Is there purity in slogging? It brings a crowd alive. It demoralises a bowler. But can it make a batsman feel accomplished? Gully cricketers clear their front legs and swipe to leg. Tailenders do it routinely, but even they love hitting a proper shot. Ben Cutting did not have the time for such philosophical debates. He had only 23 balls left to salvage an IPL final and he had to slog, and he made it look so beautiful.
Cutting may have spotted Virat Kohli arranging the field. AB de Villiers was patrolling the straight boundary. Chris Gayle was stationed inside the 30-yard circle. Shane Watson would be running in to bowl the next over. And with only 147 on the board at the start of the 17th over, it seemed like Sunrisers Hyderabad had brought a knife to a bazooka party.
Royal Challengers Bangalore made their play. An around-the-wicket barrage designed to tuck Cutting up. Only it backfired. Wildly. Sunrisers made 61 runs after he came in, in four overs. That's more than two-and-a-half runs per ball. You might think such numbers point to a spell of inventive strokeplay and premeditation with appropriate touches of luck. But Cutting didn't move around in his crease. He didn't look for scoops or reverse sweeps or switch hits. He relied on the simplest and most easily replicable of methods. A still head, a steady base and sheer strength. It was game-changing.
Cutting's success depended on his reading of the situation. Watson bowling from around the wicket could mean one of two things - yorkers and bouncers. The field was set for both eventualities. Long-off and long-on were back. So were deep square leg and point. The problem with such a line of attack, however, is that the batsman knows exactly what the bowler is trying to do, not to mention it all but rules lbw out. So Cutting could hide deep in his crease to pounce on yorkers that lost their way and bouncers that didn't rise high enough. He hit half the balls he faced to and over the boundary and Sunrisers got to 208 - eight more than the total they wanted, eight more than what Royal Challengers could manage.
"I thought at one stage we might have struggled to get 180-190, but an exceptional knock by Ben Cutting to come out and do what he did," captain David Warner said. "We go back to the auction to the belief our coach Tom [Moody] and [VVS] Laxman who had the belief that we needed another allrounder to be there just in case Moises [Henriques] was not fit or unable to play. But it worked, and he added an extra string to our bow and it paid off tonight at this venue. I am a firm believer of runs on board in any final situation put pressure on [the opposition]. And 208 to me equals almost 215-220 in this situation."
It can be hard for an opponent to ignore Royal Challengers' firepower, especially at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium where 40,000 people expect the visiting team to be good little bowling machines.
Now imagine one of the first things you do after coming to the middle is run your partner out. Cutting was left clueless by a Watson yorker and by the time he realised the ball had barely dribbled past the pitch, the non-striker had taken his frantic steps out of his crease to be a signal for a single. No sooner had Naman Ojha responded than he was dismissed.
Cutting could easily have been rattled. He was playing only his fourth match of the IPL, which took his total number of T20 matches in India to eight; not the kind of numbers that foster self-belief. But there was no second thought in the method he chose once he dispatched a low full-toss from Watson over midwicket. All it took was a simple front-foot stride towards the ball. Royal Challengers were a bit too funky for their own good and Cutting, well, cut the funk out of his game to come good.
It must have helped, of course, that the release shot came the same over he lost Ojha in. Then came the heave that left the stadium behind and its occupants dumbstruck. A 117m biff over square leg, because where else should a waist-high full toss from around the stumps be dispatched?
Cutting kept it just as simple with ball in hand, hitting back of a length, targeting the stumps, and working batsmen out. One of them was Gayle and an hour later his team was wondering how they had lost after making 200 runs.
Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo