The glorious spirit of the Royals

Yusuf Pathan (with Shane Warne) had been a smashing success at the top of the order with the heavy-hitting Graeme Smith in several league games. Then, in a tactical switch, he was shifted to the middle-order.-PTI Yusuf Pathan (with Shane Warne) had been a smashing success at the top of the order with the heavy-hitting Graeme Smith in several league games. Then, in a tactical switch, he was shifted to the middle-order.

Shane Warne’s cricketing acumen — he’s a natural as a captain — opened new paths for Rajasthan Royals. He invariably out-thought his opposite number, played his cricket with pride and passion, writes S. Dinakar.

Yusuf Pathan recalls an inspirational moment during the Indian Premier League campaign. The legend, Shane Warne, took the all-rounder to a corner during a practice session and then told him: “You are the main man for us. You will do the job for us.”

Pathan’s confidence levels went up a few notches. “When your captain, such a great cricketer, displays so much faith in you, you have to respond,” he said.

Cricket is played as much in the mind as in the arena. The wily Warne had recognised Pathan’s precious ability. He then used his motivational skills.

When Pathan was dumping the balls into the stands in the cauldron of the final, Warne’s words — “You are the man for us.” — might have come back to him.

Pathan was the man of the moment for Rajasthan Royals against a spirited Chennai Super Kings in a high-octane summit clash that threw up a winner off the last delivery. A clean striker of the ball with exceptional hand-eye coordination, bat speed and an ability to pick the length early, Pathan can clear the ground effortlessly.

The lad from Vadodara once again remembered Warne’s advice. “He told me to strike between long-off and long-on. Hit straighter and don’t attempt fancy shots square off the wicket.”

Importantly, for an impuslive cricketer, Shane Watson appears to be reading the situations better. He constructed knocks in crisis situations, relished the responsibility of being a senior cricketer in the side.-PTI

Importantly, Pathan delivered in a perform-or-perish situation. Irfan’s elder brother was now his own man.

Pathan had been a smashing success at the top of the order with the heavy-hitting Graeme Smith in several league games. Then, in a tactical switch, he was shifted to the middle-order.

Much of Warne’s moves oozed cricketing wisdom. Pathan relished hitting out with Smith in a right-left opening combination. Then, Warne realised that the influential Pathan could also be a winner in the post-Power Play phase since he can send the ball soaring over the men patrolling the boundary.

Psychologically, having someone with Pathan’s firepower for the later overs made sense. The opposition would be wary even if it made the early inroads.

Pushing the tiny Swapnil Asnodkar up the order with Smith had more to it than the two forming a right-left combination. The huge difference in height meant that the bowlers would have to bring about drastic adjustments in their lengths as well. Smith could score with stunning straight hits or big blows over mid-wicket. The little Asnodkar used the pace of the ball, was strong square off the wicket on either side. Their scoring areas were vastly different.

Throughout the competition, Warne strove to have a right-left pair of contrasting methods at the crease. The injured Smith missed the final. However, the left-handed Niraj Patel partnered Asnodkar.

Cricketing ploys can succeed or fail but the Rajasthan Royals think-tank kept surprising the opponents with its game-plan. There were changes in the batting order and the bowling pattern differed. This was a side that invariably nailed close finishes, held its nerve at the crunch. And adverse situations threw up heroes.

Shane Watson delivered in both batting and bowling. Here was a cricketer down on his luck and high on injuries attempting to pick up the pieces again in a faraway land.

Watson’s ability has never been in question. A powerful striker of the ball and a bustling paceman, he has often been thought of as someone who would answer Australia’s long quest for a Test-match all-rounder. Then he stared at a career crisis and a string of injuries.

Despite large chunks of time being consumed by fitness concerns, Watson has worked on his game. He is harnessing the pace on the ball and using his feet better. Between the thundering blows are delicate shots square off the wicket. Watson is using his wrists, much like a sub-continental batsman, a lot better than he ever did.

Importantly, for an impulsive cricketer, he appears to be reading the situations better. He constructed knocks in crisis situations, relished the responsibility of being a senior cricketer in the side.

With the ball, Watson impressed. Not many pacemen employed the short ball as effectively as Watson did in the competition. He snared batsmen with short-of-a-good-length deliveries around the off-stump in his earlier spells and bowled a fuller length at the death.

Left-arm paceman Sohail Tanvir contained and struck. Tanvir’s quick and rather round-armish bowling action made it difficult for the batsmen to pick him. He appeared to release the ball at various points of his bowling action. He swung the ball into the left-handers from over the wicket and tested the right-handers from round the wicket. He varied his pace and trajectory, swung the ball off a fullish length and proved hard to score runs off, especially during the final stages of the innings. Tanvir is calm in stressful situations and goes about his job in a clinical fashion.

Munaf Patel bowled with controlled aggression. How Warne and the Royals’ mental conditioning coach Jeremy Snape worked on this enigmatic paceman holds a lesson for the Indian team management.

Young paceman Siddarath Trivedi was consistent. The left-handed Niraj Patel and the talented Ravindra Jadeja — among the finest all-round fielders in the country — guided the team to victories during tight finishes in the league.

Sohail Tanvir bowled with such control that the batsmen found it difficult to score against him.-PTI

Mohammed Kaif pushed the ball into the gaps and ran hard; numbers do not always indicate his usefulness. For the Royals, situation did throw up heroes.

The spirit within the Royals camp was splendid throughout. “We blended extremely well as a unit, helped each other out. Not many gave the team a chance at the beginning of the tournament and we thought we had a point to prove to everyone,” revealed Pathan.

The side’s inherent aggression reflected in its swift and often sensational fielding. Here was a bunch of cricketers who attacked the ball than wait for it to come to them.

According to Pathan, the international stars in the side extended a helping hand to the Indian cricketers. “We were a little apprehensive in the beginning. Warne put us at ease. He spent time with each of the cricketers. And Smith is so down to earth as a person. He is such a big player, is the South African captain, but always had words of advice for me,” he said.

Smith, unfortunate to sit out of the final, dominated attacks with left-handed strokes of power and placement. The big man can swing Twenty20 games in a jiffy.

Graeme Smith dominated the bowling in the league phase. He was unlucky to miss the final though.-RAJEEV BHATT

Bowling to someone like Smith at the nets would have sharpened Pathan’s skills with the ball. Apart from his blazing ways with the willow, Pathan’s quickish off-spin, and his three important wickets in the final, added to his value.

Pathan is clear about his ways as a spinner — he hits the pitch hard — and is not pretentious. He realises that his height and high-arm action are his assets as a spinner.

Warne was often seen having a chat with Pathan on the field. “He would discuss the field placements. Basically tell me what the batsman might do with the next delivery. He’s good in mind games,” said the cricketer from Vadodara.

Indeed, Warne’s cricketing acumen — he’s a natural as a captain — opened new paths for the Royals. He was cunning with his leg-spin, setting the batsmen up before prising them out. And the skipper biffed a few handy blows. Warne, invariably, out-thought his opposite number, played his cricket with pride and passion.

“He (Warne) has a big heart. He’s a good man,” said Pathan.

Fittingly, it was Warne who emerged smiling after a long night in Mumbai. The Shane Warne fable is not over yet.