Yuvraj Singh's forgettable deja vu

Yuvraj Singh... troubles aplenty.-K. PICHUMANI

Having lost its away game against Chennai, Pune's top order was rendered ineffective in no time in the return fixture. At 41 for four, the situation bore an uncanny resemblance to the game in Chennai. Over to Arun Venugopal.

Yuvraj Singh panted, sweated, grimaced, and even managed to fall over while playing the sweep (no Rohan Kanhai doppelganger there) in Pune's away game against Chennai. His fluid strokeplay evaporated on the humid night as he made a laboured 43-ball 34. There was hardly any instance of ‘running the first one hard', as the commentators' stock phrase goes. Instead, a thoroughly exhausted Yuvi traipsed around converting easy twos into singles (!).

Earlier in the evening, with the famous swagger not succumbing to the heat just as yet, Yuvraj grassed two difficult chances. The end credits rolled with a 25-run defeat for Pune.

However, sequels of the horror evening continued to terrorise Yuvraj as his team hurtled down to two consecutive losses. When Pune hosted Chennai for the return fixture, a worrisome deja vu of sorts ensued for the home team as its top order was rendered ineffective in no time. At 41 for four, the situation bore an uncanny resemblance to the game in Chennai (Pune was 40 for four then).

Yuvraj, who had opted to bat first this time, took matters into his own hands and sketched an unbeaten 62 off exactly the same number of balls he had faced in the first leg. Pune reached an almost identical total as well — 141 (CSK had made 142). The men in yellow, however, ensured that the result was similar too and romped home by eight wickets. No prizes for guessing what would be the remedy to Yuvraj's forehead creases.

Grass here, gone tomorrow…

The mysterious appearance and disappearance of grass on the Feroze Shah Kotla wicket has had Sehwag, an ardent devotee of the ‘I love to keep it simple' cult, rather befuddled. After abundant greenery had ended Delhi's victory drought, the Nawab of Najafgarh naturally wanted more of such lushness. The subsequent loss to Bangalore on a track that had slowed down a little left Viru miffed.

Ishant Sharma... superb spell against Kochi Tuskers.-PTI

“The ball is not coming on to the bat. They cut a lot of grass, which we didn't want, but we have to carry on with whatever wicket we get.” Local boy Virat Kohli, whose allegiance is with the Royal Challengers, added fuel to the fire with his “I haven't played on a better wicket here than this” remark. Kolkata speedster Brett Lee took the cue and was liberal in his praise for the turf. Sehwag, though, had reconciled to the situation. “No point criticising the curator, we need to look at ourselves.” he said ahead of the game against the Knight Riders which Delhi eventually lost!

Meanwhile, the grass was green on the other side, quite literally, as Mahela Jayawardene would tell you. On a strip that had bowlers licking their lips in anticipation, Kochi Tuskers was bowled out for a paltry 74 en route to its 55-run loss to Deccan Chargers. “We saw the wicket. I do not want to go through the discussion I had with the curator. I don't think it was what we wanted so I will just leave it at that,” said a distraught Jayawardene.

In the light of such events, the two teams, bound by a common grievance, met on another unpredictable Kochi wicket. This time the ball rarely climbed above the ankle with surlis, grubbers, sodakku balls, or however you choose to call them, being unleashed by the dozen. “What's with this Kochi track? Last time the ball was passing the nose… today its passing the toes,” tweeted Sanjay Manjrekar, who obviously has a fancy for alliteration. Nevertheless, Sehwag pulled a fast one by marrying his marauding instincts with composure. Even as he whistled away to a brilliant 80 off 47 balls, his last 49 runs coming off 11, Delhi posted a highly competitive 157. The rub of the ‘green' didn't go Mahela's way as Kochi fell short by 38 runs.

Ishant gets his numbers right

It's not always that you make fancy phone numbers out of your opposition. Ishant Sharma did that to an unsuspecting Kochi Tuskers which was run over before it could find its bearing. A harmless enough first ball put the blinkers on the opposition. The follow-up was a sizzler that saw Parthiv Patel edge one to Sangakkara. Strike one. The next ball rammed in to disturb Gomez's furniture. Ishant was in no mood for mercy as he cleaned up Hodge with the last ball of his over. Kochi was two for four and Ishant's figures read 1-0-1-3.

He was by no means finished as he plucked out two more batsmen off the first and last deliveries in his second over. Jadhav went first after being trapped in front. The more crucial blow was struck when Jayawardene edged one to the 'keeper.

The mercurial Sreesanth had his moments in the same game with one memorable over. After being pulled for a four by Sangakkara, the Kochi Express dished out a vicious inswinger and castled the Chargers' skipper. The euphoria didn't last long as replays indicated that Sreesanth had overstepped. The next ball was a dangerous beamer which was followed by a couple of dots, a wide, and a dot. The drama, the anger, the whimper… Sree's story is one for the tinsel town.

Lee dunk

It's no secret that cricketers love to unwind playing other sports. But what if someone pulled off a ‘non-cricketing' trick on the 22 yards? Brett Lee did that, a first of sorts in IPL if not elsewhere, when he let loose the athlete in him. Here's the sequence in chronology. Venugopal Rao fails to connect with his wild swish and Nagar comes running across for a bye. Rao obliges and as he runs, wicketkeeper Goswami lobs the ball. Lee puts the brakes on his followthrough and, running backwards, springs up to catch the ball. Still Lee, as he turns mid-air and makes a slam dunk finish on the stumps.

Brett Lee... athletic skills to the fore against Delhi Daredevils.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

Jordan, Bryant, and others would have been mighty proud indeed.

Iqbal Abdullah also had his share of spotlight in the match as he got the ball to dance in his first over. On a pitch that wasn't supposed to assist spinners, the young left-armer tweaked one square to leave Hopes bewildered.

Soon it was Sehwag's turn to look sheepishly as another one hissed past.

The fortress and Harbhajan's horror run

With Rajasthan Royals' impeccable record at the Sawai Man Singh Stadium, there is hardly an eyebrow raised at Warne christening it ‘The fortress'.

The venue lived up to its billing as Kochi Tuskers and Mumbai Indians perished at the Royals bastion. Warne grinned from ear to ear with the brown patches aiding his sorcery. The Mumbai duel was a witness to the seemingly unlikely event of Johan Botha getting out as he was finally dismissed in the IPL this year.

Harbhajan Singh found ways to hit the headlines too but not for the best of reasons. With a desire to retain strike in the slog overs, Bhajji crossed his partner Murtaza halfway and without completing the run, turned back for the second. It was a piece of gamesmanship which, while having most people confused, ended the Mumbai Indians' innings on a sour note.