The pulls of Rohit Sharma were typically regal — the stroke fetched him three sixes and a four, each worthy of an essay in itself, each struck with a slice of cricketing divinity. But on the elegance-scale, two of his cut shots shaded out the pull. The first was when Daniel Sams flung one too wide and short outside off-stump. Sharma did not throw his bat at it, he seldom does, but just extended his arms, from the crease, and glided the ball through the vacant slips, fine and fast enough to beat third man. The next was classier.
Cummins had erred slightly on the shorter side, a misdirected slower ball, and Sharma just worked the ball past backward point with nothing but a gentle swish of his wrists.
The shot seemed nothing but a reluctant steer, but such was the timing that it purred along to the fence. The shot, off the last ball of the penultimate over, slashed the required runs to 9 off six balls. And Dinesh Karthik did the honours. But the chase had the stamp of Sharma all along — regal pulls and gorgeous cuts.
Bumrah’s yorker from hell
Jasprit Bumrah’s first ball upon his comeback shed signs of rust. The ball was slow and wide, the good old loosener that has almost vanished from the game. Bumrah was aghast at himself, rarely ever does he express such self-admonishment. But as the over progressed, he gathered rapid momentum, the pace and precision were re-allying with him. So much so that by the last ball, he was searing in sixth gear. The final ball of the over was a pearler — delivered from wide of the crease, the ball just kept tailing devilishly into Aaron Finch’s feet, before it located its landing strip, the base of leg-stump. Finch, shuffling away, tried to jam his bat to avert the destiny of the ball. It was not to be, as the ball curved a bit more at supersonic pace. A yorker from hell or a ball forged in hellish fire? Even Finch could not but applaud the ball as he walked back to the pavilion. The fire and fury of the ball was irresistible. And a smile was back on Bumrah’s face. A deadly smile.
The T-eight batting manual
How does an opener approach a truncated T20 game? Rather a T-8 game. There is hardly any time to get the eye in, size up the surface and gauge the bowler. Even in standard T20 games, openers are supposed to tee off from the start, not least in an eight-overs-a-side game. So, Aaron Finch, though he was beaten by a Hardik Pandya corker that whistled inwards and whispered away, hunkered down and tucked him over the wicketkeeper’s head. The stroke was not without wisdom though. He second-guessed that Pandya, encouraged by the lateral movement, would bowl fuller. So, Finch set himself up for the scoop and executed it adeptly. He sledge-hammered another four off Pandya, backing away, though bizarrely failed to utilise a full toss and a short ball. In his alacrity to hit the ball as hard as he could, he failed to time the ball. More chaotic batting was to follow, as Finch continued to swipe, slog and swish, throwing the proverbial kitchen sink at every ball. He even switched-hit Axar Patel. The pattern was to follow, as batsmen would just land up at the crease and look to heave the bowler from ball one. How else would one approach a T-8 game?
Harshal, a forlorn figure
After the last-ball run-out, Harshal Patel slumped to the grass. He had bowled just two overs, but seemed knackered, a touch forlorn too. The emotions that flickered across his face ranged from angst to anger, helplessness to hopelessness. Until a few months ago, before his injury-forced layoff, Harshal was India’s death-overs trump card, thrifty as well as wicket-taking. But on his comeback, he has been scattergun, uncharacteristically erring in length and fluffing his lines. In the last two games, he has conceded 81 runs in six overs (32 in two overs this game alone), and attained the notoriety of conceding the most sixes this year (31) by any bowler. Maybe, Harshal is still feeling his way back into the international circuit. Maybe, those were two anomalous outings. Perhaps, he is trying too hard. But just a month and few games from the World Cup, these are worrying signs. In the end, Rohit Sharma dragged him back onto his feet and wrapped an arm of comfort around him. Still, he seemed lost and lonely.