Shot of pure AB-ness
There were numerous mind-boggling hits but one hit captured the unadulterated AB-ness. It was the penultimate ball of the innings and, by then, de Villiers was already at his venomous best, but this one easily topped everything else. Mohit Sharma had slipped in four clever deliveries until then — a bouncer and three slower ones. One of them fooled even de Villiers who could only shank it back to the bowler. It was in this context that Mohit started to run in for the fifth ball.
The permutations raced in the mind — it seemed plausible that he would go for another slower one, but would it be the short-ball bouncer or fuller? Would it be on the line of stumps or wider? For a man who likes moving around the stumps, de Villiers can be absolutely still when the occasion demands, and put the pressure back on the bowler. This wasn’t such an occasion, though. He showed his cards early this time, charging down the track; not only that but he also began to move outside leg stump. He perhaps wanted to scythe the ball over extra cover. Mohit had seen it of course. And he stuck to the slower one but slipped it wider outside off, away from de Villiers.
It should have been enough for most but obviously not for this splendorous hitter of the cricket ball. He began the course correction. The man who was rapidly moving away from the ball started to get closer. It wasn’t going to be easy as he had moved too far away from the cherry but somehow he dragged himself back to the line of the stumps. All this at breakneck speed. But he was still too far from the ball. He could have reached it for a slice to the off side that could have fetched him a single or two. If he could somehow get it to slice over backward point off an edge he might have even got a boundary and it wouldn’t have been a surprise. We have seen a few others do it in a similar position. But AB wanted a six. And so he began to get down on his knee as he had done a few times already on this Monday night. No one gets down on their knees and dispose of the bowler better than AB de Villiers. No one. That we know but still this was too ambitious, surely? He was on his knee now, the arms flailing away from him, and the rasping blade whirring down in an exhilaratingly quick time. He has the quickest bat-speed in business, and he was out to squeeze every advantage out of this ball. The knee was going down, the bat was whirring down and somehow, incredibly, he managed to maintain great balance. Insane stuff, really. Out of position for almost entire part of the shot-making process, he had made up in the frenetic last micro seconds. The ball which was heading through clear passage was jolted by the sudden appearance of hammering wood and flew back over long-off.
Here is the best part about the AB assault. Apparently he was having self doubts before this game as he hadn’t been playing cricket for a while due to injury. He spoke about it when he was miked up during the chase. “I called my wife and told her I was having doubts. She was lying down with my children and had to call back later, and told me not to worry.” And suddenly he smiled and said, “I am going cheesy on air!” Ballsy on field, cheesy on air: not a bad combo, that.
Skiddy Axar wins the game
For all that he did, AB de Villiers and Bangalore were done in by an unglamorous cricketer from the other team.
Axar Patel’s bowling arm seemed to have dropped further since the last IPL, but it did enough damage this night as he finished up with figures of 12 for 1. He showed he was going to be a real handful with the fifth ball of the match. A skidding 100 kmph delivery that had Shane Watson in real hurry to defend. Watson should have been wary after that but he wasn’t. The very next ball, he got another one to skid on. Watson initially came forward but perhaps fooled by the length of the delivery — it was slightly back of length — and also by the pressure of the quiet over, tried to manufacture a cut shot. Mistake. The ball began to skid in quickly, and a clearly alarmed Watson tried to chop his bat down in a real hurry. No luck. The ball collided with the inside edge and fell on the stumps. Axar returned for the 11th over and had de Villiers in some bother— cramping him for room thrice. He gave just three runs in the 13th and tied up Stuart Binny in knots in the 15th over, and gave away just one run. The left arm went rounder, the ball skidded quickly and the batsmen couldn’t get him away.
Axar had one last surprise in store off his final delivery of the night. De Villiers was not only kept quiet by the skidder but had also seen the other batsmen kept honest by the pace. And so he was quite surprised when Axar suddenly slowed up the pace, and gave the ball a bit of a loop. All he could do was to pat it gently to the off side.
The rarity of that kind of a delivery wouldn’t have surprised anyone who has seen Axar in the last few years. It wasn’t as if he didn’t try to bowl like a classical left-arm spinner — flight, loop and all that jazz — but he learnt quickly that it wasn’t his game. When he was a developing spinner, he had gone to the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore and came under the eyes of spinners Venkataramana and Sunil Joshi. They had made him train for hours, trying to get him to develop the variations. “Rope rakh ke doh wickets pe bowling karna padta hai but later when I tried to give some loop in the air than it always went full toss. It was that day I realized that what is my strength and what is my weakness,” he had told this newspaper once.
Smart man, Axar. It was all down to his growing-up days in Gujarat on matting wickets and numerous T20 games he would play. “Pads pe maro yar toe pe, if you give less run than you are good bowler.” And by that account, his Monday night outing would have pleased his old Gujarat mates.