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Suresh and Mahela: different strokes, and styles

Trevor Chesterfield

Updated: May 5, 2010, 5:15 PM IST
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As India hangout in Bridgetown planning their Super Eight campaign, they might give thought to the man largely responsible for their unchecked passage this ICC T20 tournament.

All the pre-series hype was of the Yuvraj Singh factor, overlooking most others whose batting techniques and styles are equally suited to this type of short game. Such is the man they now call the Phantom Menace, better known to family, friends and fans as Suresh Raina. Okay, Brendon McCullum, another slogger endowed with an aptitude for some bizarre strokeplay, had it wrong.

It wasn't Yuvi who pounded the stands with sixes, reviving the Creedence Clearwater Revival golden oldie, "Have you ever seen the rain?"

Instead, it is the new image for the new fashion, and in the words of the Star Wars brand, every generation has a legend. The twist here is that every tournament of this nature creates one because of its ability to surprise. That is cricket for you. So, enter the Suresh Raina, aka the Phantom Menace, the batsman who shows he is one someone far from having modest pretentions but enjoys the cut and thrust adrenalin type competitive drive you get it this format of the game.

A century in T20 is far from easy: many have tried and all too often fall short of the target because of the availability of balls to score off - 120 as opposed to 300 in the 50/50 game, and where the percentages are easier. It is why the livewire Phantom Menace is only one of four to succeed, McCullum being another and joined by Mahela Jayawardene, whose three-figures against Zimbabwe was totally different in style and execution of strokeplay.

What the Asian batsmen displayed was care and attention to the batting basics. Raina has always been noted as a hard-hitting type with a touch of aggression that doesn't go amiss. Jayawardene is so different: silky skills that create enjoyment at how he finds the gap with ease. The IPL three-figure score, scorned and scoffed at on the emerald isle by his critics, explained the jealousy of success, not pride at the classy achievement. The innings against Zimbabwe was almost greeted with blinking disbelief.

Then came the backstabbing again: it was only against Zimbabwe. Who are they? What are they? Just a bunch of losers. This is typical of those who have a myopic view of the game and its great thespians of any era, and Jayawardene is one of the modern school.

What both batsmen employed instead of the fancy, quirky strokeplay failures of last year, have largely been based on batting basics and solid technique and skills. The result has been two of the classiest innings you are likely to see at any level of the game.

First, we had a marauding performance by Raina, a name yet to grace the Indian Test squad for some mysterious reason known only to the Indian selection Mafia. He batted with elan and organised purpose as he put together a century that had him parading as a Phantom Menace, brandishing his Star Wars type willow sabre that put young Morne Morkel to the sword in an over that in essence helped India beat South Africa. Hard clean hitting, not slogging.

After New Zealand had worked over Sri Lanka's bowling at the death in that opening game, and despite the obvious batting quality from Jayawardene, with sound support from Dinesh Chandimal, it needed a genuine pick me up from Kumar Sangakkara's troupe to put a better batting act together in the second game.

And the captain pinpointed where Sri Lanka lost that first game. First was Jacob Oram, the lanky all-rounder from Palmerston North, plundering successive sixes off Ajantha Mendis, just the way Yusuf Khan thrashed the so-called mystery man in the IPL. Then that last over from Lasith Malinga whose radar went on the blink and he failed to bowl straight.

In his brilliant autobiography 'Turning Point', New Zealand captain Daniel Vettori, says he has a soft spot for India and Sri Lanka and is proud how his playing career has coincided with Muttiah Muralitharan as well as Anil Kumble. He also explains how he enjoys the T20 challenge as batsmen charge the bowler and makes for a more attacking game where batting has its own styles and stylists.

He could have been writing about the Rhapsody in Blue: Jayawardene's style of innings against Zimbabwe was just that. It was classic, as classic as a Creedence Clearwater Revival protest song with a message, as strong and as powerfully in tune and synch as the George Gershwin allegro notes of that excellent jazz composition. That is how Jayawardene batted.

Somewhere, recently there was some piffle written for a Sri Lanka audience about warning the selectors and team management not to be suckered into the ploy of opening the innings at T20 level with the erstwhile national captain. It would be wrong; weigh the side down with indecision at the top. Flashy and fast-food delivery was needed, the 'whatsitscoop' the paddle this and the reverse sweep that would be the strokes of the tournament. Forget the batting basics, so that is boring.

Take off the myopic blinkers guys, enjoy the Rhapsody in Blue and the Phantom Menace as they batted with intent, and knew their role in the team's series landscape. Sure Raina is at this stage is not your classic stylist, but give it time and patience. Those powerful drives off not just Morkel expressed a young man in tune with his game.

As for Jayawardene, his impressive technique, the pull and cut strokes were as perfect as you will find. There were times that his polished style made you wonder why the selectors and team management dithered so long. The man is in prime form of his career and those who have not played the game at this level, or any decent level are trying to pass on advice to those who have.

First Published: May 5, 2010, 5:15 PM IST

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