It was anyone’s game when the strategic timeout was taken during the chase after the 12th over of the Pune innings. The equation was 70 off 42, considered gettable in this day and age of T20. Pune were three down and had lost their captain Steve Smith, a match-winner on most days. But Ben Stokes was still batting and after his 103 not out off 63 against the Gujarat Lions earlier this season, no target was beyond him.
Delhi decided to tease Stokes and Manoj Tiwary with Marlon Samuels’ off-spin after the break. The ploy almost worked. The first ball was hit in the air towards deep mid-wicket by Tiwary but Sanju Samson put down a difficult chance. Stokes then launched Samuels for a six over long-on and Tiwary found a four with a sweep shot. Twelve runs had come off the over and Pune needed 58 off 36. Very gettable.
Zaheer Khan, the Delhi Daredevils captain, had an over to go after delivering three good ones earlier in the innings. Delhi needed a tight over and Zaheer gave them just that. If Karun Nair hadn’t dropped Tiwary at cover off the fourth ball, Zaheer would have got a third wicket. He gave away just six runs in the over, which comprised a slower ball and two good yorkers. The run-a-ball over was a life-saver for Delhi — they eventually won by 7 runs.
After that game-changing Zaheer over, the pressure was back on Stokes. The athletically built Englishman attacked Mohammed Shami in the next over, but his attempt to hit the second six went only as far as Corey Anderson at long off. Shami had dismissed Stokes, but the credit of putting one of the most dangerous hitters in the game under pressure must go to Zaheer.
Here is the break-up of Zaheer’s overs — 1st over: 10 for 1 (Ajinkya Rahane), 2nd overs: 4 runs, 3rd over: 5 for 1 (Rahul Tripathy) , 4th over: 6 runs. In his prime, Zaheer was one of the best left-arm quicks. He has dropped a yard or two in pace but has enough tricks up his sleeve. When he gets hit, like when Smith smashed a 125 kph delivery through the covers, Zaheer looks like a bowler who is well past his prime.
But then he comes up with deliveries like these. Ajinkya Rahane wouldn’t have expected a ‘dream inswinger’ to come his way right at the start of the innings. The ball was full and swung in. Rahane expected the ball to come in and he even tried to keep it out. But the bat came down too late and the middle-stump was uprooted. This was the kind of start Zaheer could give India in his heyday.
The next Pune wicket to fall was that of the other opener Rahul Tripathi. The off-cutter from Zaheer got a faint edge as it travelled to wicket-keeper Rishabh Pant. Pune were 36/2 after 5 overs.
Is Zaheer the best ‘retired’ fast bowler in the world? Maybe.
Dhoni’s brilliant glovework
The other day after picking the team for next month’s Champions Trophy, chief selector MSK Prasad said that MS Dhoni was ‘the best wicket-keeper in the world’. The question posed to the chief selector was regarding Dhoni’s form with the bat. Prasad had no doubt about the value Dhoni brings to the side, even though his finishing powers are on the wane.
On Friday, at the Feroz Shah Kotla, on two occasions, Dhoni showed why Prasad’s faith may not be misplaced. On the first occasion, he was acrobatic and agile. Marlon Samuels had attempted a hook off medium-pacer Dan Christian but the top-edged ball seemed to be sailing over Dhoni. It looked like the 35-year-old wicket-keeper would watch the ball fly over his head. But at the perfect moment, he leaped high and stretched his right hand and caught the ball. Wicket-keepers have taken better catches even in the IPL, but the beauty of this one was that MSD had made it look much easier than it was.
Two overs later, Dhoni was once again in the thick of things. We don’t know if Dhoni had a hand in asking off-spinner Washington Sundar — bowling from around the wicket to the left-handed Corey Anderson — to bowl it wide. What we know is that Dhoni’s reflexes are still lightening quick. Anderson was lured forward and Dhoni coolly collected the ball and effected the stumping in a flash. Even before the television umpire viewed the footage and pressed the ‘Out’ button, Dhoni had a bright smile on his face.
Yet, Dhoni failed to do what he did best in a chase, finishing a game off. He was batting on 5 off 5 balls when he tried to work pacer Pat Cummins towards fine leg, but the ball only reached Shami. Dhoni, one of the fastest between the wickets, didn’t realise the throw was coming to his end. By the time he realised, it was too late. Shami’s direct throw beat Dhoni.
Is Dhoni still the best finisher? Maybe not. Is Dhoni the best keeper in the world? Maybe.