They say a good batsman makes the game look easy. Robin Uthappa has been so prolific for Kolkata Knight Riders since he was bought by the franchise in 2014 - also the year they won their second title - that he was one of the pillars around whom a new squad was assembled in 2018.
His signature shot is the pull off the front foot. The game can't look too difficult when you can consistently do that against raw pace. Oh, and those sixes down the ground against spin, when he just presses forward and extends his arms. For a six-hitter, he is hardly a butcher of the cricket ball. His craft is subtle, he is a timer. Against Mumbai Indians on Sunday night, however, his most precious gift deserted him. What awful timing, and that too in a must-win match for his team.
Even as he was beaten attempting to cut a ball that was too full and too close to his body to execute the shot, there wasn't any sense of prescience about the struggle that lay ahead of him. He repeated the shot two balls later, going harder this time, but only had the second of his myriad meetings with disappointment.
The run rate had begun to dip already. At the end of the Powerplay, Knight Riders were 49 for no loss. Second ball into the ninth over, they were reduced to 56 for two, as Chris Lynn departed, deceived by a slower ball as he tried to get things moving again. Out walked Dinesh Karthik to join his vice-captain. Another over passed by with the run rate coming down to six.
Had they known of the horror in store, perhaps Andre Russell would have been elevated to try and up the ante from one end. But then there was a case for Russell's promotion much earlier, when Shubman Gill was dismissed. Much like in Kolkata against the same opposition, when the openers had set a similar platform for Russell to launch from. Although Uthappa was batting on seven from 11 balls at this stage, in that game, Russell had also managed just six from his first 11 deliveries. Batsmen often take refuge in the truism that the longer you are out there, the easier it gets. It did for Russell, as he finished with an unbeaten 80 off 40 balls. For Uthappa, there was no such release.
By the end of the 11th over, panic started to set in. The cause, a maiden over and a plummeting run rate. It may never be celebrated similarly but at that stage of the game, six consecutive dot balls were a near equivalent of six consecutive sixes. With each swish and a miss, it felt like the law of averages was bound to catch up and there would be a run stolen somewhere. But it wasn't to be. In fact, only once did Uthappa manage to make contact with the ball in that Mitchell McClenaghan over, and on that occasion, he couldn't beat the fielder at extra cover. It seemed as though the harder he tried to release the pressure, the more he tried to butcher the ball and the more he distanced himself from his sense of timing.
In any lower level of cricket, this would have been the tipping point for his partner to run him out on purpose. Instead, it was Knight Riders who perished under the mounting pressure. Meanwhile, Uthappa managed to clear the ropes a couple of times but there was no way to assuage the frustration of a struggle that lasted until the penultimate ball and eventually, resulted in Knight Riders' elimination from the tournament.