosses are dispatched and 22 runs robbed from six balls. He wrestles a yorker through third man and celebrates with a rasping square drive to secure his half-century off only 24 balls. The equation now reads 29 off 18.
The trump card
Bhuvneshwar Kumar is having an uproarious affair with the yorker. Originally hailed for his ability to curve the ball at will, and lacking in pace to pose consistent threat at the death, he has routinely been the man Warner throws the ball to in the 19th or the 20th. His pace has improved too. He is Sunrisers' most successful bowler of the season with 17 wickets at an economy of 7.42.
An equation of 22 of 12 holds a gun to his head and says give me a reason. One slip was all the batsmen needed - Jadhav and Saurabh Tiwary had put on 76 off 46 balls so they were well set. Up runs Bhuvneshwar and finds a way to get Jadhav off strike. Then peppers Tiwary's toes, but concedes a leg bye. Reprises the tactic to keep Jadhav's slice to a single again and finishes off with a set of swinging, low full tosses. Only six runs given.
There was a time when his full quota would expire well before the death in limited-overs cricket. MS Dhoni would cite his efficiency with the new ball and lack thereof with the old. Should Bhuvneshwar reprise these tactics, India's death-overs trouble, at one end, might be resolved.
Ishant Sharma sprawls to the ball, clutches it like an heirloom for a moment and then discards it as if he were attracted by something far more pleasing: the realisation that he had just won Sunrisers the match.
Batsmen fancy Ishant in limited-overs cricket. His yorkers can end up in the slot. His stock ball is back of a length and he trusts it explicitly. Using that knowledge a player can devise his counter strategy. Set himself up deep in his crease and wait to get under the ball. James Faulkner did to brutal effect in October 2013. So for Ishant, the 17 off 6 he has to defend today might not have been as taxing as the memories or previous beatings.
This was his third match of the season. Warner is at his ear. The field is being fiddled with. Long leg goes back at the captain's orders but Ishant won't have it and demands he stay inside the circle. He is up for it - the confidence from having given only seven runs in the 18th over, despite a first-ball four.
The 20th begins with a four as well. He gets away with two short balls but resorts to the fuller length soon enough. Seven off one. The crowd hopes for a super over. Instead they see a joyous Ishant bowling a dot, overcoming the doubts and unfurling to his full height with that old toothy grin.