Shami’s precision had made the outcome utterly predictable, like if you froze this footage on a quiz show years later to ask what happened next, everyone’s buzzer would have gone off immediately.
In a high-stakes game such as this, there’s pressure every ball. There’s no running away from it. These are Axar’s words from earlier this year. In a way, it summed up his approach. You have to embrace it. In the middle of a boxing ring, there’s no place to hide. You’re facing your opponents, your own challenges and scoreboard pressure with the season slipping away. There’s no place to run.
Axar’s calming influence works its magic in allowing Aman to play himself in. The expectation is to simply bat out the overs and not gift the game up on a platter. Sometimes those are the situations where players tell you they have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Aman certainly had a lot to gain.
“I wasn’t actually going to play tonight,” he later said at the press conference. Mitchell Marsh’s sickness gave him what seemed like one last chance. He hadn’t ‘played a single impactful knock in the bunch of opportunities he’d had earlier.
Aman plays a lot of club cricket in Mumbai, a world of struggle that teaches you how to fight for survival, how to carve a niche in an environment where there are hundreds waiting to grab onto what you let slip. At 26, Aman isn’t all that young. An IPL performance here could give his career the kind of leg room you wouldn’t otherwise get in Mumbai.
“I wasn’t low on confidence, but in the previous game in Hyderabad, I went in at a similar situation and threw my wicket away,” he said. “I was really disappointed with myself. I thought if I get another opportunity like that, I should grab it.”
So, Aman decides to target the other end and gets stuck into Mohit Sharma first. He holds his shape, picks his spot and waits for Mohit’s into-the-pitch slower deliveries that he wallops. The six off Mohit also brings up a half-century off 41 balls, his first-ever in T20 cricket. Then with the confidence of the landmark behind him, he rocks back to pull Rashid into the stands. By now, Ponting is slapping his thighs. Collective smiles are seen in the Capitals camp. There’s a ray of hope, if not a lot of it. It’s over to the bowlers now to defend 130.
Now for the ripper of a magic ball that has Dale Steyn reaching out to his phone. “The best knuckleball I’ve ever seen” he tweets as Ishant takes out Vijay Shankar. There aren’t too many wearing blue in the stands, but the small pocket of Capitals supporters are finally smiling for the first time possibly.
Hardik Pandya stands like a rock. Not flustered by the asking rate or his inability to time the ball or pick up boundaries. He belongs to MS Dhoni’s school of taking the game deep. But in trying to do so, he has allowed Capitals a window of opportunity.
Then Ishant rocks up again with 12 needed off six. He sets a field for the full ball, and bowls two wide yorkers that can’t be put away. The field remains unchanged. Tewatia fully expects him to bowl full and wide again, perhaps, but Ishant bangs it into a length to cramp Tewatia, which he said later revealed was part of his plan to “double bluff” the batter. The catch is taken at cover. Titans need nine off two. You think it’s done until you see Rashid walking out.
But Ishant backs his best ball and goes wide-yorker again. Rashid reaches out to scythe it through cover as a diving Rilee Rossouw intercepts the ball. Now it’s a one-ball battle. Ishant lets it fly. It’s a full toss. Luckily, it isn’t a no ball. The slice bobbles behind point. A boundary is averted, and a match is sensationally pulled out of the bag.
Ishant is all smiles. Ponting can’t contain his childlike excitement. He nearly squishes Sarfaraz Khan. Ganguly has his arms aloft. Shane Watson furiously claps. The Capitals have just pulled off a heist, and they’re just about alive.
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo