Balaji’s hat-trick

L. Balaji with the Man of the Match trophy.-PTI

L. Balaji’s five-wicket haul, including the IPL’s first hat-trick, was heartening evidence that the work done on his action after his recuperation from a stress fracture is paying off. Over to S. Ram Mahesh.

Chennai’s sixth win in nine IPL matches was fashioned by two of the city’s most accomplished cricketers (and two of the nicest people you’d hope to meet). One has been on the mend, recovering from the injuries that have stunted what began as a most promising career in bowling; the other, despite not receiving the break he deserves, has done remarkably well in building a case for national selection that can no longer be ignored.

Lakshmipathy Balaji’s five-wicket haul, including the IPL’s first hat-trick, was heartening evidence that the work done on his action after his recuperation from a stress fracture is paying off. The import of the performance wasn’t lost on losing captain Yuvraj Singh.

“I am happy about Balaji’s comeback,” said the Kings XI, Punjab leader. “He bowled superbly. It is good for Indian cricket. He had never been the fastest but he is always deceptive particularly with the old ball. I am extremely happy for him and a hat-trick is a rarity in this format of the game.”

Balaji’s crucial twin-strike in the 13th over deflated Punjab’s chase of 182 — a chase the left-handed Shaun Marsh had undertaken with considerable skill — and ensured S. Badrinath’s 47-ball 64 wouldn’t be in vain. Badrinath, Tamil Nadu skipper in the Ranji Trophy, chose his moment well. The 27-year-old had let slip a gilt-lined opportunity against the Rajasthan Royals in an earlier league game, failing to capitalise on an encouraging start with his side in trouble.

But Badrinath hasn’t been one of the most successful batsmen in domestic cricket (and on India ‘A’ tours) by squandering chances. He began circumspectly after Sreesanth had accounted for the openers.

First with Suresh Raina and then with skipper M. S. Dhoni, Badrinath remedied the Chennai innings. The 44-run stand with Raina was marked by some exceptional running, both batsmen taming the ball with soft hands and taking off. But it was in the 91-run partnership with Dhoni that Badrinath fully revealed himself.

Badrinath’s stroke-making through the off-side has a touch of Steve Waugh about it: the drive is flash-fast, taking the shape of a slap more often than an extension of the arms. One extra-cover drive in particular stood out. He also mowed a free-hit ball high into the stand behind deep mid-wicket, one of three sixes he hit. His partner, Dhoni, was inimitably punitive, pounding four sixes in his unbeaten 43-ball 60. Sreesanth and Irfan Pathan finished well however to quash hopes of a total in excess of 200.

Marsh, son of former Australian opener Geoff Marsh, showed an impressive ability to switch batting gears, as Punjab reached 95 for two in the 13th over. In terms of a launching pad, this was nothing to be sniffed at. But Balaji unearthed Ramnaresh Sarwan’s middle stump after a pre-determined charge went wrong, and followed it by having Marsh caught for 58 in the same over.

P. Amarnath’s knack of scalping batsmen of repute was on view again. After being hit out of the ground by Marsh, the youngster from Vellore returned to dismiss Yuvraj Singh. Pathan and Piyush Chawla mounted a late charge, but Balaji claimed both left-handers and V. R. V. Singh for his hat-trick to seal the deal. As important as the haul of wickets was Balaji’s improved rhythm. He had loped to the crease in the previous match — understandable, for he was still testing his body — but he ran in better against Punjab. He used his wrist to raise bounce — enough to hit Chawal’s helmet grille — and changed pace adeptly.

“We bowled pretty well in the early overs but lost the momentum in between,” said Yuvraj, assessing the match. “The same thing happened with our batting, too. Though it was not a great start, Marsh and Sarwan steadied our innings. We lost too many wickets quickly. That of Sarwan, Marsh and myself and there we lost our match.”

THE SCORES

Chennai Super Kings v Kings XI, Punjab, Chidambaram Stadium, May 10, 2008.

Result: Chennai Super Kings won by 18 runs.

Chennai Super Kings 181 for four in 20 overs (Suresh Raina 26, S. Badrinath 64, M.S. Dhoni 60 n.o., Sreesanth 2-29) bt Kings XI, Punjab 163 for nine in 20 overs (Shaun Marsh 58, Ramnaresh Sarwan 20, Irfan Pathan 40, L. Balaji 5-24).