The risk and reward mantra of batting outfits throughout this edition of Indian Premier League is perhaps a preview of how teams are going to approach a t20 inning in times to come. A baseball-like approach seems to be engrained in all the batting units. The intent was always there. It is just that the approach has become ruthless.

Hence in an IPL eliminator when KKR was set a target of 48 of 6 overs against SRH in a rain-affected match, the calling is for the Lynns and Pathans or for anyone who can take off the leather of a cricket ball. At this point in time, nobody is even remotely interested about quality batting because it is all about quality hitting. Good old fashioned risk-free batting is an unwanted commodity.

But eventually as KKR chased down the total with 7 wickets in their kitty, it wasn’t for any Lynsanity, it wasn’t for Narine nor Uthappa neither Yusuf Pathan. But for the calmness of their skipper Gautam Gambhir who finished with a, not out 19- ball 32 at a strike rate of 168. A cameo, probably the most sensible cameo in the history of IPL cricket was an innings full of maturity and supreme game awareness. Let us break it down and relive the Gambhir masterstroke.

The scenario

Chris Lynn and Robbin Uthappa opened the batting for KKR in the second innings. After hitting a six of his first ball Lynn was caught behind by the wicketkeeper of a wide Yorker from Bhuvaneshwar Kumar. KKR were 7 for 1. Yousuf Pathan was sent in at number three. But to Pathan’s horror, he looked for a suicidal single off his very ball and was run out by Bhubaneshwar Kumar on his follow through.I wonder if you’re sent in with the idea of hitting the big shots in run-a-ball situation, is it necessary to risk it all for a quick single? Maybe the pressure got to him and there was a rush of blood to run for a single that never existed at the first place. KKR became 7 for 2 in the first over itself.

Batsman Gambhir

So Gotham needed their hero again. And he walked into bat at number 4. The first ball he faced, he tapped it in the gully and looked for a quick single but decided against it. The second and the final ball of Bhuvaneshar Kumar’s first over was a poor one. Short and wide. (If you blindfold Gautam Gambhir, he will still nail two cricket shots; the trademark cut short to a pacer and the quintessential inside-out using his feet to a spinner). When you watch all the good batsmen around the globe, what they have in common is their ability to a bad ball away irrespective of the situation they are in. Hence he flashed hard with width on offer and picked up his first boundary.

Two very different shots

Chris Jordan was given the second over by David Warner. Jordan banged it short to Uthappa which perhaps skidded on him. He muscled a pull short, trying to hit in front of square. It went straight to Shikhar Dhawan who was positioned at deep square-leg. KKR had now lost their third wicket with just 11 runs on the board.

A couple of balls later when Gambhir was back on strike, Jordan still had a man at deep square leg. The fine-leg was inside the circle. Jordan banged it short again. As soon as Gambhir picked the length, he decided to get inside the line of the short ball – because he always wanted to hit the ball finer. As it turned out, the bouncer was actually a little too quick for Gambhir, he might have looked in a bit of tangle but managed enough bat on that delivery that earned him a six over the keeper.

Both the shots described above were instinctive cricket shots. The intention behind them was same as well; to pick up a possible boundary. But the difference was the placement. Gambhir went for the safer option, going for the fine leg that was inside the circle and Uthappa too on the deep square leg fielder and failed.

Rashid vs Gambhir

With the departure of Robbin Uthappa, Gambhir now had Ishank Jaggi at the other end. Jaggi was playing his first game in this season.KKR just had one more batsman remaining in their dugout, in the form of Surya Kumar Yadav. Yes, they had Sunil Narine who has been a revelation in terms of his surprisingly good batting ability. They also had Piyush Chawla but then realistically it was just Suryakumar Yadav – the batsman.  The equation at this point of time was 27 required off 24 balls. Gambhir decided that if KKR is to sail through smoothly he has to score the majority of those runs and more importantly has to bat through.

Ishank Jaggi wouldn’t have played Rashid Khan before. Hence Gambhir took most of the strike against him. Out of 12 balls, Rashid Khan bowled in the match Jaggi faced just three of them.

In the rest 9 that Gambhir played, he was beaten three times. All three of them were sharp turning googlies. Watching Gambhir’s tactics against Rashid told me that he played Rashid really safe. He played all the three googlies with an angled bat to the onside. Risky, isn’t it? But I genuinely believe this was a defense mechanism that Gambhir developed because he wasn’t picking Rashid’s googly. It is the same idea when batsmen just look to play for the in-swing when the ball starts to reverse swing both ways. The thought process is simple, the batsman is prepared to protect his pads and the stump from the in-swing and is happy to leave anything that shapes away – provided the swing is prodigious and he well aware of his off stump. Gambhir kept playing for the fast leg break that is heading towards his pads and stumps. And anything that left him, left him with massive turn because of the moisture on the wicket which made him look foolish but more importantly helped him to survive the Rashid effect.

There were just two occasions where he tried to score off him. That too was from one of his safest shots as I described earlier – the inside out.

Attacking Sidhart Kaul

When Siddharth Kaul came into bowl. Gambhir knew he was the most inexperienced bowler in that lineup and he had an opportunity to deliver a few telling blows that would knock out SRH from the contest. Gambhir did so by hitting a four and a six back to back. The six again was all touch as he once again moved inside the line of a short ball and helped it over the fine-leg fence.

Nothing Fancy

With just 2 needed from the final over that too against a left-arm spinner Bipul Sharma, any left-hander in the world will be thinking of a glory shot. Even Sharma’s first ball was a half tracker. Gambhir did not do anything fancy. He just clipped it on the side for a single. That for me summarizes the depth of Gambhir’s batting. He is not looking for any glitter he is one who gets the job done. Ishank Jaggi hit the final runs and KKR won.

A 32 might not be a fifty or a hundred but I believe this knock will always be special for Gautam Gambhir not in terms of the quantity but the quality of it.

Written by Babasish Nanda