Audacious Patidar versus Conservative Rahul
The different high wire acts of Rajat Patidar and KL Rahul
Corporality can feel like a bleak and dismaying ride down a pitch black tunnel with only a rocky steering for company, but there are days when everything is soaked in golden light and it almost feels like nothing can go wrong. Wednesday was such a day for Bangalore’s rising batting sensation Rajat Patidar.
He might have felt this as early as the third ball of his innings at Eden Garden. Dushmantha Chameera bowled him a good length ball at a searing pace that finished on a tight, off-stumpish line, the sort of ball that keeps batters quiet even on the flattest of decks.
Patidar firmly stood his ground, kept his eyes on the ball and punched the ball with a vertical bat, making contact as he transferred his weight from front foot to back foot. The ball decelerated, into one of the adjacent pitches to the match strip, and bounced over the backward point fielder. The cover point fielder sprinted across the field to attempt a sprawling, stomach first dive before the ball evaded his fingertips and skipped over the boundary cushions.
It was a shot of exquisite timing, with no need of other paraphernalia such as footwork or follow through
Batsmen at times make batting look easy but it is an extremely complicated thing full of interconnected moving parts which if slightly falls out of sync can result in the whole mechanism to collapse. On days when you are timing the ball sweetly, just back yourself, stand there, watch the ball, and let your instincts take over. That is what Rajat Patidar did the other day.
His nimble and precise feet movement allowed him to do outrageous things like step away from leg stump, play a one handed shot over covers to a low full-toss. Or to move across in the other direction and carver a yorker over short fine leg, against the around-the wicket angle. Or, more deftly, to overweight his front foot and swirl on his back foot to hook a short ball.
Patidar’s feet movement was very calculative. He moved his feet when required, but never more than overly necessary, and the overwhelming sense that the innings radiated was of stillness. The stillness of the very few who have that extra split-second of time- or the mirage of it- to play their shots.
KL Rahul is one of those very few, and in the sixth over of Lucknow’s innings, he pulled a couple of sixes off Mohammad Siraj that suggested he in fact had minutes rather than milliseconds in which to react to the ball. Like Patidar had done consistently throughout the Bangalore innings, Rahul simply stood still and dispatched the ball from his presence.
When KL plays shots like these, he looks capable of moving mountains. Sometimes it seems he knows in advance what the bowler will bowl. Premeditation had to be involved, surely, when he reverse lapped Shahbaz Ahmed in the 11th over.
Rahul plays these shots with such ridiculous ease that you begin to wonder why the intervals between them are spent so cautiously, full of sauntered singers to deep fielders. And on a day when Lucknow were chasing a gigantic 208, you wonder even more.
There were no such pauses during Patidar’s knock. The blistering 112 was studded with 12 fours and seven sixes. He hit a four or six every 2.8 balls, and if he was able to get a boundary early in an over, it was only a prelude to piling more pressure on the bowler with bright intent.
With that innings fresh in the mind, it was natural to draw comparisons when Rahul was batting. Patidar brought up his hundred off the 49th ball that he faced, for instance, and Rahul smacked a six off his 49th ball to go from 58 to 64.
But here’s the thing. Patidar was playing a stupendous innings on a day when everything went his way. He timed the ball perfectly, and on a few occasions when he didn’t, luck favoured him.
Patidar was on 59 off 34 when he top edged a Krunal Pandya delivery which ballooned and fell just wide of a diving Mohsin Khan at short third man. He attempted a slog sweep the very next ball which beat the inside edge of his bat and missed leg stump by merely an inch. Then, when he was on 72 off 40, he mistimed a pull off Ravi Bishnoi and Deepak Hooda dropped a dolly at deep midwicket.
Besides, Patidar's team was batting first. Rahul and co were chasing. Rahul wasn’t chasing 112 off 54 balls; Lucknow were chasing 208.
Rahul’s conservative middle-overs approach has often faced backlash and more of it is justified-when his team bats first and registers totals that aren’t as far above par as they may otherwise be. But this innings wasn’t the same thing.
And it wasn’t all about right intent or its absence. There was a seven-over period just after the powerplay in which KL just hit one boundary. And I am taking nothing away from Bangalore bowlers. They bowled well in the middle overs to create pressure on Rahul and Hooda. But KL and Hooda who before powerplay were creaming the ball failed to even rotate the strike in the middle overs phase.
Bangalore put on a great show with ball in hand. Harshal Patel in particular was very impressive. He used his cutters to very good effect and deceived Lucknow batters with his deceptive pace and variations.
"Yes, I think now, looking back, yes, it was just about two big hits in the middle overs and that could have gotten us over the line," Rahul said in his post-match press conference. "It's not that we didn't try to hit those fours or sixes. We were trying, but in the middle they bowled really well. I think Harshal's two overs in the middle were what pushed us back a little bit, because he went I think two overs for seven or eight runs [eight runs], he didn't give away much, and he really changed his pace well. He bowled to the field, and that's where we were pushed back a little bit.
After the silent period, Rahul, Hooda and Stoinis hit seven sixes in the space of four overs to bring down the equation to 41 off 18 balls. If Lucknow had been offered this equation- that too with Rahul and Stoinis at the crease- at the start of the run chase, they would have gleefully accepted it with both hands.
When the 18th over commenced, the predominantly Bangalore supporting crowd were the quietest they had been all evening.
On this overcast Kolkata evening, two batters performed very different high wire acts. Patidar risked his wicket and played like a kid with freedom. He attempted quite a few audacious shots, and the shots didn’t look all that risky when they came off because he was timing the ball like a dream. He did have luck by his side but as they say Favour fortunes the brave.
Rahul took the gamble of minimising the risk of losing his wicket, and to back himself and his teammates to deal with a climbing asking rate in the business end of the match. He risked losing and having his approach criticised widely, when he could have gone aggressively, scored quicker, been dismissed for 28 off 16 balls, say, and earned praise even if his side had lost by a bigger margin.
The argument that a 16-ball 28 is a better innings than a 58-ball 79 in a herculean chase of 208 is, without a doubt, a valid one, and the reasoning won’t need to be made any longer if T20 evolves to the point where majority of teams have premier ball strikers from Nos.1 to 8. But Rahul- an accomplished T20 batsman capable of playing every kind of shot, but also one with inherent longer-format instincts- was batting last night (May 25, 2022) for a team that throughout the season has been unable to sort out the middle order woes, and he was trying to win them the do or die game in what he believed what was the best possible way.
41 off 18 balls came down to 33 off 12, and then, after a flurry of wides from Josh Hazelwood, 28 off 9. Then Rahul shuffled across his stumps to play a lap shot only to hand Shahbaz an easy catch at short fine leg. Despite timing the ball reasonably well he couldn’t get the desired elevation as a result got caught.
On another day, the ball may have eluded the fielder’s fingertips or fell a couple of yards short. On this day Shahbaz timed his jump to perfection and landed with the ball between his hands. On this day, two batters played contrasting yet effective knocks but there was room for only one of them to be at the receiving end.
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