They say white-ball cricket makes you forget. On Sunday, two batters – playing a little over 400 kilometres apart – did their best to be the exceptions.
I. Trent Bridge, Nottingham
It is the fourteenth over of the Indian chase. They are in pursuit of 216 – a daunting T20 target even on the best of pitches. Luckily for them, they are playing at Trent Bridge.
But the conditions do not count as much as the desperation of the situation does. The Indian side leads the series 2-0, with an air of invincibility settling around them ever since Rohit Sharma has been at the helm. England might be without some of their best players, rested after their Bazball-fuelled Test chase on the same ground, but their haplessness against the sudden Indian aggression contributes to the volume of the bluer hues of the crowd at the stadium today.
India are being brazenly fearless against the side that has been willing to take things too far – for the past six years in one-day cricket, and the past six weeks in Test cricket. This is the trickle-down theory working for once. All-out aggression is going to be their approach to the T20 game from now on.
The new mindset has resulted in Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli, both traditionally anchors in the side, departing while looking to play their shots in the powerplay. The score stood at 34 for 3 by the end of it.
There’s now a sense of finality around the partnership between Shreyas Iyer, who has rotated the strike to reach a meditative 27 off 21, and Suryakumar Yadav, who faces down the third ball of the over on 78 off 42. It is the latter’s knock that is going to define how this match goes. He’s the set batter.
And it shows when he takes a big stride to the leg side while facing the delivery, pitched at a good length and heading towards the bottom half between the middle and the off stump. Except, of course, Yadav’s bat intervenes as late as it can get away with it. He drives the ball perpendicular to the trajectory of the ball. Almost as a postscript to the performance of the shot itself, the ball carries itself over the ropes.
The bisection is best described as an inside-out shot, yet it’s unlike anything else you’ve ever seen – unless you’ve ever watched Suryakumar Yadav bat before. In which case, you’ve seen a variation of his wristwork performing voodoo in a million different ways before.
But there’s something different about it today. He is playing his 19th T20I for India, after years of being ignored from the sidelines until he finally broke into the side a year ago, based on his prolific domestic returns and a fair few appearances in the IPL headlines. It all seems to have led up to this knock, in a chase of 216 against the side his game seems more naturally suited for.
Just three deliveries after the six, Gleeson bowls a slower one on the pads. He shifts his stance to meet it where his waist would have been. His head falls out of the way, and this shot is an amalgamation of a flick and a standing scoop. The ball somehow travels over fine leg and to the boundary once again.
This second shot doesn’t even make it to the highlights reel on the ECB’s official YouTube channel.
When Yadav wrestles a full toss through third man to bring up his century just two overs later, he celebrates his century twice. First, with both arms aloft as he looks towards the pavilion with a clenched jowl and an expression of assuredness on his face. The second time around, he waves his bat around the crowd, with the protective band of his helmet tucked in between his hair and the helmet itself, giving the latter an elevated appearance almost comical in nature.
But no one will be laughing at Suryakumar Yadav today.
He takes 14 more runs off Moeen Ali in the 19th over before he is eventually dismissed, as the equation transforms from 25 runs in 8 balls to 24 in 7. The latter figure turns into a mere formality for the scorers to note down. The match had been over as soon as Yadav’s knock was.
Chris Jordan claims two wickets in a final over featuring yorkers and a splayed leg stump. England win by 19 runs – a result that shall soon become a footnote in the vast oeuvre of inconsequential T20Is. But it is Suryakumar Yadav’s century everyone will remember.
Everyone will remember a different shot or two from the innings. The next time they see him play it, perhaps for the Mumbai Indians in the IPL or India at the World Cup later this year, the shot will appear as something familiar yet wholly original once again.
The gift of unorthodox beauty is how it replenishes its surprises in every iteration.
II. Malahide, Dublin
New Zealand aren’t supposed to be in this match anymore. Certainly not after being 120 for 5 even before reaching the halfway point of their chase. But fifty overs are kinder to a team looking to make a comeback. The Kiwis aren’t going to, you already know. Not in the face of a target as daunting as the 301 Ireland has set for them. But they can take their time and stay in the game.
Just one more wicket falls by the time Michael Bracewell, on 41 off 46, and Ish Sodhi, with 18 off 3, make their way into the final ten overs of the innings. It has been a tepid affair. The Ireland bowlers are going about their job with the professionalism required in the final moments of what is going to be a famous victory for them.
Ish Sodhi proceeds to run himself out in the very next over, with Curtis Campher swooping in with the throw that affects it. It adds to his match portfolio. He is the obvious candidate for Player of the Match as soon as the game comes to its inevitable end. He made a 113 in the first innings to propel Ireland to 300, and has complementary bowling figures of 8-0-41-3 till this point of the match.
But as life would have it, his is not the century we are talking about.
Campher trudges through his final two overs giving away just eight more runs, escaping relatively unscathed even as Bracewell hits boundaries with the frequency you’d expect from a man who senses a chase’s demise setting in. But along with it, the possibility of a miraculous chase.
The 31-year-old Michael Bracewell is called ‘the Beast’ by his teammates. The locker room moniker was mocked when he made his Test debut as an all-rounder exactly a month ago. His two caps have brought him five red-ball wickets at an average of 57 and an economy rate of 5.97, mostly symptoms of Jonny Bairstow’s revival in the format. A lone knock is worth mentioning, of 49, which came during the lost cause that was his debut.
On the other hand, his one-day career began in March during a series against the Netherlands. Before this match, he was yet to do anything of note for his national side in the three appearances he’d made in coloured clothing either. He is now is at the risk of becoming another footnote as soon as New Zealand’s first-choice players return to the side.
One can’t know if any of this pressure is playing on his mind as he takes 15 off a Josh Little over, the 45th of the innings. It is an anomaly in the Ireland bowling effort, which has had the measured economy of a Hemingway prose passage till now.
Bracewell hits three more boundaries and brings up his century off the last ball in the 48th with a brace. His celebration is a muted one – with his arms held aloft speaking of a similar stolidity to Suryakumar Yadav’s. The job remains to be done, but a debut ton in the format is acknowledged nonetheless.
The next over brings only four runs. And with it, the equation stands at 20 runs needed off 6 balls, to be bowled by Craig Young. It is one less than India needed with Yadav gone from their own final over. But to compensate for the mismatch of stakes, New Zealand are also nine down.
Blair Tickner stands at the other end, possibly thankful he doesn’t have to face the first ball of the over. If he has to front up to any of them, you suspect the game will already be over by then.
Bracewell flicks the first delivery, a length ball, over short fine leg for a four off the first ball. The next delivery is of a similar length, meeting a similar result. 12 off 4 now.
And then, Bracewell moves across the crease to hit another length ball – pitched in front of the middle stump this time around – over the midwicket fielder stationed deep into the boundary. It gives the latter a good vantage point of the ball sailing into the stands, but not an entirely useful one. 6 needed off 3.
Young opts for a bit more variety to his length for the fourth delivery of the over. It is pitched at the back of a length. But Bracewell pulls it – and finds the gap beyond the square leg fielder. 2 needed off 2 now.
Another length ball between middle and leg stump, which Bracewell swings over the fences. It goes for six. The game has somehow been won with one delivery – and wicket – to spare.
Michael Bracewell takes off his helmet and raises his bat at the pavilion with the nonchalance of a man who’s done it all before. Perhaps he has. They call him the Beast for a reason. And now, he’s done his best to ensure no one else will forget.