For 10 years now, the Indian Premier League has followed a specific storyline. Take the world’s biggest cricketing stars and throw them in the mix with some of India’s most talented Twenty20 proponents. Divide them into teams and pit one against the other everyday and hope to provide fans three hours of guaranteed entertainment every night.
The plot follows a similar formula that requires the star players to be protagonists and India’s domestic cricketers to be the supporting cast. There are a few who’s roles are undefined, but still play along, hoping for a chance to shine.
On certain days, it allows for the country’s best domestic talent to step out of the shadows and earn their moment in the sun, and hopefully court the attention of the selectors that pick players for the Indian national team.
It’s an arrangement that has spawned many overnight stars and handed fame down to those who usually tinker in the background, with the spotlight decidedly away from their general direction the whole year.
On Sunday, as Rising Pune Suprgiants visited the Royal Challengers Bangalore, the production included plenty of stars. With Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers and Shane Watson in one corner, and Steve Smith, Ajinkya Rahane, MS Dhoni and Ben Stokes in the other, the spotlight was firmly away from India’s domestic players, who peppered both teams playing supporting roles to the protagonists.
The main plotlines were pretty clear. Kohli and Smith were crossing swords for the first time since the conclusion of the ill-tempered India-Australia series. MS Dhoni is due for a big knock and AB de Villiers was also expected to once again light up the Bengaluru sky with his trademark fireworks.
But, somehow, amidst this motley crew of stars, it was a bunch of Indian players, the supposed supporting cast of the night who played such a stellar role that paved the way for one of the protagonists – Stokes – to shine through.
Three cameos by Manoj Tiwary, Shardul Thakur and Jaydev Unadkat shaped the outcome of the match in favour of the Rising Pune Supergiants, who prevailed by 27 runs. It began with a late burst from Tiwary.
Batting first, Pune were cruising at 127/2 in 15 overs with Dhoni and Smith in the middle. But a collapse set off by the dismissal of Dhoni brought their cruise to a crashing end. Three overs later they would slump to 130/7. It was a dramatic collapse and one that endangered their chances of setting a large target, which seemed like a formality for Pune.
Coming into bat at No 7, Tiwary, though, maintained his composure. He smashed 27 runs off 11 balls. With just 12 balls left in the innings, Tiwary set about claiming his 15 minutes of fame.
The Bengal batsman had gone unsold at last year’s auction. This season, he got a break when RPS picked him. The pressure was on him to perform. He has come out aggressively this season. With scores of 40 not out, 31 and 27, he has made a strong start. The 31-year-old’s knock on Sunday included three boundaries and two sixes. He smashed Watson for 19 runs in the 19th over and followed it up with a huge six in the final over to take Pune’s score past 160.
In context of the game, the 27 runs proved crucial and ended up being the margin of victory for the Supergiant.
Keeping Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers quiet
A target of 162 was never going to be straightforward to defend. With RCB’s star-studded batting line-up ready to pounce, Pune needed to bowl out of their skin. But there were signs early on. Thakur, bowling his first over, got Kohli to edge one to the slip fielder. Unfortunately for the Mumbai-based bowler, Tiwary spilled the easy chance.
Thakur, though, walked away from the over with a wicket, this time deceiving Kohli’s opening partner Mandeep Singh to nicking one to the keeper.
It was a welcome wicket, even though Pune would have preferred it to have been Kohli’s, but it was a positive start. Both Thakur and Unadkat were varying their pace. The knuckle balls were used plentiful. Kohli and De Villiers tried to play their shots and, uncharacteristically, missed quite a few.
Both bowlers did not escape the wrath of the two batsmen, who pasted them a couple of times through their opening spell, but the damage was limited, and if not for the spilled catch could have been even lesser.
The two-paced wicket was taking effect and the Indian bowlers had shown the way to bowl on the track. Dan Christian and Stokes soon took over.
Stokes struck in his first over to remove Kohli, who was left frustrated as runs remained intermittent. Christian, like Unadkat and Shardul, varied the pace of the ball, keeping the pitch in mind. Kohli was caught in the deep trying to swat at a bouncer from Stokes. It was a shot borne more out of frustration than anything else.
De Villiers too fell in similar fashion, looking to up the ante as runs were drying up. His departure sapped all energy from the RCB chase.
Runs were hard to come by. The tactful bowling aided by some the two-paced wicket was creating distress through the RCB batting line-up. The hosts failed to score a single boundary for six overs.
In their second spell, Thakur and Unadkat followed in the same vein. The knuckle balls were in play. Unadkat scalped the important wicket of Kedar Jadhav, even as Shardul frustrated Watson at the other end.
Watson would fall to Stokes in the very next over with RCB still needing 60 off the last four overs.
Stuart Binny and Pawan Negi got in some lusty blows from then on to give the home fans a glimmer of hope. The fire, though, was soon doused with another slower delivery, forcing Negi to sky one only to be caught at the mid-wicket boundary. He struck again in the same over to remove Binny to put the game to bed.
Unadkat, 25, made sure of that the next over, with his second on the night by shattering Samuel Badree’s stumps. He finished with figures of 2/25, while Thakur scalped three wickets, giving away 35 runs. Stokes walked away with the best figures and the man-of-the-match award, but it was clear he would not have earned the breakthroughs without the pressure applied by the Indian duo.
All three, though, need to thank Tiwary for his cameo in the end that gave them a sizeable total to bowl at.
Pune had survived a batting collapse, dug themselves out, and still managed to defend a modest total. At the core of this fightback were valuable contributions from the team’s supporting cast of Tiwary, Shardul and Unadkat.
On the periphery, but making it count
Incidentally, all three have been on the periphery of the India side for the past few years. Tiwary, the most experienced of the lot has played 12 ODIs and three T20Is for the national team. Injuries, though, have curtailed his rise through the ranks.
Unadkat too played a Test against South Africa back in 2010, but went wicketless and has since been out of contention, apart from the occasional presence in India’s second string side that tours Zimbabwe. Breaking into the selectors’ radar during his junior days, Unadkat was a regular under-19 player. His form, though, has been patchy and cost him his place.
Thakur too has been in the reckoning and is an integral part of the India A side. He has been part of India’s Test squad, but is awaiting his first Test cap.
All three are mainstays of their state teams, they are yet to crack the code to claim a place in the Indian side.
Overshadowed by their more illustrious teammates and opponents in the IPL, they soldier on. On Sunday, they managed to upstage the likes of Kohli, De Villiers and Watson. A small victory in the lonely battle they fight in the background, this though with the spotlight firmly on them.