240 balls bowled, 94 dot balls, 13 wickets and 10 fours. To an extent, these numbers explain the slumbering pace of Saturday’s IPL 2021 match between Punjab Kings and Sunrisers Hyderabad at the Sharjah International Stadium. Ramp shot, scoop, reverse hit, uppercut – all the batting innovations developed over the past decade were mercilessly mocked by the flat pitch on the day. KL Rahul pulled, Kane Williamson played straight, Manish Pandey rolled his wrists, others swung hard but the ball sneaked past their bats as if it was magnetized to go the other way. Even part-timer Abdul Samad got the wicket of Aiden Markram with a bad ball. As the ball messed with their minds, in walked Jason Holder with a cheat code embedded into his bat.
He had Wriddhiman Saha at the other end, batting on 26 off 32 with just one boundary to his name and SRH in need of 66 runs from 42 balls. Against the spongy bounce of Harpreet Brar, Holder decided to run singles and warmed up against Ravi Bishnoi with a paddle behind the wicket. Bishnoi, smug from dismissing Pandey, Kedhar Jadhav and Abdul Samad, beat him all ends up with a leg-spinner. The narrow escape seemed to have clicked something inside Holder. The very next ball, he cleared his front foot and sent Bishnoi’s leg-spinner crashing into the sightscreen.
Getting to the pitch of the ball was the key and none of the other batters succeeded in doing that. Towering at 6 feet 7 inches, Holder used his long reach to swing at Nathan Ellis’ tight line for two big sixes on the leg-side.
His battle against Mohammed Shami was the most intriguing part of his knock. Shami used all his Test-match experience to set up batters before dismissing them with a stock delivery. Williamson and Warner, not in the best of form, fell for the trap. Dealing with a smart bowler under energy-sapping conditions was nothing new to Holder. Not long ago on a minefield surface at Kingston, the 29-yeard old withstood the trickery of Mohammad Abbas, Shaheen Afridi, Hasan Ali and Faheem Ashraf to score 58 in a Test match against Pakistan. Interestingly, 40 of those runs had come in boundaries. As Shami fired one in the fuller-length Holder cleared his front leg once again thumped it over long-on.
While it was not the perfect knock, the Barbados man's rapid-fire 47 not out off just 29 balls almost took SRH over the line. It had five sixes, three more than what Punjab’s batters managed in 20 overs and two more than all his teammates managed. His strike rate of 162.07 was the best by a good measure among all who faced 10 balls or more in the match.
West Indies keeper-batter Joshua Da Silva described Holder's abilities the best.
“Jason has the something about him. He can do anything. He doesn’t even have to think about it. If he wants to play a cover drive, he’ll do it. If he wants to hit one straight over the bowler, he just does it. He is extremely compact. Its a quality that makes him seem better than the level he is playing at,” he said in a recent episode of Caribbean Cricket Podcast.
Besides his batting heroics, Holder’s 3-19 from four overs was the best bowling performance by an SRH player this season. His economy of 4.75 was bettered by Rashid Khan and Shami, but he didn’t concede a single boundary in the four overs.
Running in for the fifth over, Holder produced two superb balls to remove the in-form KL Rahul and Mayank Agarwal in the same over. Until then, SRH were averaging an abysmal 91 runs per wicket in the Powerplay. Holder’s twin strikes brought it down to 65.5. With Deepak Hooda’s dismissal, Holder is now SRH’s second-best wicket-taker this year with six scalps which is a testament to the franchise’s miserable run.
In the large scheme of things, Holder’s efforts might not spark a radical change in SRH’s mentality as they are already out of the playoff race. However, it should convince the team management to play Holder in the remaining five matches. While their bowling has shown improvement from the first leg, SRH’s batting has not emerged from the wreckage. With only pride to play for, it is practical to drop Warner for the second time this season and give Jason Roy a go as the fourth overseas player as axing either one of Holder, Rashid or skipper Williamson will further weaken the team.