Hemant Brar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
Harpreet Brar had conceded only ten from his first three overs. And that includes two overs against a set Virat Kohli and Devdutt Padikkal.
Brar is not a mystery spinner. His method is simple and out there. He tries to hit good length with enough pace on the ball that the batter has no time to set himself up for a big shot. Such is his self-belief that whenever he is brought on and his captain asks him for the plan, he just replies, "Paaji, aap tension mat lo, main run nahi doonga [You don't worry, I won't give runs]".
Now he is up against Glenn Maxwell. In the previous game between Punjab Kings and Royal Challengers Bangalore, Brar had bowled Maxwell for a first-ball duck. The batter had played back to a delivery he probably should have gone forward to and was beaten on the outside edge. On Sunday, Brar nearly pulled off a repeat. Maxwell once again went back and pushed at the ball. This time he got an outside edge but KL Rahul failed to latch on to it.
WATCH - Maxwell turns it on at Sharjah
By the time Brar came for his final over - the 13th of the innings - Maxwell seemed to have adjusted to his pace and length. On the second ball of the over, Brar erred a little on the shorter side, and that was enough for Maxwell to go back and across and pull it for a six. Two balls later, Brar bowled on the fuller side and Maxwell sent it into orbit over deep midwicket.
Then, it was Ravi Bishnoi in the firing line, with Maxwell hitting him for back-to-back sixes. The first was a googly, which bobbled right into Maxwell's hitting arc and was deposited over cow corner. Bishnoi went full on the next ball, only to be walloped down the ground.
During his 33-ball 57, Maxwell scored only 19 off 16 balls against seamers. But against spinners, he plundered 38 off 17. In comparison, all other Royal Challengers batters scored only 27 off 37 balls against spin. In fact, this whole season Maxwell has feasted on spinners, taking 216 runs off 137 balls at an average of 54.00 and a strike rate of 157.66. So that was a match-up he nailed.
Earlier this week, against Mumbai Indians, Maxwell had used switch hits and reverse hits - against both pace and spin - to target the shorter boundary and give his side what proved to be a winning total. But that was in Dubai. This was Sharjah, where the relaid pitches have made life difficult for batters, where the average first-innings total this season had been 134, where the chasing sides had won four out of five games.
So, Kohli's decision to bat first after winning the toss wasn't a straightforward one. And even though Maxwell seems to be batting on a different level than anyone else, he too acknowledged this wasn't an easy pitch.
"I felt probably this one was the toughest to adjust to," he said at the post-match presentation. "It skidded on a little bit more from the spinners, which means you've got to be a little bit sharper at the start of the innings. The other wickets held up just a tiny bit more and gave you a bit more time on the back foot."
The ball might have been skidding on, but when Maxwell connected those sixes, it seemed to stay on his bat just a fraction of a second longer, giving his wrists enough time to whip it away. His knock propelled Royal Challengers to 164, the highest total in Sharjah this season, and eventually into the playoffs.
During IPL 2020, playing for the Punjab franchise and batting mostly at No. 5, Maxwell had managed only 108 runs in 11 innings. This time, in the same number of innings, he has 407. Maxwell attributed the revival to a familiarity with the role he's been assigned.
"In T20s, I have found a nice little rhythm batting at No. 4," he said. "It's something I probably had for Australia over a long period of time as well, which is probably why I have success over there. Coming to the RCB, they wanted me to do the exact same role. It's been really enjoyable to actually come into the change room and actually have to change not too much."
Maxwell has now scored three half-centuries in the last three games. If he continues his form, it could well be a first IPL title for Royal Challengers.