IPL 2018: Virat Kohli takes the bait, Mujeeb Ur Rahman eats cake
It is the eighth game of the Indian Premier League in 2018.
Royal Challengers Bangalore are in their fifth over of the run-chase against Kings XI Punjab. The target is not a scary one, especially since RCB have one of the most formidable top-orders in the tournament. Quinton de Kock is on 10. His partner, Virat Kohli – arguably the world’s best batsman – is 21 off 13.
RCB need 124 runs from 16 overs with nine wickets in hand: the sort of target that they should be able to achieve in their sleep.
The 17-year-old from the Khost province in Afghanistan, the mystery bowler Mujeeb Zadran, is about to start his second over. This is just his second game of the IPL and the crowd is egging the RCB batsmen on, wishing they would shred Mujeeb’s spin to bits.
If De Kock or Kohli were to step down the ground and tonk him out of the stadium, the audience would erupt in a frenzy. The commentators would suggest that Mujeeb is feeling the heat. His captain would think twice before prolonging his spell.
The first four balls yield a solitary run. Mujeeb mixes up the pace and changes his angle. Kohli tries to get him through the infield but is unable to put away the skiddy, low-flying darts.
On air, Harsha Bhogle mentions that Mujeeb is the first international men’s cricketer born in the 21st century. The Afghan has plenty of variation and mystery, Harsha suggests, but says he wants to see him bowl the traditional off-break from time to time.
Mujeeb prances in for ball number five.
Flighted outside off.
It’s hanging in there for the batsman to get after.
Kohli’s eyes light up. He goes for an expansive drive to cover: a kind of shot he plays at the height of his confidence, holding his pose at the end of the majestic follow-through. This ball is going to bisect the field and hurtle to the boundary rope at extra cover. This is how Kohli makes his living, stamping his authority on the field of play. This is how he ruins a bowler’s rhythm; not by cashing in on a bad ball and putting it away for a boundary but by confronting a perfectly good ball and dispatching it for four. With a touch of arrogance to boot.
The ball is a googly, delivered from the back of the hand.
It baffles the outstretched bat and, like a vicious snake, jags back at a lethal angle… and heads straight to the top of middle stump.
The stumps light up.
Kohli is in a state of shock.
And Mujeeb, arms extended, takes off on a jubilant run.
Mujeeb didn’t even know what a googly was till four years ago. He watched a cousin bowl what looked like a leg-break and was amused when he saw it spinning back into the right-hander. He learnt that one had to deliver it from the back of one’s hand and started practising it along with his off-break and carrom ball.
Before this game, none of the Kings XI bowlers had dismissed Virat Kohli in an IPL game. Not R Ashwin, not Axar Patel, not Mohit Sharma, not Andrew Tye. Mujeeb bowled five balls to him, conceded a measly two runs and got his wicket.
Mujeeb went on to bowl another terrific over, which meant he conceded just 10 in his first three. He returned for the 17th over of the game, with the game in the balance, and conceded 19 – including two mighty sixes by AB de Villiers. Three poor balls out of 24: figures that read 4-0-29-1. Unremarkable on the surface. But look beneath and you have a whole different story.
The IPL can be mistaken for a festival of big bats and mighty hits, but the early exchanges have shown the value of thrusting spinners into the heat of competition. Mayank Markande, another young legspinner, has been the revelation for Mumbai Indians – nabbing seven wickets in two games – and Washington Sundar played a big role in RCB restricting Kings XI to a below-par total. Sunil Narine, Rashid Khan and Shakib Al Hasan have all – as expected – turned games on their heads.
Most of these bowlers though have prioritized run-saving. It is by focusing on the economy, by keeping the batsmen on a tight leash, that they often get rewarded with wickets.
Mujeeb’s googly to Kohli was a sight to savour precisely for the opposite reason: he invited Kohli to go for the big shot and lured him into the trap. This ball could have worked in a Test or in an ODI. It could have procured a wicket in gully cricket or in a hit-out in the driveway. It was a ball for all formats and all seasons.
Which is why it is likely to remain one of the sights of this IPL.
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