They say fortunes can be fickle in T20 cricket. Ask Shane Watson. It was a day where he deserved to be anointed as a hero. The Australian all-rounder had after all become the first centurion of IPL VI earlier in the evening with a sensational assault on the Chennai Super Kings bowlers at the MA Chidambaram Stadium.
But here he was,thrust with the unenviable responsibility of bowling the final over with the hosts requiring 11 to win. Up against him,one of the most clinical finishers in the game in Dwayne Bravo,especially when he dons Chennai’s canary yellow jersey. To his credit,Watson didn’t start off too badly.
After conceding a single off the first delivery,the medium-pacer delivered an inch-perfect yorker to Bravo,locking the Trinidadian in his crease. Suddenly,the Super Kings were left with 10 to get off four. Probably,it was going to be Watson’s day after all. Unknown to him,the halo was just about to shift from over his head and move some 30 yards towards the other end of the pitch. And as Watson missed his yorker-length,Bravo was waiting for him,getting his left foot out of the way,making room and smashing the half-volley with all the force he could muster over the extra-cover fence. With just a marginal error,Watson’s face had just changed colour drastically. Same was the case with all other 10 Rajasthan Royals on the field. For at that point,the realisation had dawned on them and their skipper Rahul Dravid in particular that they had just let another game slip through their grasp.
Bravo completed the formalities with a couple of braces,taking Chennai home to a dramatic five-wickets win and along with it guiding the two-time champions to the top of the IPL VI table.
And as he set off on a victory lap before indulging in a characteristic jig,all Watson could do was stare into the distance in dismay and wonder about what could have been. Unfortunately,his singular villainy with the ball had just put all his heroics with the bat earlier in the day to waste. And Watson had just realised how the pendulum of fate can shift almost whimsically in the shortest format of the game.
While it was Bravo’s last-over swagger and bluster that won Chennai the day eventually,the real master of the run-chase was Michael Hussey. A target of 186 was a daunting one,even for Chennai’s star-studded batting line-up. And what they needed was a blistering start. With Murali Vijay falling early to the wiles of Ajit Chandila,the onus was on the in-form Hussey to take charge. That’s exactly what he did,playing all his shots of yore,especially off the back-foot,repeatedly pulling and cutting the likes of Rahul Shukla and Kevon Cooper to shreds.
Hussey found an ably ally in Suresh Raina,who too kept the momentum going with an array of shots,including two delectable straight sixes,one each off Cooper and Watson. Raina perished,trapped in front by the indelible James Faulkner,who produced another eye-catching display of pace,swing and accuracy with figures of 3/20 in four overs. Hussey though continued on,toying with Cooper in one over,slicing him for three fours on either side of the short third-man,before being run-out by a direct-hit from Dravid for a faultless 51-ball 88. Then Bravo finished it off in style.
Though he might have erred by a whisker with the ball,hardly a ball missed the middle of Watson’s bat while he was at the crease. With a batting line-up consisting of a number of stylists,Dravid,Rahane and Hodge to name a few,the Royals are like an army fighting a battle with a single cannon in their ranks.
On Monday night,it fired on all cylinders lifting the lid off the Chidambaram Stadium. Watson in fact was at it like a bazooka,blowing away the Chennai bowling into smithereens. He started very early with a straight six off Mohit Sharma,before unleashing a carnage on the rest of the attack. Almost all the bowlers except R Ashwin came under Watson’s fire,and the Australian eventually bludgeoned six mighty sixes while bringing up his maiden IPL ton,and the first of this tournament in just 60 balls. Little would he have known then that his day would somehow end in despair and not in ultimate triumph.
By the way,did someone say bowlers’ tournament? Probably that assessment might require a review after a target of over 180 was chased down comprehensively for the second match running in IPL VI.