The way Sunrisers Hyderabad’s Umran Malik steamed in and loaded up with a leap and high-arm action, it was clear he could generate serious pace. When his third delivery, in the fourth over of the KKR innings, saw the speed gun flash 150.1kph everyone sat up to take notice of this new speedster from Jammu & Kashmir.
There are many pacers doing a good job for their teams. They bowl crucial overs and handle pressure with grasp over control and variations. But express pace is a rare commodity. It can’t be taught – you are born with it.
Consistently clocking 145 plus, the 22-year-old from Jammu’s Gujjar Nagar clocked 151 off the final ball of his third over – KKR’s 13th. It is the third fastest ball of this IPL, and fastest by an Indian.
SRH captain Kane Williamson said: “We faced him in the nets, he is quite special. He has got a lot of pace for a young guy, runs in and goes hard; he has recorded some fast speed as well which is very special. Amazing chance for him to get a run tonight; he has been bowling in the nets for us a couple of seasons; a special occasion for him, what a talent!”
The Star Sports commentary panelists went ga-ga. Irfan Pathan, the former J&K team mentor, was on air saying how he recommended Malik to former India colleague, VVS Laxman, the SRH mentor. Malik has played one T20 and List A match for his state. Pathan sent videos of Malik bowling to Laxman and soon he was in SRH as a net bowler. Even Williamson and David Warner found his pace hot. When left-arm pacer T Natarajan tested positive for Covid-19, SRH added Malik as a replacement.
Pathan explained how Malik’s action was moulded. Initially, he had an angular run-up and jumped too high. They kept cones on either side asked Malik to practice running in straight. His natural athleticism showed in his pace against KKR.
Former India pacer Karsan Ghavri emphasises the value of pace but points out that the challenges to do well in IPL and international cricket, especially Tests, are different. “Unless you can bowl at 140-plus, success in international cricket is difficult. You need to have the pace of Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammad Shami and Umesh Yadav.” It explains the excitement over Malik.
Despite the pace, he is raw. The way KKR opener Shubman Gill played the pull shots against him shows Malik needs to pick up the nuances of the trade.
IYER, THE KKR CATALYST
The story of the UAE leg has been Venkatesh Iyer. The left-handed opener has been the catalyst for KKR’s revival. In six innings, he has touched 200 runs (avg 40.20, strike rate 134). He is a handy seamer too, filling in for the injured Andre Russell. Skipper Eoin Morgan even used him in the death overs. In his six games, KKR has won four to stay in contention for the play-offs. “He’s a real find for us, has been with us the whole campaign and we have watched him in practice. His attitude is fantastic for a guy that bats as fearlessly as he does. He takes a lot of responsibility with the ball, Dre Russ leaves a huge gap in the all-rounder position…,” Morgan said after Iyer’s 67 off 49 balls against Punjab Kings on Friday.
Currently, the India team doesn’t have batsmen who can bowl. “Within no time Iyer has impressed everybody. If he is given a little more time he will certainly establish himself, and will be in the running for the Indian team,” said Ghavri.
TOP No 2s
This IPL has also seen promising players emerge into match-winners. Ruturaj Gaikwad and Avesh Khan are No. 2 slots in the list of top run-getters (508 runs) and top wicket-takers (21 wickets) respectively. Their impact is more than the numbers and they have provided proof that they have the quality to match the best.
CSK’s Gaikwad has produced effortless strokeplay, which points to strong basics and power. His consistency reflects a fine temperament. His hundred against Rajasthan Royals on Saturday moved Virender Sehwag to declare he will dominate world cricket. “Remember the name.#RuturajGaikwad. Special player, made for greater things. Matter of time before he dominates World Cricket. #CSKvsRR,” Sehwag tweeted.
Mohammed Kaif, former India batsman now Delhi Capitals assistant coach, was equally effusive in praise. “Ruturaj shows that self belief can make you a game-changer without changing your game. @Ruutu1331#CSKvsRR,” Kaif tweeted.
Gaikwad smashed 101 runs in 60 balls, hitting a last ball six to reach his century. India off-spinner R Ashwin tweeted: “Ruturaj. What a knock and what a player#csk.”
The 24-year-old comes from Pune. The attention his success has drawn is amazing as a Maharashtra player rarely gets the spotlight like a Mumbai counterpart. Gaikwad has merited every bit of that. Since arriving in the UAE, his scores read 88*, 38, 40, 45 and 101* with an aggregate of 508 (avg 50.80) placing him second among the top-scores in 2021 IPL (before Monday’s tie versus DC). Gaikwad with his rapid progress will give big competition to rising openers Shubman Gill, Prithvi Shaw (both Test openers) and Devdutt Padikkal.
Among bowlers, DC’s Avesh Khan stands out for how effective he has been at every stage of an innings, be it bowling in the powerplay, middle period or the death. His qualities were to the fore in the clash against Mumbai Indians. “Avesh is the find of the season for us,” said skipper Rishabh Pant after the 24-year-old uncapped Indian pacer’s 3/15 helped Capitals restrict five-time champions Mumbai to 129/8 in a four-wicket win. He surprised Rohit Sharma with bounce, getting him to mistime a pull before returning at the death to dismiss Hardik Pandya and Nathan Coulter-Nile. Avesh is DC’s top wicket-taker with 21 scalps (before Monday’s game).
Avesh has also removed Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni in this IPL. He was not among the first-choice pacers in a line-up with Anrich Nortje and Kagiso Rabada. He performed consistently in the India-leg to seal his spot. He has pace, variations and a sharp yorker. His dismissal of Hardik Pandya on Saturday is among the deliveries of this IPL, sneaking through the batsman’s legs to hit the base of leg stump.
The UAE leg has also seen the transformation of Yashasvi Jaiswal from one with potential into a professional who delivers in crucial games. Bought by Rajasthan Royals for ₹2.40 crore, he looked out of depth in IPL 2020 in his three matches.
This season, he has cracked the IPL code. With 49, 5, 36, 31 and 50 in five outings, he has proved his worth. He provides fast starts, and a strike rate of 151.92 reflects that. He took a big step against Chennai Super Kings when he laid the platform while chasing 190 with a 21-ball 50.
BHARAT GETS NOTICED
A couple of good innings in IPL has helped KS Bharat make the impact he has struggled to in nine seasons of domestic cricket. Technically sound, he has for long been tipped as the next best wicket-keeper after Wriddhiman Saha. But after many seasons playing for Andhra, the 28-year-old’s wait for an India cap continues. His nine hundreds in first-class cricket hasn’t helped. Even IPL teams had ignored him. But when you bat at No 3 in a line-up with Kohli, Glenn Maxwell and AB de Villiers and do well, you are bound to be noticed.
His big break came in this UAE leg against holders Mumbai Indians when he took apart leg-spinner Rahul Chahar. He eased the pressure on Kohli by attacking Chahar. Though the spinner dismissed him, Bharat (32 ff 24b) had done his job with a momentum-changing partnership of 68 with Kohli. It laid the platform for a comfortable win.
Against RR, after openers Devdutt Padikkal and Kohli fell in successive overs, Bharat came at No.3 and stitched a 69-run stand with Glenn Maxwell to put RCB on the brink of victory. He says his understanding of the game has got better in RCB. “If you play with AB, Maxwell and Virat bhai you learn a lot of good things in terms of cricket and also how to handle yourself in and out of the sport,” said Bharat after the RR game.
“No.3 is always a beautiful spot to play. My role is to get partnerships. At RCB, we’ve always focused on keeping the strike going and getting busy from ball one. It plays a huge role in building a partnership… we have AB and Maxi coming in after that and (it) gives them the platform for a strong finish.”
Quite a few India pacers too are doing well. Left-armers Chetan Sakariya of RR and Arshdeep Singh of Punjab Kings, and Harshal Patel of RCB are doing the most difficult job effectively – bowling in the death. There were also last-over heroics by 20-year-old RR tearaway Kartik Tyagi. He denied PK four runs in the final over, sealing a two-run win. Bumrah hailed that performance. “What a cliffhanger, #KartikTyagi! It takes a lot of courage to keep a level head under pressure and get the job done, but you did it!” he tweeted.
Ghavri said: “This supply line will never stop: Every year we will find new, talented players, some fast bowlers, some batsmen, some spinners and wicket-keepers. Along with that (IPL), the Indian cricket structure is so good, it maintains continuity. In other countries these kind of facilities are not there, the training is also not there, tournaments are also not there.”
The IPL is in the final stages and most spots are decided. For a team like SRH, it will allow teams to give opportunities to new talent, said Williamson. “We are out of contention so there are opportunities to take new guys out on the park; there is a critical amount of talent, some on the sidelines as with every team. We had an opportunity to see that tonight.”
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