Jacques Kallis isn't often bowled by googlies. Legspinners don't bowl the first ball of a Twenty20 innings; that job is better left to bowlers of fast offbreaks, if at all a spinner is needed. Legspinners don't go round the stumps and beat a batsman in the flight, and then the wicketkeeper with sharp turn. Classical legspinners, Shane Warne excepted, are anyway not welcome in Twenty20 cricket. Amit Mishra has done all that, without giving up on the basics of orthodox legspin bowling.
On Thursday, with Royal Challengers Bangalore off to a good start in their chase, Delhi Daredevils were hurtling towards the bottom of the table when Mishra was introduced. The opposition at 55 for 0 in seven overs is no time to be brought on in a Twenty20 game. Kallis and Manish Pandey had not yet gone manic, and after a solid beginning the assault was expected. People in the stands behind extra cover (for Kallis) and midwicket for Pandey) were bracing themselves.
Mishra would have been forgiven had he started with a flat delivery, just to test the waters. But no. Out came a loopy legbreak first ball, followed by another, and by the end of a four-run over he had also surprised Pandey with a googly. In his next over came the real delicious blow.
It was only a matter of time before Kallis would look to go inside-out, and he did it to the fifth ball he faced from Mishra. This one turned out to be the googly, and Kallis was left stranded. Robin Uthappa came out and reverse-swept him first ball for four. Mishra's response was to flight the next ball even more.
In the next over, the pressure created by Mishra yielded two Bangalore wickets, and the whole game had come down to Uthappa. He has been in superb form this IPL, be it with lusty straight hitting, the cute reverse-sweeps or late-cuts. Mishra v Uthappa seemed like the contest that would settle the match. A big over would put Bangalore on course, a wicket or even a tight over would make Delhi the favourites.
Mishra's captain, Dinesh Karthik, played ball and kept him on. Both Uthappa and Eoin Morgan tried to put him off by reverse-sweeping him. Not happening. When Uthappa went for his final, fatal, reverse-sweep, Mishra shortened the length slightly, which meant the ball bounced slightly more, and the edge was taken. Three overs of smart, classical legspin, and the match was won.
This performance from Mishra was no fluke. Since his hat-trick and five-for in the first IPL, Mishra has been an important part of Delhi's line-up. His IPL performance was, in fact, the nudge that reminded the selectors of his first-class exploits and put him ahead of Piyush Chawla in the spinners' pecking order. Mishra will also agree that he has been a better bowler in Twenty20s than Tests; that the batsmen are under pressure to go after him helps him get his wickets. This is another rare sight: a legspinner thriving on Twenty20 cricket. That he does it with flight and drift is refreshing.