Suresh Raina hammered a low full-toss from Munaf Patel through extra cover last night and punched the air in delight. He had just become the first Indian to score a hundred in the IPL (the previous seven had been made by four Australians, a New Zealander, a Sri Lankan and, last week in Durban, a South African). And he had done it in 55 balls, one fewer than Viv Richards needed to reach three figures in a Test match against England in Antigua 23 years ago. No wonder he looked thrilled.
At the time it didn't seem to matter when Raina skied the next ball, the ante-penultimate of the Chennai innings, to deep backward point, where Graeme Smith judged the catch nicely. Then it all went horribly wrong. A mistake by the scorers had gifted Raina two extra runs somewhere along the line. Suspicion centred on the 19th over, which, according to the scoreboard, Raina finished on 95 rather than 93. Somehow, he had pinched two of his partner MS Dhoni's runs. The conclusion was grim: Raina had made 98 and the happy-go-lucky swipe that cost him his wicket had also, it now transpired, cost him a hundred.
Wisdom after the event is only supposed to happen in sports like formula one or horse racing, where obscure contraventions and animals get in the way, or when a football club goes into administration. But this was a cock-up plain and simple. And it was one that highlighted cricket's obsession with milestones and the problems that can come with it. The England opener Martyn Moxon never made a hundred in his 10 Tests, but once fell at Auckland for 99. He later complained that a sweep for three had been wrongly signalled as leg-byes. These fine lines can haunt a man.
Would Raina have played a different shot from the one he got out to had he known he was on 98? Quite possibly. Should he have played a different shot? Not according to the letter of cricket's oft-repeated law that there is no 'I' in team. And yet the realities of the game - particularly in a competition where a hundred is treated with the same reverence afforded to the bloke who split the atom - may have dictated otherwise. "Cricket, a team game?" scoffed the novelist VS Naipaul. "Teams play, and one team is to be willed to victory. But it is the individual who remains in the memory, he who has purged the emotions by delight and fear."
Raina, who later had a stumping missed off his bowling by his new pseudo-nemesis Dhoni, probably felt a few other emotions besides. Crucially, though, the error had no effect on the team score - and a total of 164 for five had only been surpassed by two teams batting second and winning in this year's IPL. Rajasthan Royals never looked becoming the third.
Their 2009 IPL has inevitably struggled to live up to 2008. Five previous matches had brought two wins - one of them courtesy of the Super Over, another thanks to fireworks from Yusuf Pathan - two defeats and a washout, and the feeling is that Shane Warne is struggling to get quite the same out of his young squad this time round. The absence of Shane Watson has not helped; neither have Swapnil Asnodkar's struggles on the quicker pitches of South Africa. But the way three of his players dived over the ball to concede boundaries in the first 10 overs of the Chennai innings would not have happened last year.
No doubt the old master will surprise us all, sneak into the semi-finals on run-rate, then pinch a couple of late wins to retain the trophy. But for the time being Rajasthan look all too susceptible to the kind of knock Raina played today - hundred or otherwise.