With Hussey, maiden doesn't mean all over

Michael Hussey swivels and plays a pull shot BCCI

It could be a complete coincidence, or perhaps not, but two of the best batsmen in Twenty20 cricket have faced the most maidens in the IPL. Chris Gayle has gone through four run-less overs. When Michael Hussey was done blocking out Dale Steyn in the first over of this match, he had faced his third maiden of the IPL.

In a format that a couple of dot balls often result in stupid dismissals, here are batsmen playing out 5% of a team's resources without scoring a run. That should put teams under immense pressure, right? Wrong. Of the seven times Hussey and Gayle have played out a maiden, their side has lost on only one occasion. Twice Gayle has scored a century after facing a maiden.

Gayle has been well documented. He just bides his time, picks his bowlers, and then goes boom. Because he knows he can, because he knows fielders and boundaries don't mean anything to him once he starts hitting.

What of Hussey then? On the surface it might sound surprising that Hussey comes back from these slow starts often, but he is possibly the likelier of the two to do so. The number of times his team, Chennai Super Kings, have gone from around 60 in 10 overs to 160 in 20 suggests he has done so more consistently.

It is perhaps logical that Hussey should do it as often as Gayle, if not more. He is a more complete batsman. Until he surprised everyone by suddenly giving up international cricket, he was one of the few batsmen in the world who was equally good at all three formats. However, whether it is Gayle or Hussey, the acceleration from slow starts is easier said than done.

The pressure of dots balls can be enormous in Twenty20 cricket. You begin to owe your team that many balls as soon as you start playing those dots. If you fall mid-acceleration, for, say, 20 off 25, you end up doing your team a disservice. You leave yourself no other option but to play about 40 balls and make up for those starts. You have to be extremely sure of your game to be doing that often.

Not many know their own game better than Hussey does. He knows he can always fall back on three foundations of his Twenty20 batting: his running, the cover-drive that he plays as well as anyone, and the shovel pull that he hardly ever fails at.

It is not as if he deliberately plays out deliveries at the top. He minimises the risks while the pitch is a stranger. While most openers try to get the hitting out of the way, Hussey waits, as he did today. This was a ground where 130 had been the season's highest score. Hussey was out there with an opening partner who has not been through the best of seasons. Super Kings were against bowlers who have kept their side in the competition without much help at all from their batsmen. And the leader of that pack, Steyn, was about to bowl outswingers at mid-140kmph and register the second-best IPL figures for a bowler in a score of 200 or more.

Four defensive shots covering the swing, one leave outside off, and one hit on the inside half of the bat. All of a sudden it's 19 overs v 20. Only two runs would come off the next Steyn over. Almost inconspicuously, though, Hussey followed the pattern: change gears, turn a single into a two here, nudge a four there, and while you are looking at Vijay's three sixes off Ishant Sharma Hussey has quietly reached 14 from 11.

Vijay fell, but Hussey kept on doing what he does: run hard, drive supremely, go deep in the crease and bend his knees to manufacture his own length and play the shovel pull. Along the way he reclaimed the Orange Cap. By the time he fell, having scored at a strike-rate of 160, you had even forgotten the game had begun with a maiden. Quite possibly because Hussey had played out that maiden.