Mauled by Gayle force

Match-winner…Chris Gayle of Royal Challengers Bangalore is greeted by team-mate Virat Kohli (left) on scoring a century against Kolkata Knight Riders.-PTI Match-winner…Chris Gayle of Royal Challengers Bangalore is greeted by team-mate Virat Kohli (left) on scoring a century against Kolkata Knight Riders.

When the West Indian stepped onto the turf at the historic Eden Gardens in Kolkata, he proved in no uncertain terms why he is considered as one of the masters of ‘batting mayhem'. By K. C. Vijaya Kumar.

In January, when corporate big-wigs and actors with their flash-bulb blinding smiles descended on Bangalore for the Indian Premier League player auction, the biggest blackout almost went unnoticed as Chris Gayle remained unsold. Maudlin sentimentalism meant that the cold-shouldering of Brian Lara and Sourav Ganguly drew more attention but once emotion subsided, the cold fact of Gayle's omission sank in and it did not make any sense.

Soon reasons were peddled out, ranging from West Indies playing a series against Pakistan smack in the middle of IPL-IV to Gayle's alleged attitude issues. Soon the World Cup took over and Gayle did not help his cause with a measly aggregate of 170 runs. He was not selected for the West Indies squad for the T20 match and the first two games of the five-match ODI series against Pakistan. While he tweeted about ‘having chicken curry and rice' back home, fate moved in its own inexplicable ways.

Dirk Nannes got injured and Royal Challengers Bangalore was in a flap. Soon phone lines were worked and Gayle was pencilled in as a replacement. A rained-off game against Rajasthan Royals proved to be a welcome breather and when he did step onto the turf at the historic Eden Gardens in Kolkata, Gayle proved why he is considered as one of the masters of ‘batting mayhem' along with the likes of Virender Sehwag. All Gayle would hint at, ahead of the match, was the touch of irony in the match as he was playing against his former team. “Looking to make my debut for RCB against KKR, what a world!,” he tweeted.

A scorching unbeaten 102 (55b, 10x4, 7x6) bruised Kolkata Knight Riders and Royal Challengers won by nine wickets. Gayle, with the number 333 — his highest Test score — embossed on his shirt, began sedately while Tillekaratne Dilshan swung his bat around. Soon Gayle engaged the fifth gear and Gautam Gambhir's bowlers were running ragged. Even the usually economical Shakib Al Hasan was despatched all over and with Brett Lee missing in the ranks, the host was left shell-shocked. And once the delirium subsided, all Gayle would tweet was “I love century.” Talk about under-statement!

Dark horses emerge from the Kerala backwaters

Kochi Tuskers Kerala had a tough initiation into the IPL, both at the team evolution stage and in its early outings in the league. The ownership muddle of the past and the initial losses to Royal Challengers Bangalore and Pune Warriors meant that the team was battling pressure. Thankfully, the team turned a corner after defeating Mumbai Indians at the Wankhede Stadium and more ambushes followed as Mahela Jayawardene's men defeated Chennai Super Kings and Kolkata Knight Riders.

With Jayawardene and Brendon McCullum leading the way atop the batting tree and Ravindra Jadeja clouting his way lower down the order, the Kerala outfit has scored the needed runs. Add to it an attack that may not seem menacing but has the persevering R. P. Singh and Vinay Kumar, the unpredictable S. Sreesanth — who was benched in-between — and the added guile of Muttiah Muralitharan and you have a team that has played its percentages better though it is still early days for the squad.

Sehwag-Warner show

Delhi Daredevils' fortunes are inextricably twined with the way its openers bat and it was proven again during its twin victories against Pune Warriors. Skipper Virender Sehwag and David Warner strung together pulsating partnerships twice against Yuvraj Singh's men and the second alliance in Delhi that yielded 146 runs in 11.4 overs virtually sunk the Warriors.

Kochi's pillars…captain Mahela Jayawardene (left) with Brendon McCullum. The two have led the Kerala team's batting admirably.-VIVEK BENDRE

In the second triumph against Pune Warriors, Sehwag clattered a 77 (35b, 8x4, 4x6) and Warner powered his way to an identical score (77, 48b, 7x4, 6x4) and the eventual score of 232 for four proved well beyond the Warriors' grasp. Sehwag merrily pummelled David Hussey and also paid the price but by then his team was well on its way to dominating the match.

Bowlers aren't second-class citizens

Twenty20 cricket might be about spectators ending up with stiff necks while peering hard at mighty sixes but bowlers do have a role and L. Balaji and Harbhajan Singh proved that in their varying ways. Balaji, who has come back from a debilitating injury over the years and has remodelled his action, was in the thick of things against Rajasthan Royals in Kolkata.

The Kolkata Knight Riders bowler, a contrasting, subdued back-up to the flamboyant Brett Lee in the attack, prised out Shane Watson and his overall figures of three for 15 set up his team's victory besides securing him the ‘Man of the Match' award.

Virender Sehwag and David Warner strike a good rapport.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

Harbhajan Singh meanwhile got a five-for that helped Mumbai Indians ambush Chennai Super Kings by eight runs in Mumbai. Harbhajan snapped up Suresh Raina in his follow-through and kept prising out wickets at regular intervals (five for 18) while Dhoni's men lost their way in the chase. The most heart-warming sight was the manner in which Andrew Symonds kept cheering Harbhajan's exploits and their old hatchet seems to be buried for now.

A misfiring ZAK

Zaheer Khan was India's outstanding bowler in the World Cup. His 21 scalps, the highest along with Shahid Afridi's efforts for Pakistan, set up India's epochal triumph. Sadly, Zaheer has remained off-colour for Royal Challengers Bangalore in the current IPL. His yield of five wickets from the first five games at a poor economy rate of 9.10 per over perhaps is a reflection of a bowler who peaked in the cup that matters and is now searching for a spark to reignite those old fires. Zaheer the crafty spearhead is bound to strike soon and skipper Daniel Vettori and the think-tank are hoping for a quick turn-around.

Winning spin…Mumbai Indians' Harbhajan Singh (right) celebrates with Rohit Sharma (left) and Rayudu after claiming the wicket of Joginder Sharma of Chennai Super Kings.-PTI

Kochi's woes

The Kochi Tuskers Kerala team owners' reported desire to shift the matches from Kerala hung in the air as an unwelcome whisper while a poor turnout was cited as the primary reason. Fans meanwhile were aggrieved that the pricing of the lowest band at Rs. 400 was not wallet-friendly. It is another matter that on match days, the same stand was sold at a lesser rate following the lukewarm response. And strangely in a land that worships P. T. Usha and I. M. Vijayan, the response to S. Sreesanth has been marked by indifference. Though the denizens in Kerala are proud of whatever little he has achieved on the field, the fans are upset with his antics.