It quite encapsulated the spirit of Twenty20 cricket — more often than not, young, vibrant and utterly unpredictable: Virat Kohli (obviously young) the peppy, unpredictable skipper of India’s victorious under-19 squad, throwing himself to his left at point to pick up a smashing square drive from a dangerous-looking Luke Ronchi.
Bangalore, somewhat down after their first game loss to Kolkata, were a rejuvenated lot after that Kohli blinder, defeating Mumbai by five wickets with two balls to spare, the victory made possible by wicket-keeper batsman Mark Boucher’s 19-ball 39 not out, after the top-order made more than useful contributions.
Mumbai, opening their campaign without Tendulkar and led by the feisty Harbhajan (it looked quite odd having him walk out for the toss), made a challenging 165 for 5 but it was always going to be one of those iffy scores that a solid batting effort could overhaul. And that’s exactly what happened.
Bangalore replied with 166 for 5 in 19.4 overs, making this the event’s tightest finish so far. Mumbai tried gamely to fight till the end, but Boucher’s experience of pressure situations, as his skipper Rahul Dravid later said, made all the difference in the end.
Bangalore needed 60 from 6.3 overs and Boucher changed the face of the game with his brilliance. Someone who wasn’t all that brilliant was Mumbai’s (this seems funny doesn’t it, when he’s actually from Dilli?) Ashish Nehra. Nehra, not named in the squad of 17 on match eve, surprisingly played and his much-awaited return to the spolight wasn’t a happy one as he went for 45 runs in his stipulated spell.
Earlier, though, it seemed like the Bangalore boys were in for another thrashing. Ronchi, the West Australian, looked like he would do a McCullum, smashing two fours in Praveen Kumar’s first over. So Kohli’s acrobatic effort not only gave them that breakthrough but also fired Zaheer up.
Bowling on a turf whose every inch he knows, the left-arm quick was almost unplayable. He sent 29-year-old New South Welshman Dominic Thornley to hospital, where his right eyebrow was sewed up 15 times, and later ran Sanath Jayasuriya out in his follow through. But that was after the veteran Sri Lankan delighted the home crowd with some characteristically lusty hits, making a 16-ball 29 (5x4, 1x6).
Ironically, it was left to a Bangalorean to bail Mumbai out. The right-hander, who told HT at the start of play that he was looking forward to pitting his skills against many of his Ranji Trophy statemates from Karnataka who make up the Bangalore team, was initially shaky but then dominated proceedings, sharing 51 for the third wicket with Pinal Shah. Uthappa mixed some clean hits with his usual unorthodox ones before falling prey to statemate B Akhil, stumped down the leg side smartly by Boucher.
Despite the final scoreline, the crowds who came in droves probably had a super Sunday. After all, they had a surfeit of stars (many of Bollywood’s best), a novel experience, and a nailbiting finish.