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Friday, April 5, 2024

Mistaken identity ! – achieving the impossible – Titan’s woes !!

Long long ago, on that fateful June day in 1975, the most accomplished batsman Sunil Manohar Gavaskar played an unhurried innings of unbeaten 36 consuming entire 60 overs !  and in 1983, Kapil Devils successfully defended 183 against mighty West Indian batting line-up of Desmond Haynes, Gordon Greenidge, Larry Gomes, Isaac Vivian Alexander Richards, Clive Lloyd, Favoud Bacchus, Jeff Dujon, Malcolm Marshall, Andy Roberts, Michael Holding and Joel Garner .. .. and yesterday at Ahmedabad there was a peach of a match with a team chasing successfully 200 in 20 overs. 

At the time the little known player walked in -   to bat in his ninth IPL innings, Punjab Kings were 70 for 4 in the ninth over of their chase of 200 against Gujarat Titans. The required rate had rocketed to 11.47 and, according to the ESPNcricinfo forecaster, their win probability had plummeted to 4.77%.


If you ever thought IPL is home only to powerhitters like Chris Gayle who could loft any bowler out of the ground, there is little classic keeper Wriddhiman Saha, who is not the greatest of the batsman wicketkeeper nor possess the power to pulverize the  bowling – yet he opens with Shubman Gill.  In the first few overs boundaries were not exactly coming and then came Kane Williamson playing IPL after a long lay-off, replacing David Miller.  Sai Sudharsan looked for a boundary off 12 of the 19 balls he faced. He outscored Gill - 33 off 19 vs 20 off 13 - in a 53-run partnership that reset the game.  With Gill magic and Rahul Tewatia’s cameo, a fine score of 199 was achieved.  

Throughout the chase or rather the majority part of it, it looked that Gujarat Titans had the match under wraps but most forget that unknown player, who had earlier been with Sunrisers Hyderabad (2022), Rajasthan Royals (2019-21) and Delhi Daredevils (2017), before finding his most recent home, at Punjab.  He has played league cricket at famed Kanga Mumbai having a reputation of big six hitter but could not break into higher echelons. Frustrated at being in one game and out the next for three seasons, he moved to Puducherry for one season in 2018-19, before moving to Chhattisgarh, where he has been a regular player across formats.  He Shashank Singh who played a key role in Chhattisgarh's maiden win over Mumbai in domestic cricket. In the 2023-24 season, he became the first Indian to hit 150+ runs and take five wickets in the same List-A match, against Manipur.  

IPL 2024 auction at Dubai threw up mixed emotions and his name found lot of mention – well, he was not the highest paid, nor most sought after but who had a quirk fate !  -  first Punjab Kings made a successful bid but sooner tried to convince Mallika Sagar that they had wrongly picked him up – stating it to be a case of mistaken identity.   

On that day, at around 7.47pm Indian time, Shashank Singh - a Bengal player - was up for bidding, and went unsold.  In a few more times, the name of the Shashank Singh in question came up, and Punjab Kings, who were in a buying spree at that point - had just acquired Ashutosh Sharma and Vishwanath Pratap Singh in the preceding minutes - raised the paddle. There were no other bids, so the player went to the franchise at his base price of INR 20 lakh.  Later underplaying the fiasco, Kings announced that the player they bought was always on their target list but by that time much damage had been done, more so to the personality and reputation of the player – Shashank !  -  Kings added that the confusion was due to 2 players of the same name in the list !  

Thank you for Trusting on me! – Shashank was sot post in social media.  That trust was brilliantly paid yesterday.  The scorecard would never reveal the real drams.  Punjab Kings 200 for 7 (Shashank 61*, Noor 2-32) beat Gujarat Titans 199 for 4 (Gill 89, Rabada 2-44) by three wickets.  Punjab Kings only had 9% chance of victory and 18 balls to beat the odds with the guy they seemed to have bought by mistake.  

Shashank Singh hit 10 of the 29 balls he faced to the boundary. He survived a very close lbw shout off Noor Ahmad when he was 1 off 2, but was soon carting around a bunch of former IPL champions. Rashid Khan, launched over midwicket, Umesh Yadav, helped over fine leg, Noor Ahmad, skewered over long-off, Mohit Sharma, even when he tried to go pace off and into the wicket, ramped over the keeper. These were unbelievable shots because they came from a place where victory was only fantasy.  


Kings only had two batters among their five substitutes in a bowling first XI. It looked a lopsided selection. But the man they chose as the Impact Sub played a massive role in their victory. Ashutosh Sharma, playing his very first IPL game, and only the 15th T20 of his career, looked at an equation that read 41 off 18 balls square in the eye and took it down with brutal precision. He hit three fours in Azmatullah Omarzai's 18th over. Another six to start the 19th from Mohit. In those 12 balls, the Kings got 34 runs. In those 12 balls, the Kings' chances of victory rose from 9.23% to 94.56%.  

To those following closely Indian Cricket, Ashutosh is a star, famed six hitter.  Railways' middle-order batter Ashutosh Sharma had broken Yuvraj Singh's record of the fastest T20 fifty by an Indian. Ashutosh hammered his fifty off just 11 balls against Arunachal Pradesh in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy at Ranchi.  Yuvraj had held the record for 16 years, having struck a fifty off 12 balls against England in the inaugural T20 World Cup in 2007. Ashutosh took the crease at the score of 131 for 4 with just five overs to go. He then went on to smash 53 off 12 studded with eight sixes and just one four, which came through the covers. He fell the next ball after reaching his record-breaking half-century and walked back with a stunning strike rate of 441.66. As many as four of his sixes sailed over the covers and long-off region, two went over long-on and two more cleared the leg-side boundary behind square. Railways amassed 115 runs in just the last five overs to finish on a commanding 246 for 5, and Arunachal Pradesh were bowled out for 119 in reply, losing by 127 runs.

Yesterday it was not any foreign player nor famed stars, but the partnership of Shashank Singh and Ashutosh Sharma that ensured a fabulous win for Kings over Titans.

Great match indeed.
Regards – S Sampathkumar
5th April 2024 

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