Cricket, for many reasons, is a funny game. One can analyse trends, dissect strategies, debate endlessly about who is in form and who’s not, but suddenly, one fine day (or night), all those well-reasoned discussions get thrown out of the window.
Ahead of the 41st match in the 12th edition of Indian Premier League, there was enough chatter about whether Shane Watson must be dropped by Chennai Super Kings for younger, fresher legs. There was barely any chatter about Manish Pandey as far as Sunrisers Hyderabad were concerned as not many eyebrows were raised after he was dropped.
Watson’s five previous scores coming into this match were: 17, 0, 6, 31, 5. His poor form was the reason Chennai had the worst opening partnership average in the tournament.
Pandey’s five previous scores coming into this match were: 8*, 1, 10, 16, 19. His poor form saw him get dropped for three games on the trot and when one cannot find a place in a middle order that was anyway struggling, you can imagine how his form was.
But in Chennai on Tuesday night, Shane Watson and Manish Pandey shrugged off their poor run of form to remind IPL fans that they are two immensely talented batsmen who can light up the occasion if they get going.
Of course, in lieu of Watson playing the match-winning knock, most of the talk on Wednesday morning has been around his stunning 53-ball 96, but Pandey’s sublime innings should not go unnoticed as well.
Pandey: Fast start, plenty of running
It’s not often that David Warner gets outscored in a partnership in the IPL but that is exactly what happened when Pandey walked out to bat in the second over of the innings. Jonny Bairstow, in his final match of the season for SRH, was dismissed for a duck, thereby preventing a fifth century partnership with Warner. But Pandey stitched together a 115-run partnership with the Aussie opener that ensured Bairstow’s early departure (in more ways than one) was not too hard on his side.
The standout feature of Pandey’s innings was how quickly he was out of the blocks, ensuring that an early wicket did not slow his team down in the powerplay. He hit the first ball he faced off Harbhajan Singh for a boundary down the ground and just carried on from there. He did not let the off-spinner settle down into a rhythm as he has often done this season, hitting a six in the fourth over, lofting one effortlessly over mid-off. The way Pandey was attacking Harbhajan was the first sign of things to come for the Karnataka batsman.
While Warner was just about getting his strike rate past 100, Pandey was cruising at over 200 for most of his innings and brought up his half-century in the eleventh over – getting there in just 25 balls. Off those first 50 runs, 36 runs came from boundaries (six fours, two sixes). Pandey’s innings lost some momentum after Warner’s dismissal, as he hit just one more four and a six after reaching his fifty, but he still finished with a strike rate of over 160, thanks to some tireless running between the wickets in the Chennai heat.
Watson: Slow start, hardly any running
And if Pandey ran and ran towards the end of his innings, Watson barely had to. Out of his 96 runs, 72 came from boundaries.
While Pandey reached his 50 off 25 balls in the 11th over of Sunrisers’ innings, Watson had moved to 37 from 31 balls at the corresponding stage of CSK’s run-chase. In fact, his innings had started with a maiden over against Bhuvneshwar Kumar, as he could barely put bat on ball in the opening few deliveries. If Pandey started off his innings in the fifth gear, Watson’s engine was spluttering and barely getting a move on early in the innings.
But we know for a fact that a slow start from Watson does not necessarily mean much. Cast your mind back to May 2018 when he took 10 balls to get off the mark against Bhuvneshwar and Co at the Wankhede stadium in the final of the 11th edition of IPL. That innings had started with a maiden over as well.
Sure enough, once he found his timing, what followed was some vintage hitting from the former Australian all-rounder. Watson, who had brought up his first half-century of this season off 35 balls, then raced to 96 off 52 balls before being dismissed in the 18th over.
Watson was especially severe on Rashid Khan, who had just bowled a stunning second over to bring about the dismissal of Suresh Raina (who himself got back among runs too). Off the Afghanistan star’s third and fourth overs, Watson hit 24 runs off eight balls. That this onslaught came after some words were exchanged between the two only added to the drama of the occasion. While Rashid was left with a wry smile at the end of his four-over spell that went for 1/44, Watson had the last laugh.
In the end, Pandey’s return to form was overshadowed by Watson’s knock as CSK notched up a six-wicket win with a ball to spare.
For Pandey, this innings has come at the right time because Sunrisers need him to carry on this form with Bairstow leaving for England and their qualification hopes hanging by a thread. Contributions with the bat from the rest of the SRH batting lineup have been few and far between — in fact, Pandey’s half century was the first of the season by a SRH batsman not named Warner or Bairstow.
As for Watson, the Australian admitted when receiving the player of the match award that it was high time he repaid the faith posed in him by MS Dhoni and Stephen Fleming. “I was due runs, that’s for sure. I can’t thank Stephen Fleming and MS Dhoni enough to have kept faith in me. In any other team, I may have been dropped sooner,” he said.
And that summed up why CSK have been such a successful franchise all through IPL. They do not cast a player out struggling for form, but persist with them long enough and provide all the chances to find success. Watson grabbed his long rope and looked like being back to his best.
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