Beware of this 'Knightmare'
It’s the sheer ‘I can fly’ exhilaration of being able to bowl really fast. It’s seeing that look of apprehension on your quarry’s face. It’s knowing that for at least a fleeting second, you are the complete master of situation Dennis Lillee in The Art of Fast Bowling
It’s not known whether Shoaib Akhtar has ever flipped through the pages of Dennis Lillee’s ‘bible’ for speed merchants but every time he started his long run-up from the High Court end of Eden Gardens on Tuesday, Lillee’s perspective seemed to be spot on. Everything was near perfect in the 19 deliveries (including one wide) he had bowled after almost five months of hiatus from top flight cricket.
The ball that flew past Sehwag had "Folks, I am back" written all over it. AB de Villiers and Manoj Tiwary had that circumspect look as the ball hit their bats faster than they would have ever expected. He didn’t need to swear or make faces in order to make the statement. An average speed of over 147 kmph and a menacing look was enough to unsettle the poor Tiwary on his own backyard.
With 60,000 partisan crowd’s deafening support behind him, Shoaib looked the ‘Master of Eden’ who made the Devils hop, skip and jump to his tune for three overs.
For the first time since the McCullum mayhem on April 18, the KKR’s promotional statement "Your Worst Nightmare In Flesh" seemed to be so fitting. A mere glimpse of a rampaging Shoaib was enough to give the opposition batsmen a ‘knightmare’. Eden Gardens has been the part of many a cricketing folklore and the return of Shoaib to international cricket at the hallowed ground will surely rank amongst the ones at the very top of the list.
It wasn’t merely about single-handedly winning it for SRK’s Knights as Virender Sehwag termed it, but the Pakistan quick on Tuesday night embodied a host of other important factors - The self-belief that he still has fire in his belly to perform at this level; to prove a point to his detractors that the phenomenon called Shoaib still has the ability to decide the fate of a match; and last but not the least, letting a few doubts creep into the minds of the PCB mandarins whether it has been a foolhardy act on their part to ban the maverick pacer.
Soon after accepting the golden helmet from Shah Rukh Khan, Shoaib at least tried to make a sincere effort to shed his ‘enfant terrible’ image. The first thing he said at the press conference was, "no questions on the PCB or my pending case. Please co-operate with me."
It was understandable what he must have gone through in all these months. There was a conscious effort from his end to sound like a team-man - something that one could have hardly expected to be a trait of the bowler in the past.
"I am proud to have performed in front of my ‘home crowd’. Thanks to the support of my teammates, I made a contribution to this win," Shoaib said, with a sense of relief finding expression on his face. He admitted that he himself insisted on going for the third over in a row. "Sourav came up and asked me, ‘what do I want to do?’. I was charged up and said I would like to go for the third over. Sourav promptly gave me the green signal."
Though his bowling was a fiery expression, his lethargic fielding left a lot to be desired. There was an instance when Iqbal Abdullah was seen covering around 20 yards from deep square-leg to save a couple of runs when the ball was only a few yards away from a stationed Shoaib at deep fine-leg. However, nobody should complain as long as he goes on intimidating the batsmen with his blistering pace.
In an impact game like T20, you need intimidating performers like McCullum, Gilchrist or a Shoaib who can alter the course of a game in a jiffy. So Chennai, Jaipur, Mumbai have much to worry for.