File under "Sights I Never Expected to See": Matthew Hayden, post international retirement, clobbering bowlers all around an international stadium with what looked like a baby's brass rattle in those paws of his. Here's introducing Matt the Bat, now with a longer handle, aka the Mongoose bat.
For the uninitiated, the Mongoose is a something of a miniature version of a normal cricket bat, but it has two distinguishing features: the handle is as long as the blade and the splice, which normal bats have in the blade, is built into that handle to guarantee a clean hitting surface on the bat. Its USP - if you've been following events in the build-up to the IPL - is that it essentially allows a batsman to hit harder and further without changing the way he plays. On the basis of what Hayden achieved at the Feroz Shah Kotla today, the Mongoose suits Twenty20 to the T.
Its short, stocky frame - the base is reportedly five centimeters - allows for sweet timing and that was as evident as crystal. The first sign that Hayden, after two poor games, was roaring back in to form came in the second over when he slammed three boundaries in four balls.
The Mongoose made its debut in the second ball of the fourth over, after Hayden had already muscled some good shots with his normal blade. He's has always wielded the bat like a club, but here was Hayden with a big handle and small blade. To the naked eye, the Mongoose looked silly in his bear hands. In fact, at first it just didn't look right. Surely he would mishit one, inside-edge one onto his stumps, fail to reach out to a spinner, or be caught short of his crease while putting in a dive? None happened.
The first shot Hayden played with the Mongoose was a letdown. He went for an ugly heave and got a streaky single to the leg side. You can't time a cricket ball at pace with that toothpick, was the common assumption. Then Rajat Bhatia came in to the attack for some military medium stuff, only to feel the full effect of what Hayden and his buddy could do. Bhatia to Hayden was never going to be a key contest, but this was too one-sided. Hayden swept four to fine leg, slammed a straight six, tickled another off the pads for four, and slogged four to long-on. Bhatia was nonplussed.
Right, so this thing can do a bit, you started to think. But what about against spin, when the pace is taken off and the pitch plays a bit slow and low? The answer came all too soon, as Tillakaratne Dilshan was called on for some offspin in the eighth over. Hayden was back at his furious best: Dilshan tossed it up and the punishment was immediate - three sixes stung Delhi and sent the crowd into raptures. The second was a mishit but still soared into the stands. You marveled at the distance the ball travelled after it struck the blade of the bat.
The Mongoose didn't restrict Hayden in any way, as you might have expected it to. What it lacks in reach, it more than makes up for with effect. Length balls were swatted over the infield nonchalantly; those that hit the edges ran away to fine leg or third man; two balls that came off the toe end sped past extra cover; those that hit the sweet spot just disappeared. A low full toss from Dirk Nannes - and it's for this specific delivery and the yorker that the Mongoose could prove to be most crucial - was sent speeding past short fine leg.
The Mongoose didn't require Hayden to change his grip or style, but it did allow him to smack the ball harder and further. It was the perfect remedy for Hayden to strike form and Chennai to canter home. On the evidence of what we saw this evening, its power really is phenomenal.
Watching Hayden in full flow is one of the more delightful viewing experiences today, his brute force and style elevating him above many currently active hard-hitting batsmen in international cricket. But watching him with that little thing in his hands was something else. Cricket has traditionally been averse to change and innovation, but watching Hayden bludgeon both pace and spin around the park, you cannot help but wonder - will the Mongoose make its way onto the international scene?
In 1983, Tony Montana blasted through a door firing his automatic machine gun and screaming six words that went on to become part of cinema lore - "Say hello to my little friend!" Twenty-seven years later, a man who has already etched his name cricket's history with a pivotal role in how openers approached the game unveiled a small piece of willow that threatens to further revolutionize batting. Talk about creative mojo.