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For the third time in three balls,and the fourth time in five,Chris Gayle of Royal Challengers Bangalore smacked Bhuvneshwar Kumar of Pune Warriors down the ground for six. This time,the ball sailed over long off rather than long on. Fifty to Chris Gayle! yelled the hyperactive emcee. He had brought up the mark in 24 balls. All around the stadium,Pune Warriors flags waved furiously in the night sky.
Before every match,a Warriors flag sits on top of each seat in the Subrata Roy Sahara Stadium,waiting for someone to come and claim it. Guards at the gates have also been known to confiscate opposition flags.
On Friday night,as the Warriors hurtled to their seventh straight defeat,their turquoise flag fluttered in gloriously ironical manner. The stadium continued to be packed despite its lack of proximity to the city,despite the absence of any public transport to and from it,and despite the lack of roofs on three sides on a night when rain delayed the start of play by an hour and the spectators,you began to sense,were there to be entertained,regardless of what colour kit the entertainer wore.
If the only thing they had at hand to wave was a Pune Warriors flag,so be it.
The air was still fresh from the downpour,and the temperature had dropped a couple of degrees. This was delightful cricket-watching weather. Gayle was in rampant form,and there are few sights as exhilarating in the IPL as the Jamaican standing still and swatting bowlers of every description back over their heads for six.
Gayle did that six times before he was out for 57,clubbing Angelo Mathews hard,flat and straight to long on. Bangalore,at that point,were 80 for one in 8.3 overs. A large total was inevitable.
Pune pulled things back to a certain extent following Gayles dismissal. When debutant Krishnakant Upadhyay finished his third over the 13th of Bangalores innings their score was 99 for two. In their last seven overs,bowled primarily by Rahul Sharma,Michael Clarke and Mathews,the visitors had only scored 33 for the loss of two wickets.
But Tillakaratne Dilshan relieved the pressure over the next two overs,taking a four and a six off Rahul and three fours in three balls,all in the V behind the wicket,off Upadhyay. Saurabh Tiwary made 36 from 30 balls,and AB de Villiers flat-batted the last ball of the innings,a slower one from Alfonso Thomas,over the long on fence to take Bangalore past 170.
As bad as it gets
Punes chase got off to the worst possible start,with Zaheer Khan artfully removing Mohnish Mishra and Manish Pandey in their very first over. Clarke followed soon after,holing out to long on off Vinay Kumar,to leave them 22 for three. At that point,the home dugout may have longed for a painstaking 47-ball 40 from Sourav Ganguly who left himself out of the eleven (rested was the official word) just to ensure they lasted 20 overs.
But they stayed in the game for a while longer,thanks to a bright 50-run partnership,off 28 balls,between Robin Uthappa and Anustup Majumdar. Having looked a subdued presence through most of the season,Uthappa gave the Pune crowd a reminder of how dangerous he can be,square cutting Harshal Patel clinically and pummeling him down the ground for six either side of a cheeky reverse-swept four off Muttiah Muralitharan.
But Murali put an end to any renewal of hope in the Pune camp,leaving Uthappa stranded yards down the pitch with a straighter delivery. Not long after,Angelo Mathews was also out stumped,done in by a quicker one from left-arm spinner KP Appanna.
Pune just about managed to last 20 overs,remaining a wicket away from complete capitulation. Steven Smith remained not out,and he would have realised over the course of a difficult captaincy debut that turning Punes fortunes around would require more than merely a change in leadership.