There is a certain sense of entitlement which the IPL has fostered, along with many of its offshoots in different parts of the world today. “Dream Teams”, which were previously only pastime for fans to spend long afternoons arguing about, exist in all shape and form, and naturally, the standards have gone up across all facets of the game. As Amit Varma, former cricket journalist and award-winning blogger tweeted last week, every once in a while, it is imperative to pause, take a few deep breaths, sit back and marvel at our unique privilege and vantage point, as fans of this generation.
Bradman or Richards could not have *conceived* of the kind of strokes these guys play. Pinch yourself and enjoy.
— Amit Varma (@amitvarma) April 12, 2016
The current edition of the IPL, the second of the nine to start right after a World Cup in Indian shores, has felt deadbeat, one-dimensional, with a glaring lack of context. The World T20 was a roller-coaster ride, with the underlying theme of the haves battling the have-nots, or at the very least, the not-so-haves. Associate victories were celebrated, as were Big 3 exits, and the West Indies’ victory rightly savored by neutrals across the world.
Since then, the County championship has begun in England, and all the world’s curious eyes aren’t transfixed at one tournament anymore. There is general acceptance about the IPL caravan rattling along for a couple of months, while the rest of the world rations its attention at will. This time, though, it’s not just fans and empty seats, but the pitches too that have felt jaded. Win-toss-chase-win-game is some kind of a magic potion for success, and so little worthy of recall years down the line has taken place. At least, it has felt like it.
Even if you do not follow a single game this edition, for any of the above reasons, today’s game produced a couple of overs for the ages. When generations to come go all, “Grandpa, what
was is Test cricket like?”, this would be the perfect 101. Franchise cricketers, at different stages of their fledgling careers, played out two manic overs that no scorecard and statistical proof would ever do justice to.
KL Rahul. Future Test star, still a what-could-be than what-has-been at the top level. Rookie at international and franchise limited overs, outside of his state league. Huge void to fill, courtesy Chris Gayle’s paternity leave. Possibly an unpopular selection, especially among those who deal with the time sinks that are “fantasy” leagues, as if the IPL itself isn’t one. He looks like a hirsute Viking warrior on a size-zero diet, facing up to the Kiwi duo of McClenaghan and Southee.
Mitchell McClenaghan, not too long ago the holder of the all-time record for best ODI strike rate. A rare bowling success despite the belting tracks on offer this season. Looking to put his side back on track after 3 defeats out of 4 games.
The first ball hits Rahul flush on his helmet. He is down on his knees, yet somehow manages to get through to a single. Even Kohli, that merciless competitor, is reluctant to run at first. They cross over.
At the other end, a different battle is playing out. Kohli, clearly a few notches above Rahul on current form, rides on top of similar bounce and gets a single. What inequality, eh?
Bounce. Spite. Sway. Rahul evades the next one like a true Test opener. Easy and comfortable. Who needs helmets?
McClenaghan, as Big Smo crooned, is workin’ the short ball till it’s hurtin’. This time, Rahul cuts it, almost straight into Buttler at point.
Two more of those. Five testing balls. No runs. Bat only seems to meet ball once in a while. McClenaghan 1. Rahul 0.
T20 cricket rarely allows time for battles to play out. This is the game of one-over spells, cricket’s equivalent of tennis’ tie-break service routines. You don’t allow anyone to settle – yourself nor the opponent. Just when things seem to heat up, something’s already done – the bowler’s quota, or the batsman’s innings. Sometimes it’s a question of strike rotation, at others sheer dominance from the other guy. It’s just so hard to see Ishant Sharma v Ricky Ponting, a la Perth 2008. That long form is a far cry from this microblog.
Rahul, meanwhile, has hit a boundary over the keeper off Southee at the other end. Or has he? A rising ball, beat batsman, beat keeper, is what video replays say. At any rate, the umpire has signaled four runs. Bat tantalisingly close to the ball. On most days, Rahul would have been cooling his heels back in the dugout by now.
There is a matter-of-fact single from Kohli, a swivel to deep square leg. What now, then? As per all-too-well-known script, this isn’t going to end well for Rahul. A chance edge for four, maybe. Nothing more.
Brimming with confidence, McClenaghan tries the other angle, bowling into Rahul’s ribs. A skip down the track, away from the path of any potential bouncer, and a horizontal batted cut over point for a six. Just a touch wide, and this is what happens, even with a batsman struggling to connect.
The next ball. Oh. Immediately, you realize this one will stand the test of time, given the context. It rises right into his grille, except he has bent his body in a perfect arc. Only thin air exists where the helmet grille should have been. Target practice, with the target having done the feint and moved away. All of this happening at 140+ kilometres an hour. The bat is a perfect inclined plane, well on time at that, and the ball hits the sweet spot, goes above the keeper, past the advertisement skirtings. Six runs.
Play that again. Rewind. No, play it on 0.5x. The rise. The arc. The perfect ramp. A six as straight as any you would ever see, except in the other direction. Who woulda thunk? This is Test cricket on steroids, on 420 Day.
The next ball is a loose one on leg stump. Familiar result. Four runs. You would excuse the bowler after what he saw the previous ball. The perfect ego crushing, self-doubt creating monster of a cricket shot.
Two balls to go, and finally there’s the kicker ball. A change in length. Slightly higher up the deck. The shy,
two-minded poke. Taken by the relieved slip fielder.
9 memorable balls. 16 counterpunching runs. 1 YouTube download-and-watch-again six. 1 wicket to end the battle. For 10 breathtaking minutes, a Test match slugfest played out in T20 environs. Enough time to whet even the most gluttonous, purist palate.
Years on, when the inevitable question is asked, slow this down a few notches, play it on loop, and explain Test cricket to your grandchildren. They will understand.