Sometimes, it isn’t shots that makes you gasp but the graceful arcs cut by the batsman’s body. Like with Ben Stokes. He isn’t known for aesthetics in batting. Sure he does the adrenalin-pumping big hits but you don’t normally cue up his batting highlights to sigh in aesthetic pleasure. But there is this one shot, rather position, he ends up on occasions which makes you press the ‘last 10 seconds’ button on HotStar to watch it again. It made its appearance on Saturday afternoon in Hyderabad on a slow pitch against the left-arm spin of Bipul Sharma.
It was a sluggish pitch and runs were at a premium. Stokes was in an innings-rebuilding partnership with Steve Smith when he decided to take some risk.
He slog-swept Sharma for a six — your regular banal IPL six but it was the second six of the over that made one look for that 10-sec icon. He had come down the track but Sharma squeezed out this one that much slower, and shortened the length as well. Stokes realised he had to reach out, way in front of his body, if he was to continue with his original thought of destruction. And he did that in some style.
He lunged forward and as the bat came down for the crunchy-connect, the back leg waltzed into air. To maintain balance, and also give him that extra leverage to get some power into the shot – it was like a leg-popping kiss movement of the back leg. Up it went, and the upper body lunged forward and the bat sliced through the air for the smacking blow.
The leg-pop, the body-arc, and the powerful finish made it a lovely sight. Hope there was a photographer stationed at square-leg to frame it.
You didn’t need a cameraman to focus on Stokes to capture his decisive moves with the ball in the chase. The departing batsmen showed all the drama and anguish in their faces. Just like the twin sixes, it was a double whammy from Stokes again as he took out Shikhar Dhawan and Kane Williamson in an over. He went round the stumps and angled in a seamer that kept low and went through the awkward defensive technique of Dhawan. And Williamson was done in by the extra bounce two balls later. It kicked up outside off, took the slice of the forward prod and rushed into Dhoni’s gloves.
Stokes wasn’t done yet. The game breaker returned to have David Warner slashing a short ball outside off to deep cover.
Jaydev Unadkat, India’s slow-ball specialist, loves those sluggish pitches. He can amble in one of the more innocuous run-ups in town, and just focus on what he is going to do with two of his fingers — the index and the middle. Sometime just before release, he slides the fingers on the ball to make it slip slower off the hands, and off she wobbles along towards the batsmen who is usually looking for the almighty big hit.
Five men were deceived by him on Saturday. Well, perhaps deceived isn’t the most apt term there as it’s difficult to imagine that the batsmen don’t know what’s coming out at them from Unadkat. Yet, they succumbed.
In Yuvraj Singh’s case, it wasn’t a mess-up but he nevertheless fell into the Unadkat trap. 32 runs were needed in the last 3 overs, and Yuvraj was on 47. With Yuvraj killing anything on his legs or on a length on the stumps, Unadkat’s plan was clear: Keep it outside off. He does the slower short-of-length stuff pretty well. They don’t look venomous but in the end-over scenario, with a well-placed field, it works out well for him. The ball climbed slowly well outside off and Yuvraj ended up slashing it to deep cover. In the same over, he snuffed out Hyderabad’s remaining big hope Naman Ojha with another slower one.
By the time he started his final over, with Hyderabad needing 13 to win, the momentum was with his team. He rolled out a series of slower ones, away from the batsmen who kept trying to heave it across the line. Sharma holed out at deep square leg, and Rashid Khan provided yet another caught-and-bowled opportunity to Unadkat whose slower ones regularly get him under the mishit skiers in the end-overs. Bhuvneshwar Kumar too tried to slog across the line but ended up shanking the slower cutter to extra cover. With that Unadkat reached his 100th T20 wicket. How many of those were from the back-of-length slower cutters? Send us the answer by snail mail.