Game 11: SRH versus RCB, Hyderabad
They tell the story of passersby who saw a man lying in a ditch. They pulled him out. He was beaten black and blue, and bleeding all over. One man recognized him. Aren’t you that famous Karate black belt, he asked the bleeding man, how come you got beaten so badly? “The thing is,” the man said between broken teeth, “the man who beat me, he never let me get set.”
The SRH innings against RCB was something like that. RCB had a decent attack, with three spinners backing three seam bowlers. The track was hard, with some bounce and some turn. But the SRH openers Bairstow and Warner never let the bowlers get set; never let them find a line, a length, a rhythm that would work for them as they combined in a tournament record 185-run opening partnership in 16.2 overs that flattened RCB before the visiting team could find its feet. Bairstow went after Moeen Ali in the first over of the match; Warner lofted the first ball of the second over, from Umesh Yadav, for a straight six – and you sensed something unusual was in the wind.
The statistics of the partnership are staggering: Of 98 balls faced by the pair before they were separated, only 22 were not scored of; against that, they hit 15 fours and 10 sixes, scoring a staggering 120 runs through boundaries.
But that wasn’t what was truly astonishing about the association. The Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium is not a particularly big ground; the square boundaries are in the mid 50-meter range and the straights are between 68 and 73 meters – par for the IPL. It was blazing hot – 42 degrees in the middle. And yet the two batsmen ran a phenomenal 38 singles and 13 twos; many of those braces hit straight to the deep fielders and made possible because both sprinted like Olympic athletes, the calling at all times so precise that at no point were they ever pushed to make their ground.
Bairstow was the more aggressive; where Warner played the game of percentages Bairstow – who had an issue with his right shoulder that required the intervention of the physio – just stood tall and hit long, many of his strokes more reminiscent of the golf course than the cricket pitch. His 50 came off just 28 balls; his hundred, the second T20 century, off the first ball of the 16th, off just 52 balls. (He fell soon after, for 114 off 56 with 12 fours and seven towering sixes).
But for all the immensity of Bairstow’s innings, it was Warner who was the cynosure. The Aussie remained not out on 100 off 55 (just three balls more than Bairstow needed) with 5 fours and five sixes, but it was not the big hitting that stood out, but the construction of the knock that dragged you to the edge of the seat and kept you glued to the screen while the popcorn went cold.
Something has changed about the Aussie southpaw since the ban that put him out of action for a little over a year. He has added hunger to his arsenal; he has refined a deft touch and a positional awareness that lets him know, even as the bowler delivers, exactly where in the field he has the gaps he needs, and he has the strokes to hit those gaps. One example suffices: In the 19th over, Umesh Yadav sent down a swinging, dipping full toss outside leg stump. Any other batsman would have tickled to fine leg or flicked square – somehow, Warner found a way to get leg side of the ball, and he found the flexibility in his wrist to place it behind point.
It was remarkable, all of it, but it wasn’t what stood out. This is the statistic that defines, underlines, the most amazing aspect of the southpaw’s innings: SRH’s score of 231/2 contained 50 singles and 20 twos. Remember, this is in 42 degree heat; remember two that this is not the vast WACA, where the boundaries are huge – those singles and twos were taken at sprint speeds. And Warner ran every single one of those singles and twos. Every single one. He ran two twos in the 19th over, and his foot speed was exactly the same as for the twos he ran in the first over. And then, just two overs into the RCB chase, he was back out on the field, and almost immediately dived at cover to make a catch out of a hard-hit cover drive by Virat Kohli. Imagine what this guy could do in the Iron Man Triathlon.
Outside of the duet between the Englishman and the Aussie, the only point of note was the debut of Paras Ray Barman the leg break/googly bowler who, at 16 years and 157 days, is the youngest ever to play the IPL. Someday, it is worth doing an entire piece on how the IPL is not only finding talent from across the country, but finding them, and blooding them, ever younger with every passing year.
Barman bowled a good first over; overall, though he went for 50 in his four, he could hold his head up – there was no bowler who could have done more on this day against two batsmen in peak form.
The RCB reply is hardly worth writing about: the amazing Mohammad Nabi made it a no contest within the first 5 overs. In his first, Parthiv Patel smacked one straight to cover. In the first ball of his next, he drew Shimron Hetmeyer out of his crease and had him superbly stumped by Bairstow; in his next over he foxed AB de Villiers with the fuller, quicker ball on middle stump that beat the batsman’s heave and knocked out middle stump and then he invited Shivam Dube to go downtown, foxed him with loop and a change of pace, and forced him to hole out to long off 4 overs, 11 runs, four wickets, game over. At the other end Sandeep Sharma, who seems to take Kohli’s wicket for fun, did it again, inviting the cover drive and giving Warner another opportunity to show off. RCB were 4-30 in 6.1 overs when Kohli got out, Moeen was run out next ball, and after 7.3 overs RCB were 35/6 with only the bowlers left.
RCB with the bat was shambolic – there is no other word for it. You could in defense of the visiting side say that chasing 231, after spending two hours having their brains fried in Hyderabad’s intense heat, was no picnic – but you also had to say that Virat Kohli is doing his batsmen no favours with his constant chopping and changing.
Parthiv Patel walked out with his third opening partner – Shimron Hetmeyer -- in three games. How does an opening pair settle, given this uncertainty? The thing about the Bairstow-Warner partnership was how well they understood and complemented each other’s game. Think too of the others: one day you are number six, the next you are opening, then you are down to five (Moeen Ali) while another batsman, batting five and six, is suddenly made to open. If you never know from one day to the next what your role is, there is no way you can settle into the job – and in this team, too many players are uncertain about their roles, and that makes for a bad “team”.
Today, RCB were a bad team. Period.