If, as the cliché goes, India really is a land of contrasts, then what does that make Twenty20? One minute Andrew Symonds was being cheered simply for taking his place on the deep midwicket boundary. The next he was bowling what he cheerfully described as "the worst over in Twenty20 history". Jekyll and Hyde could scarcely have done it any better themselves.
Symonds' ferocious undefeated 117 from 53 balls was clearly still in the mind of the post-match interviewer Ian Bishop when, without a trace of irony, he said: "That's why they paid big bucks for you." Symonds was still recovering from the shock of conceding 14 runs in three balls to his old mucker Shane Warne, a sequence that means the Deccan Chargers need to win in Mumbai on Sunday if he is not to leave India with a 100% losing record in the IPL. "Yes, Ian. Next question," he deadpanned. It was not the most tactful thing Bishop will ever say in his life.
This was a hero-to-villain transformation of the cruellest kind. And if there was some sympathy for the fact that Symonds was left needing to bowl the final over of the match - RP Singh, Chaminda Vaas, and Shahid Afridi had all completed their spells in search of the wickets which had apparently brought the Chargers to the brink of victory - then it was not immediately evident in the words of his captain VVS Laxman.
"We'd used all our regular bowlers, and Symonds was the most experienced of the ones left," he said. "He's experienced enough to bowl that yorker length and that's what we discussed at the start of the over. You'd back him to bowl six balls without going for 16 or 17, especially when they had lost a few wickets."
Warne agreed. "Symonds can bowl those fast, full ones so well, but luckily for us he didn't get it quite right," he said. "A lot of people said we were the worst side in the competition. I just said we were the most inexperienced."
For Symonds, whose competition analysis now reads 6.5-0-101-0, there is a very real danger his century earlier in the evening will be forgotten completely. That would be harsh, because although he has batted under pressure before - especially when his Test place seemed a couple of failures away from another early conclusion - then the IPL has served up pressure of an unprecedented kind.
Not only does he have a nation to win over after his role in the Harbhajan Singh affair in Sydney, but his team had lost two out of two before tonight and, in a tournament where the dollar speaks, he is burdened with the second-highest price tag of the lot. From a purely financial point of view, he could argue Sachin Tendulkar has it easy.
Boycotts by the various news agencies have meant overseas coverage of the competition has been limited, but even one or two members of the Australian press had picked up on Symonds' struggles during his first two games for the Deccan Chargers. Innings of 32 and 12 were not helped by the 30 runs he conceded here in an over to Virender Sehwag on Tuesday. And to make matters more intense, this was his last home game before he rejoins the calmer world of the Test and ODI circuit in the Caribbean. Imagine returning to an Australian dressing room full of banter about his costly four-game stint on the subcontinent. No, Symonds probably doesn't want to think about it either.
|And to make matters more intense, this was his last home game before he rejoins the calmer world of the Test and ODI circuit in the Caribbean. Imagine returning to an Australian dressing room full of banter about his costly four-game stint on the subcontinent. No, Symonds probably doesn't want to think about it either|
He got his chance early after Adam Gilchrist and Afridi - two potential match-winners who now total 56 between them in five innings - fell in the same Yusuf Pathan over, and pushed his first ball, from Shane Watson, to mid-on for a quick single. He then took a couple of boundaries off Munaf Patel, before swatting Watson through extra cover and, capturing the tone of the rest of his innings, blasting Siddarth Trivedi over long-on for six.
But it was in Warne's second over that he really cranked through the gears. Having eased to 42 in 27 deliveries, he heaved Warne high over long-on for six, pummelled his next ball down the ground for four: a sequence that kick-started a rush of 75 runs off 26 balls, six of them - including the blow off Warne - disappearing over the ropes. It was a measure of Symonds' batting that Warne's 13 balls to his former Test team-mate cost 35.
It was Warne, though, who had the last laugh, leaving a rueful Symonds to reflect: "Twenty20 is good for the game but it can sometimes be bad for the ego."