Synopsis: The ageing Pollard turns back the clock with a blinder to leave the classy Rahul forlorn.
Pollard turns back the clock
Why would you bowl just two bouncers to Kieron Pollard, one of which brought his wicket in the last over to trigger a minor twist, that eventually settled in favour of Mumbai? Why would you bowl so many short balls and length balls to KL Rahul at the pace of Hardik Pandya? The two mistakes produced a cliffhanger at Wankhede, one of the special T20 thrills that makes you forget the iffy thinking that produced it.
There is something heartwarming in watching Pollard still do his thing. He is ageing, but his catching has got better and his batting awareness has only improved. More than anyone in this nomadic world of T20, he puts his body on the line for the team he plays for. It was made even more special considering he was captaining in the absence of the injured Rohit Sharma.
If one sees just the highlights package of his knock, one would wonder what was Punjab thinking and miss the essence of his icy-calm temperament that perhaps triggered the pressure in the opposition. The highlights package of Pollard would reel out a series of length deliveries, from Sam Curran (6 sixes and 3 fours) and a few in-the-slot softies from R Ashwin (3 sixes).
This is what Pollard somehow manages to induce the bowlers into, time and again. So time and again, Curran slipped in length deliveries and the boyish face turned into anguish and bit his lips as the white ball kept disappearing into the night sky.
Ashwin, who had bowled pretty well to all other batsmen, ended up serving balls on a length propelled by his knuckles or dragged it short, and was walloped. Even an apparent mishit cleared the boundary much to the bemusement of the bowler.
Still, with the run rate ratcheting up, the task seemed almost beyond Pollard, especially as Mohammad Shami seemed determined to seize the game for Punjab. He even threw in a double strike in the 16th over and gave just 8 runs in the 18th. But that finished his spell and Ashwin had to turn to Curran, who leaked 17 off the 32 needed from the last two overs.
Game over? Almost not, as the bowler who was pretty poor until then Ankit Rajput recovered after a free-hit no ball in the first legal delivery (two full tosses) that together yielded 10 runs.
It was then that wisdom dawned on Punjab that a bouncer could be tried. And Pollard ended up swatting that straight to deep midwicket and triggered some tension. Incredibly, Rajput raised his game and served one accurate ball after another, really full and straight and took the game to the last ball, but with two needed, Alzarri Joseph produced a calm tap down the ground to clinch the win.
The one man who would be really gutted by the loss was watching all this mayhem from behind the stumps in the chase – KL Rahul was forlorn by the end of it all.
He needn’t be as this innings is a timely one just ahead of World Cup selection. Two things stood out in Rahul’s sweet hundred: the way he coats traditional shots with violent finish, and how bad were the Mumbai Indians bowlers.
There was a moment when the chase was on, Mandeep Singh, who was miked up on field, offered a comment on Rahul who he knows from when they were 12. “Till our U-19 cricket days, we used to call him Wall as he didn’t have the ability to hit fours; now look at him … an amazing knock.”
It’s a testament to his adaptability but also to his cricketing intelligence that his transformation has come with a layered approach. He hasn’t shifted to slogging, but has added that one thing that changed his game around: a last-instant explosive extension of arms on impact. Just like he would do in longer formats, he stays compact, holds his shape, moves in line of the ball but at the last instant, extends his arms through the ball, punches on the up and through the line.
There was a four in the 6th over of the innings, off Jasprit Bumrah, that stood out for the finesse. He had already unfurled a peachy on-the-up back-foot punch off Jason Behrendorff earlier but this was probably even better. Bumrah’s was a slower one short of a length, but Rahul not only picked it early, held his shape and balance until the last instant when he lifted his left leg in air to allow him to punch that ball hard. If he hadn’t done that, he couldn’t have got any power. If he had swung his arms after reading the slower one, he wouldn’t be the kind of batsman he is.
All said and done, Mumbai’s bowlers didn’t test him as well as they could have. For some reason, Hardik Pandya thought it would be good to try out bouncers against him. Mistake. Rahul is a good puller and Pandya doesn’t have the pace for it. Pandya’s bowling disintegrated in the 19th over, when he bled 25 runs. Rahul cashed in with three sixes and a four, as Pandya sprayed it around – either short or in the slot on a length.
In the end, the match came down to Pollard vs Shami. It was clear that whoever did better would win the match for his side and despite Shami’s admirable effort, it was captain Pollard who won the night.