The de Villiers way

Frontal assault… AB de Villiers in full flow against Pune Warriors India.-VIVEK BENDRE

During his assault on the Pune Warriors bowlers, de Villiers batted as if he had been programmed to do exactly so. “It is important to score in as many ways as possible, to make bowlers think. It just happens in a match situation,” said the Royal Challengers batsman following his blistering knock.

The Royal Challengers Bangalore batsman, AB de Villiers, offered a delightful glimpse into the future of T20 batting, using Pune Warriors India bowlers for the demo. The viewers watched in awe as the South African used the pace generated by the fast bowlers to steer the ball over deep fine leg and third man. Deliveries pitched fuller or attempted yorkers were blasted over mid-wicket and long on. It was a vicious attack and de Villiers played as if he had been programmed to bat that way.

“I don’t practise these shots. It is important to score in as many ways as possible, to make bowlers think. It just happens in a match situation, I try to read the situation and play to the best of my abilities,” explained de Villiers about his electrifying knock.

Ashoke Dinda, the pace spearhead of PWI and one of India’s fast bowling options, steamed in and delivered with his leaping style, but de Villiers attacked as if the bowler didn’t matter.

“Dinda bowls very good yorkers. I had to do something different and that is why I played those lap shots. I tried to read his mind, make him change his game plan,” explained de Villiers, who scored an unbeaten 50 off 23 balls.

RCB is endowed with a battery of attacking batsmen who are the ‘ABCD’ of the team. ‘AB’ (de Villiers) is known for innovation; C (Chris Gayle) demonstrates explosive ability while D (Dilshan) has still to join the party.

Faulkner rising

An Ashes call up, a regular place in the Australian ODI and T20 squads, Sheffield Shield 2013 winner and man-of-the-match in the final for Tasmania. Not to forget another triumph with his state side in 2011 and the success in the Pepsi IPL this season.

James Faulkner has many reasons to be grateful to his scriptwriter. The left-arm pace bowler, who is no mug with the bat, can swing the ball both ways and has exploited the quick bowler-friendly conditions at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium in Jaipur to greatly support Rajasthan Royals’ cause.

The Aussie took the first five-wicket haul this season — against Sunrisers Hyderabad — at the same venue, which has been transformed into a fortress by RR’s unabated success there.

Faulkner burst into prominence during the 2010-11 domestic season in Australia as he finished the Sheffield Shield with a bowling average of 17.72. In the last three terms, the left-armer has picked up 111 wickets and won the Ricky Ponting Medal (awarded to Tasmania’s best player) in each of those campaigns.

His important contributions with the bat for the Hobart-based team haven’t gone unnoticed and he was recently touted as a possible ‘number 7’ in the Australian Test side. Rahul Dravid too promoted him to bat at number three in RR’s loss to Kolkata Knight Riders on May 3, though he failed to contribute significantly in that contest.

Faulkner’s team-mate Shane Watson, too, benefited considerably from playing for the same franchise under Shane Warne and went on to become a permanent fixture in Australia’s playing XI. As the Tasmanian stands on the brink of breaking into the Test team, one wonders whether another legend, Dravid, has impacted the 23-year-old’s development too…

Wish granted, but result is the same

Ahead of the Chennai Super Kings versus Kings XI Punjab clash in Chennai recently, David Hussey had expressed a desire to get his brother, Mike, out early. The Kings XI skipper also hoped that Dirk Nannes wouldn’t play. Both his wishes came true. Although Mike scored 35, he didn’t punish the Punjab bowlers enough and Nannes didn’t make it to the playing XI.

The result, however, didn’t change as CSK continued its victory march. The younger Hussey smiled a touch sheepishly at the post-match press conference: “I was pretty happy that my brother and MS (Dhoni) missed out. They have pretty much been the players of the tournament thus far.”

David Hussey... confident of Kings XI Punjab qualifying for the play-offs.-PTI

However, other problems continued to haunt Kings XI. The form of its young Indian batsmen has been a concern as opposed to last year when the likes of Mandeep Singh and Nitin Saini were mighty impressive. “Last year, we had Mandeep (Singh) who was the young player of the tournament. I am sure he would like to score more runs, like all our batters. I haven’t seen a lot of Nitin this year. He was fantastic for us last time around. Gurkeerat (Singh) has been wonderful with the gloves. All the boys are contributing but we need that little extra to win games,” said Hussey.

The 35-year-old was nevertheless confident of qualifying for the play-offs. “I think we will have to win five out of six games. We are young enough and enthusiastic. I think we can do it,” he said.

That’s what leadership is all about

Ricky Ponting sitting in the Mumbai Indians dugout for the fourth straight match looked strange, especially considering the intensity with which he prepared for the game against Sunrisers Hyderabad at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium. He also was seen having a serious discussion with the former India leg- spinner and now MI mentor, Anil Kumble, on the eve of the match that the Sunrisers won by seven wickets.

For the record, Rohit Sharma led MI as Ponting opted out of the playing XI.

Sri Lankan Kumar Sangakkara of Sunrisers Hyderabad set the trend of captains dropping themselves in the current IPL. A combination of indifferent form and off-field developments forced him to sit out a couple of games.

For a coach, is it a problem changing captains?

The Sunrisers’ head coach Tom Moody didn’t think so. “Look, we’ve seen this in the current IPL more often. You name a captain at the start of the tournament and that may well change due to form, fitness whatever it might be,” he pointed out. “And I think various players who have stood down for whatever reasons may well be putting the team ahead of themselves. That’s leadership, that’s good captaincy, as they recognise that at certain times and against certain teams they’re not among the best eleven,” he added.

According to Moody, it requires great character and leadership to step aside.

To Ponting’s credit, he even came on as substitute when Sachin Tendulkar left the field in the final minutes of the match against the Sunrisers.

A Gayle special

If ever a huddle on the field felt futile, it was midway through the Royal Challengers Bangalore innings at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium recently. Gayle had rushed to a 31-ball-103, and RCB to 124 for no loss in nine overs, when Pune Warriors India went into perhaps the most pointless ‘Strategic Timeout’ called for in the tournament.

The Pune team gathered around as if at a funeral, eyes fixed on the ground, head sunk in crushing despair, while Allan Donald put a consolatory arm on his captain’s shoulder.

A manic century. Chris Gayle of Royal Challengers Bangalore celebrates his record knock against Pune Warriors as Tillakaratne Dilshan looks on.-PTI

“It was quite hard out there,” Aaron Finch admitted. “There wasn’t too much we didn’t try. If I wasn’t playing for Pune, I’d sit back and appreciate it a lot more.”

After his manic, unbeaten 175 (66 balls, 13x4, 17x6) — the highest score in T20s and also the fastest hundred in all professional cricket — had won the game for RCB, Gayle was asked if he felt sorry for the bowlers at any stage. “It’s cricket maan,” he protested. “Sometimes I get knocked over on the first ball and I’d like to ask the bowler if he’s hurt for me.”

Not their kind of game?

Fresh from a fourth-placed finish at the Bahrain Grand Prix, the Force India F1 team dropped into Bangalore to watch a bit of cricket. Both drivers, though, admitted to knowing little or nothing of the sport. “In Germany and Switzerland, it doesn’t really exist,” Adrian Sutil said apologetically while Paul di Resta, who had only to hold on for five more laps for a podium place at Sakhir, was no better in his knowledge. But surely, he knew something? England was close to Scotland. “So I’ve just found out,” he grinned.

Having watched Chris Gayle slaughter Pune Warriors India, Sutil and Di Resta went out to the middle to try their hand at bowling. It is safe to say, though, that neither driver showed a thrilling aptitude for it. Allan Donald, for all of his 330 Test wickets, could not help despite his best efforts. Simply not his day as coach then.

Dravid mania

Rahul Dravid has a special relationship with Eden Gardens. The cricket aficionados in Kolkata have a great admiration for the cricketer who has played some outstanding innings at the venue.

Dravid is also very sentimental about Eden Gardens where he and V. V. S. Laxman scripted a fairytale partnership in 2001 to beat the Aussies out of their wits. “Where is the board depicting individual centuries,” Dravid asked a CAB (Cricket Association of Bengal) official in the lobby of the Eden Gardens clubhouse on the eve of Rajasthan Royals’ match against Kolkata Knight Riders.

Rahul was keen to know whether the venue had recorded his momentous 180 and three other centuries that followed. The player was promptly led to the board where his achievement was boldly etched in the ‘hall of fame’, put together recently by the CAB. The player was visibly happy and he obliged many of his fans who wished to be photographed with him.

Eden Gardens was packed the following day with the crowd expecting another gem from one of its favourite cricket icons. However, its enthusiasm soon turned into disappointment, as ‘The Wall’ did not turn up from the dugout. Just when the disenchanted fans began to reconcile with the situation, the Rajasthan Royals skipper came out to bat at No. 8 with just three balls remaining. He scored a boundary immediately on arrival and remained unbeaten on six. But the fans definitely wanted to see more of Dravid.

Promoting ‘MARD’

For the average Bengali “bhadrolok” (gentleman) chivalry does not hinge on the lush outgrowth under the nose. But for a change, for the cricket lovers of the city, who had turned up in large numbers to see Kolkata Knight Riders take on the doughty Kings XI Punjab recently, it was time to become ‘MARD’, sporting a princely moustache, like the Rajputs of Rajasthan. The inspiration behind this unusual occurrence was provided by the noted actor Farhan Akhtar who was promoting the initiative, MARD (Men Against Rape and Discrimination). The whole stadium happily turned Mard, which in Hindi means manhood, with thousands including Farhan himself flaunting the fake handlebar moustache in a show of solidarity.

“I wish to reach every individual in the country with the message about equality and compassion. I wish to see the movement grow and help in building a healthy society that sees no difference between men and women,” Farhan said while reciting a poem penned by his father Javed Akhtar on the issue. Singer Shaan read out the Bengali translation of the poem and the stands erupted in spontaneous approbation.

Nandakumar Marar, Arun Venugopal, Priyansh, V. V. Subrahmanyam, Shreedutta Chidananda & Amitabha Das Sharma