Two weeks and sixteen matches into the Indian Premier League 2023, and it almost feels like we’ve seen it all. The entertainment quotient, players’ pedigree and herculean efforts are rarely in doubt with the IPL. It unarguably is franchise cricket at its best, after all.
In the past 15 editions, there have been plenty of innings to remember. But this year, just a few days in to the 16th edition, we’ve seen a few knocks that could potentially enter the discussion of all-time classics, but from unexpected sources.
Sure, we have seen the likes of Andre Russell, Kieron Pollard, AB de Villiers, Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni do these things. We know that they are capable of producing magical knocks. However, the contenders for the innings of the tournament so far in IPL 2023 are from unheralded players, or those who haven’t exactly lit up this tournament in the past.
For starters, one doesn’t quite associate words like audacity, daring or bold, especially in T20 cricket with someone like Ajinkya Rahane. But he pulled off something uncharacteristic against Mumbai Indians. He had played in only seven games for Kolkata Knight Riders last season and only twice for Delhi Capitals in the previous two IPL seasons and in general, has a convoluted T20 reputation. He had last scored a half-century in the league in November 2020.
Bought at a base price of Rs 50 lakh in the auctions, it only contributed to the trope about Chennai Super Kings investing in players that have crossed 30. But due to Moeen Ali’s injury and a late call-up to the XI, Rahane marked a debut to remember for the men in yellow when he registered the joint-second fastest fifty for the franchise, scoring 61 out of 27 balls to set up a victory with 11 balls remaining.
Then, there is the case of Vijay Shankar against Kolkata Knight Riders. Shankar is a clean-striker of the ball and has some memorable knocks to show for Tamil Nadu in the domestic circuit but in the context of IPL, eyebrows were bound to be raised when Gujarat Titans sent him ahead of David Miller and Rahul Tewatia.
But it was, in fact, Shankar’s blitzkrieg that helped Gujarat, who were having trouble in the second half of their innings to get back into the match. His 63* off just 24 balls led his team to their first ever 200-plus total.
It was truly an eventful match. Rashid Khan had picked up the first hat-trick of the edition in the same game. Just when you thought you had seen it all... further madness struck. Kolkata Knight Riders needed 29 needed off the last over. Surely, not. Pretty impossible. Not happening.
Now, at the crease was Rinku Singh. A name that had been on people’s lips for a while because of the potential and his brilliant story within the KKR set-up. But, who knew that a 25-year-old from Aligarh, would smack Yash Dayal for five sixes off the last five balls with 28 runs needed? In what will go down as one of the best IPL games of all time, we saw not one but two innings of brilliance. With his unbeaten 48 off 21, Rinku pulled off a miracle win for KKR.
Talking about KKR... miracles and the Lord. We knew Shardul Thakur earned that name for several reasons. But coming in to bat at 7, the turnaround he pulled off against RCB is what one calls snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. After being reduced to 89/5, Thakur’s 29-ball 68 showcased a masterclass in powerful, clean hitting to help KKR reach 204. One of his other monikers on social media is Shardulkar, and that felt rather apt that night as he unfurled an array of ridiculous shots.
And most recently, Nicholas Pooran’s carnage against RCB. This innings had been long in the waiting. His potential is right up there with some of the best West Indies T20 players in the game but there was always an air of uncertainty around him, questions about whether he had it in him to do it in the IPL. His nightmare run in 2021 didn’t help. Being bought by Lucknow Super Giants for Rs 16 Crore meant that the added pressure of being a million dollar-buy was also bound to play on his mind.
He performed such feats all over the world, even in the T10 leagues. He hit a 25-ball 77 in 2018 once and has the highest score there, scoring 89* off 26. These freakish innings and ball-by-ball destruction is not surprising per se but he shed off a lot of doubts about him if you factor in the context of the match, the equation that was needed to win then and how he made a match out of it.
‘Nicky P’, as his jersey refers to him, smashed the fastest fifty of the IPL season in 15 balls and ensured LSG pulled off a stunning chase of 213 to edge out Royal Challengers Bangalore by 1 wicket.
And then on Tuesday in Delhi, Axar Patel showcased how much he has improved as a batter in the last few months, scoring his first IPL half century. He played a fluent knock which was in sharp contrast to the struggles of his captain and international superstar David Warner at the other end. While Warner huffed and puffed, searching for timing, Patel was hitting the ball fluently on his way to a 25-ball 54.
The lone captain’s knock by Shikhar Dhawan’s 99*, the Rashid Khan-Rahul Tewatia cameos against Super Kings or Ruturaj Gaikwad’s 92 in the tournament opener are all gutsy individual moments of brilliance too but it almost feels like they were expected. However, if you sit back and think about the past few weeks, it truly is satisfying to see T20 cricket produce such surprises. It is even more joyful to watch athletes do what was briefly deemed unlikely. Each of these players tried to take the ‘impossible’ out of the equation to attempt a once-in-a-lifetime-innings.
And, in the end, a visual that is hard to get out of your head is that of a non-chalant, five-foot-something batter in Purple and Gold with all the calmness in the world. A button was pressed, some switch was turned on and in a matter of just five balls, Rinku Singh successfully built an assuring presence around him – a presence that he will carry with him for the rest of his life. It’s innings like these and storylines like his that add to the spectacle that IPL is considered to be.