Sehwag and Gayle run amok

Chris Gayle...clouting one over the fence.-G.P. SAMPATH KUMAR

It was a real treat to watch with Sehwag and Gayle in full flow. Sehwag's 119 against Deccan Chargers and Gayle's 107 against Kings XI Punjab won the admiration of IPL lovers. By K. C. Vijaya Kumar.

In the days of nervous anticipation leading to the World Cup in February-April, Virender Sehwag squared up to the media in Bangalore. “I want to bat long, bat through the innings and the runs will come,” Sehwag said. The opener who resuscitated his career under Anil Kumble's captaincy during the Australian tour in 2008, has never looked back and he has also melded solidity with his breezy bat in limited overs cricket.

At Hyderabad's Rajiv Gandhi Stadium on May 5, Sehwag carved a blinder — a 119 (56b, 13x4, 6x6) — that helped Delhi Daredevils stay afloat with a four-wicket victory over Deccan Chargers. “It was my best innings in Twenty20,” Sehwag said. After Dale Steyn and Ishant Sharma reduced the Daredevils to 25 for three, Sehwag hammered his way out of trouble. Without any fuss he hungrily tucked into Ishan Malhotra and the sequence of 6, 6, 4, 4, 2 and 1 meant that the skipper had done enough to force worry-lines on his counterpart Kumar Sangakkara's forehead.

Sehwag batted with his known sense of freedom and flourish, sending the ball all over the park and it helped that the Chargers' fielders displayed butter fingers.

Ankit Sharma grassed the buccaneer on 54 and Sehwag shut the blip out of his mind and kept swatting the bowlers around with disdain. Steyn did snap up Sehwag but the speedster ran across and patted the retreating opener and it truly was a reflection of an innings that lured admiration even from harried rivals.

Sixes and dancing shoes

The next night, it was the turn of Chris Gayle at Chinnaswamy Stadium, Bangalore. It was the proverbial lull before the storm as Gayle played and missed against Praveen Kumar and Ryan Harris. “It was like Test match bowling and the ball moved a bit but after three overs we dominated,” Gayle referred to his initial stint along with Tillakaratne Dilshan.

The former West Indies' captain soon slotted in his sky-scraping sixes and his 107 (49b, 10x4, 9x6) powered Royal Challengers Bangalore past 200 and Kings XI Punjab was left chasing a distant horizon and fell short by 85 runs.

“It was an incredibly amazing innings,” said a bedazzled Adam Gilchrist. The Kings XI captain said that there was no way he could stop some of Gayle's sixes that were hit about 40 rows deep into the stands! Gayle in fact struck one over the roof and also dented Praveen Kumar's last over with 22 runs.

It was not just about power-hitting as Gayle even flicked a few off his toes and was sharp enough to dig out yorkers as bowlers tended to follow his shuffle down the leg-side while the opener tried to create room for himself. The night was not yet over for Gayle though as he later winkled out three wickets with his off-spin and indulged in brief dancing bouts with Virat Kohli.

“Ah Kohli is young and energetic and before the game the guys told me that I should celebrate every wicket,” Gayle said and he had by then truly displaced Ross Taylor as Bangalore's favourite overseas player. Taylor, who is now turning out for Rajasthan Royals, was the earlier hero for the fans thirsting for rousing shots.

Prior to the game, Gayle had a relaxing time in Goa as a guest of team owner Vijay Mallya and that perhaps had enhanced the marauder's uncluttered mind and instinctive response with the bat. Mallya kept nodding his head in disbelief through the innings while Gayle proved that he is the ‘King of sixes.'

The rise of the unknown

Prior to the IPL, names like Prasanth Parameswaran and Rahul Sharma may have evoked quizzical looks. Not anymore now as in a week of batting riches the two low-profile bowlers lured eyeballs with their exploits on the turf.

Left-arm seamer Parameswaran, who underwent a radical metamorphosis from being a hammer thrower to a nippy fast bowler, dismissed Sehwag and Venugopala Rao as the Kochi Tuskers Kerala surprised Delhi Daredevils with a seven-wicket victory at the Feroze Shah Kotla Stadium on May 2.

The rookie amidst the trio of S. Sreesanth, R. P. Singh and Vinay Kumar, Parameswaran held his own among his niggardly pace-associates.

After Sehwag clattered a six, the lanky bowler held his nerve and struck back. Parameswaran's two for 29 effectively scuttled the Daredevils' bid for a big total and later Sehwag said: “He is a good find for Kochi and India also.”

Prasanth Parmeswaran (left) of Kochi Tuskers celebrates with team-mates after getting rid of Delhi Daredevils skipper Virender Sehwag. Prasanth has the potential to make it big.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

Parameswaran's IPL debut had truly turned sensational and skipper Mahela Jayawardene said that the fast bowler's grit under pressure was truly praise-worthy. After Tinnu Yohannan's lukewarm show and Sreesanth's fire-and-ice outings, Parameswaran is now looked at as the next big fast bowling hope in Kerala. A tongue-tied Parameswaran sought Sreesanth's assistance in the post-match function while receiving the ‘Man of the match' award. He surely wants only the ball to do the talking!

Meanwhile leg-spinner Rahul Sharma has been one positive influence in a desolate Pune Warriors dugout. His 11 wickets at 5.27 runs per over overall in the current IPL augurs well for the team and recently he sparkled with a three for 13 against Rajasthan Royals and a two for seven against Mumbai Indians. Ravi Shastri wrote: “Sharma evoking a whiff of nostalgia and the comparisons with Anil Kumble.”

A tepid duo

In the auction, Delhi Daredevils picked up Irfan Pathan at $1.9 million and David Warner at $750,000, and as the IPL hurtles towards its final stages, the duo have flickered and faded. Pathan's allround skills are yet to fully flower and with 103 runs and seven wickets, the former India player is yet to make the impact that his team owners want.

Pathan, who lost his way with a slew of injuries, did his hard yards at the National Cricket Academy in some lonely months of stress of sweat. “I am slowly getting back my rhythm,” he used to say. The sooner he gets back to his old ways of effervescent talent the better it will be way for the Daredevils.

Warner, who started well has inexplicably slumped with scores of 1, 13, 3, 2 and 7 and though Sehwag's belligerence at the other end has covered up for the Australian's lapses, the Daredevils need both to fire in unison.