Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo
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Quinton de Kock does not quite have the poker face. Poker face suggests some kind of effort put in to stay neutral and emotionless. Poker face suggests the person is enjoying being there. de Kock is effortless in almost not wanting to be there. It almost feels like having to deal with the rest of the world is, to him, the price he must pay to do what he loves: play cricket.
Which is why the show of emotion on reaching the century was rare. He went down on his knees, almost as if in a sajda, and then sort of didn't know whether to kiss the ground or touch his forehead on it but even there the helmet was in the way. It was just a spontaneous release, the awkward execution evidence that he is not used to any show of emotion.
Lucknow Super Giants assistant coach Vijay Dahiya let us in on the possible reason behind that release. It turns out de Kock has been telling Dahiya for the last two-three matches that he has never felt "this good". "How come I am not scoring runs then?" Dahiya paraphrased de Kock's conversations with him. "One thing is for sure, the day I get in, a very long innings is due."
de Kock confirmed that at the post-match presentation. "It was just a bit of frustration that came out," de Kock told Star Sports. "The last couple of games, just the way I have been getting out. Obviously I have been feeling very good and nothing has been coming off it. So it was nice to come out and the feeling of actually having done it. Just a bit of a release. I was trying to keep it in but when I let go it just happened."
It was an innings with the de Kock hallmarks but with some initial caution that perhaps had to do with collective nerves around the team still waiting to confirm its progress into the playoffs. Once he started going, though, de Kock didn't hold back, which is how he is known to play. No match-ups, no seeing off bowlers.
The very long innings came but not at the cost of momentum. He could have easily taken it easy against the spinners but he went after them, even Sunil Narine whom nobody goes after these days, despite holding an average record against spin in the IPL. He strikes at 116.37 against spin in the IPL, but here he took 51 off 28 balls from them, including a reverse-swept six off Narine.
In the end, though, we got back the de Kock we know: hardly any emotion except perhaps not wanting to be there now that the last ball had been bowled. Another man, though, would have never wanted the night to end. He brought his side desperately close to stay alive - even if for the time being - in the season. In the season that he finally went from being the specialist substitute fielder to a batter everybody is taking note of.
Kolkata Knight Riders' final moments in another inconsistent IPL season will be that of Rinku Singh fighting to save the last night and fight the break of dawn that will come to take him away. Year after year he had been on TV running after balls without getting a chance to actually play. It appeared he would go down as a piece of trivia around Knight Riders' gamesmanship, the specialist fielder who was a great replacement for a slow bowler who was done with his quota but not good enough to actually get a decent run in the XI.
This season was no different to begin with. It was only in their eighth match that Knight Riders brought Rinku in. They had lost four matches out of seven by then. They hardly had a middle order to speak of. It looked like a punt.
Rinku didn't immediately set the world alight, but equally apparent was this was no specialist fielder. On the morning of the third match, Rinku doodled "50" on his hand and drew a heart underneath it. In the evening he scored an unbeaten 42 off 23 to help beat Rajasthan Royals. There is a video on Knight Riders' Twitter handle of coach Brendon McCullum using Nitish Rana as an interpreter when talking to Rinku but there is more that Rinku has communicated to McCullum without actually needing words.
"Before the first game that he played, I was lucky enough to spend a little bit of time with him," McCullum told the Knight Riders website. "He knew for his own self-worth and his own career, he needed to make a statement in this competition. He was able to do it in the first game. He's such a great team man, a wonderful human being and the real vibe and culture of the group is set by Rinku. His older brother and Nitish Rana as well were out there with him and I think that gave him great confidence. Some players just deserve to have things go their way and Rinku is one of them."
On Wednesday night, in Knight Riders' last league game, Rinku made that statement. The bigger batters had come and gone, and they still needed 61 off 20 balls to give themselves a chance to hope for some other results to go their way and get them a playoff spot. Nobody knows more than Rinku about that fight for hope. He hit Avesh Khan and Jason Holder for a six each before going four, six and six against Marcus Stoinis in the last over. He wanted to have more of this season, one more chance to show what he is made of because who knows what happens next season.
In the ultimate irony, having brought his side to needing three off two balls, Rinku was denied by a sensational fielding effort from Evin Lewis, who has hardly had anything else to do all season.
"Good things happen to good people," McCullum said in his last press conference as Knight Riders coach before he joins with England as their Test coach. "Rinku is just an incredible story. A man who has been around IPL now for five years. He has sat on the sidelines for so long, he has worked so hard, he gives to the team every single day that he has been around. He has had to wait for his opportunity, he got it late in this tournament, and gee he has taken it. He plays the game for all the right reasons. All the reasons that I love as a coach, and as a fan of cricket. He is a guy you really want to do well."
Except that the scorecard doesn't have space for all this. de Kock is guaranteed a playoffs spot, and a warning has been sounded: he has never felt this good. Rinku is gone for now. As is McCullum.