Yet another close one

Rajasthan Royals captain Rahul Dravid showed his class against PWI.-PTI

For the fourth time this Pepsi IPL season, RCB took a game down to the final over; and for the second time, to a Super Over beyond. It was not until the final ball that the tie was resolved, putting fans — and deadline-chasing hacks — through the heavy-duty wringer.

Royal Challengers Bangalore simply will not be satisfied with a standard, unfussy contest. There must, instead, be suspense, anxiety, and general disorder. For the fourth time this Pepsi IPL season, RCB took a game down to the final over; and for the second time, to a Super Over beyond.

It was not until the final ball that the tie was resolved, putting fans — and deadline-chasing hacks — through the heavy-duty wringer. “Why this always happen to us, RCB?” Yohan Blake wondered on twitter, echoing the thoughts of many at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium on a Tuesday night. The owner Siddarth Mallya, meanwhile, posted a picture of his severely chewed-up nails. The outcome, he revealed, of having to watch two Super Overs.

Afterwards, the captain Virat Kohli felt his side had been excellent for 17 overs every game before letting things drift. It will not do, he pointed out, if RCB has designs of winning the tournament.

Rampaul proves his worth

At auctions in two preceding years, Ravi Rampaul had gone unsold. This time, Royal Challengers Bangalore secured his services for $290,000. Rampaul has played only two games this Pepsi IPL, but that sum already looks like a bargain. The Trinidadian was excellent in the defeat to CSK and at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium he also held his nerve in the Super Over against DD to carry RCB to victory.

“I specifically told the management that I wanted Ravi in the side,” Virat Kohli revealed. “He can be deadly with the bat too. If he hadn’t hit the six over cover (in the 20th over), we would have lost the game.” His performances at the World T20 in Sri Lanka, in conditions similar to Indian ones, had caught his eye, Kohli said. “He’s a brilliant guy to have in the T20 squad.”

There has been much tinkering with the RCB eleven so far; it is safe to assume that with Rampaul, there will be no chopping and changing.

A class act

If there was a White Cap for batsmen scoring runs via pure cricketing shots in the Indian Premier League, Rahul Dravid will be a frontrunner in the sixth season. Ajinkya Rahane, who considers the former as his mentor in Rajasthan Royals, can become a strong contender for the second spot.

Dravid’s stroke-filled 54 off 48 balls in an away game against Pune Warriors India can be classed as an essay in Twenty20 batting, sans the brutality. For those fortunate to witness the knock first-hand at a packed Subrata Roy Sahara Stadium, the RR captain stole eight boundaries.

T20 specialists in the rival camp like Robin Uthappa standing behind the wickets, Ross Taylor and Yuvraj Singh could only stand and watch helplessly as Dravid leaned into cover drives, danced back at the crease to play the late cut and flicked the ball off his pads.

The PWI bowling attack was impressive (Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, Angelo Matthews, Rahul Sharma, Yuvraj), Dravid took them on without breaking a stride. For youngsters in the stands and on the pitch wondering if he could innovate, the RR captain stepped out for a slog over long-on. The Wall can surely do the Waltz, if the format demands and all the bowlers can do is dance to his tune.

Playing with the stars

18-year-old Harpreet Singh, perhaps unsurprisingly, idolises Harbhajan Singh. The turban-sporting off-spinner too can boast of troubling an Australian batsman, albeit his achievement is not similar to his hero’s domination of Ricky Ponting in the 2001 Test series.

“Last year, I dismissed Brad Hodge five times in an over. I have already got him out thrice this season,” says the Rajasthan Royals practice bowler with an impish grin.

Harpreet is supported by a cohort of five to six other bowlers who toil away at the franchise’s training sessions in north India, mostly earning the batsmen’s supreme attention.

Tom Moody (centre) is impressed with all the innovations of T20 cricket.-V. GANESAN

The teenage spinner hails from Delhi and has already featured in the state’s junior teams. Having secured a place among the probables for the Ranji Trophy, Harpreet is yet to join a college after finishing school last year.

“Now cricket is my life,” asserts the teenager beamingly. Harbhajan aside, Harpreet is a big fan of Shane Watson too. In a long tournament where the narrative lives in a constant danger of losing its context, overstated success stories abound, Harpreet’s unassuming tale sparkles in all its honesty. If the IPL is ever made to justify its existence, it should race to cricketers like the aforementioned young spinner.

A thinking cricketer

The Adelaide-born Tom Moody came to India as an under-19 player in the mid 1980s and since then he has seen the advance made by the Asian country on several counts cricket-wise and more. He himself progressed sufficiently well and went on to score two centuries (106 against Sri Lanka at the Gabba, Brisbane and 101 against India at Perth) but a poor run against the Lankans in the 1992 series in Sri Lanka saw his Test career come to an end. The gangling right-hander, however, played 76 One-day Internationals for Australia and met with reasonable success, making 1211 runs and taking 52 wickets. Time came when he took to coaching and took charge of Kings XI Punjab for the first three years of the IPL. Now at 47 plus he is with Hyderabad’s new team Sunrisers.

Moody’s views on the game are incisive and this is what he said at Pune when asked if there’s scope for the batsmen to improvise more in Twenty20. “I don’t think it’s the batsmen, I think the bowlers have improvised pretty well as well. If we take ourselves back to the first edition of the IPL in 2008 the bowlers were coping with some caning from the batsmen. Very quickly as the tournament progressed, particularly at the back-end of that tournament, bowlers realised that they need to up their skills, add different variations and make sure that they bowled in particular areas to certain batsmen.

“The art of improving is making yourself watertight as a batsman and bowler to a point where you don’t tend to have a lot of weaknesses. So you got both the natural and reverse sweep, people who can hit straight and square, play off the back and front foot. So there is scope for improvement. But I don’t think every batsman in the competition can do that.”

Baffling selections

Last year, Pune Warriors India (PWI) had a forgettable IPL — it finished last. This year it may not plummet to such lows, courtesy Delhi Daredevils, but the signs at this stage don’t look good.

However, this hasn’t stopped Australian Steven Smith from puncturing Chennai Super Kings’ hopes. He scored a 22-ball 44 and led his side to victory at Pune in IPL-5, and now, in Chennai, he set-up another with an unbeaten 16-ball 39. His story till then was hard to believe.

Pune’s best player last season, Smith was overlooked for the first four games and along with big-hitting all-rounder from England, Luke Wright and Sri Lankan spinner Ajantha Mendis warmed the benches as his team stuttered along.

He finally took the field due to Angelo Mathews’ absence and such was his performance — which contained an audacious reverse sweep (not a switch-hit) for a six into the stands and three catches — that stand-in skipper Ross Taylor said: “He need not worry about of not being on the scoresheet come the next game.”

Adventures of ‘Sir’ Jadeja

While Ravindra Jadeja jokes have always done the rounds (mostly with ‘Sir’ or ‘Lord’ prefixing his name), they have gone viral ever since his teammates began splashing them on twitter over the last two weeks.

With India and Chennai Super Kings skipper M. S. Dhoni leading the way and the likes of Suresh Raina and Ravichandran Ashwin following suit, it was a must-ask question to Stephen Fleming. ‘Was it part of some quirky team-building exercise?’ he was probed, ahead of what turned out to be a riveting game against Royal Challengers Bangalore.

Coach Fleming, his stoic expression making way for a broad smile, replied: “It is none of my doing. It is a good sign particularly the way Jadeja has taken it. They have a great banter among themselves, the Indian players who are his peers. If he can take it, and they can give it then it’s quite funny.”

All the ribbing about Jadeja’s ‘otherworldly abilities’, actually, took a prophetic turn after R. P. Singh delivered the last ball-that-wasn’t. The Saurashtra swashbuckler (about time the alliterative hyperboles were unleashed!) led CSK to a sensational win. People were left rubbing their eyes, wondering if ‘Sir’ really possessed magical powers.

Once again, it was Dhoni who led the Jadeja tributes with this tweet: “When you give Sir Ravindra Jadeja one ball to get 2 runs he will win it with one ball to spare!!” Jadeja, the sport he is, made light of the banter. “I think it is a joke and we are enjoying it. I don’t think I am a great man. I am not seriously thinking about the title ‘Sir’. It’s fine as long as everybody in the team is enjoying it.”

Hear, Hear. Photo finish

Ever since, Facebook and twitter acquired cult status, it’s become fashionable to post messages, pictures, videos (and everything else you possibly can) pertinent or not to an unfolding event. So, as CSK sealed its fixture against RCB, the game’s more momentous visuals were uploaded in no time.

Most of the jokes were directed at, apart from R. P. Singh, Virat Kohli; a sequence of images capturing the changing expression on his face, from ecstasy to despair, was put up. There was also the photograph of umpire Anil Chaudhary extending his arm to signal the fateful no-ball. Sure enough, there were plenty of ‘Retweets’, ‘Likes‘, ‘Comments’, and ‘Shares’ for these pictures.

Compiled by Shreedutta Chidananda, Nandakumar Marar, Priyansh, G. Viswanath, N. Sudarshan and Arun Venugopal