Harpreet Brar comes out of nowhere to leave RCB’s heavy artillery in tatters

Punjab Kings 179-5 (20 overs) (KL Rahul 91*, C Gayle 46)

Royal C Bangalore 145-8 (20 overs) (V Kohli 35, Harpreet 3-19, R Bishnoi 2-17)

When you’ve never played a first-class game it is the stuff of fantasy to be picked for the IPL. When you have not taken a wicket in three games over two seasons and conceded runs at an economy rate of almost 10, you probably feel that those dreams have become something of a nightmare.

But for Harpreet Brar such setbacks served only to inspire as he followed a cameo of 25 in 17 balls that lifted the Punjab Kings total to 179 with a quite remarkable final two overs of left-arm spin that dismissed all three of RCB’s heaviest hitters.

At one point, having bowled a frustrated Virat Kohli, and then turned the ball past Glenn Maxwell’s edge to clip his off stump first ball, he was on a hat-trick – one that, in terms of the quality of batsman dismissed would have to be rated among the finest in any form of the game. AB de Villiers survived that but Harpreet still recorded a double-wicket maiden.

He didn’t have to wait long for the South African’s wicket, however, as with the first ball of his final over, De Villiers chipped the ball to captain KL Rahul at extra cover. When he had finished, the 25-year-old who idolises fellow left-arm spinning allrounder Yuvraj Singh, had the astonishing figures of three for 19.

From 62 for one at the start of the 10th over, RCB had slumped to 69 for four in the middle of the twelfth. There seemed no way back – and there wasn’t as Chris Jordan dismissed a shell-shocked Rajat Patidar, who had watched with surprise and dismay from the other end as players with a far higher profile than him came and went. Then Harpreet – you couldn’t keep him out of the game – got under Shabhaz Ahmed’s heave to deep mid-wicket to let fellow spinner Ravi Bishnoi get a taste of the good times.

Bishnoi then cleaned up Daniel Sams with a flat googly and found himself on a hat-trick. Harshal Patel prodded unconvincingly forward and survived thanks to a mixture of bat and pad but at the end of the over, RCB still needed 84 off 24 balls with only three wickets in hand.

Earlier, it had been the Chris Gayle and Rahul show.

On Guerilla Cricket’s ball-by-ball IPL commentary we have adopted and adapted commentator’s Danny Morrison’s use of “maximum” to describe a six to “smaximum” when a particularly special sort of boundary is struck. A “smaximum” is usually a brutal shot, dispensed with ultimate power, but more than anything it is defined by its trajectory: It must be flat, fast and preferably still rising as it crosses the rope.

Today, Chris Gayle, interpreted it better than we ever could. Off a ball of relatively little pace from the leg spinner Yuvzendra Chahal, he cracked such a monster, the left-hander showing that he is the boss not only of this universe but possibly of several parallel ones. A lofted drive, it never rose higher than eight feet off the ground as it arrowed down to long-off.

Gayle had already found his touch to be fair, having hit five fours off Kyle Jamieson’s second over, the previous one. By now, all bowling was coming alike to him. It was almost as if the old-timer was saying to Prithvi Shaw, who had hit six consecutive fours off Shivam Mavi for Delhi Capitals the day before, that the 21-year-old would be able to consider himself his equal only if he could still do it 20 years hence. The annoyance for the Jamaican will be that he missed out on Jamieson’s fifth ball, a full toss outside off stump, which he slapped straight to extra cover.

It was a shame when Gayle gloved a bouncer from Daniel Sams, the Australian left-arm quick playing only his second IPL game, and was caught by AB de Villiers down the leg-side. He had hit 46 from 24 balls. It was a statement to his former employers, for whom he scored 3,183 runs at 43 with a strike rate of 152, but one that felt it could have done with a second page.

Still at 99-2 after 10.4 overs he had given Punjab the kind of start they required if they were to bring down a side that would ascend to the summit of the IPL table should they earn the two points with a sixth victory in seven games.

He had also given way to fellow West Indian Nicholas Pooran, who earlier in the day had donated to India’s Covid emergency. The Trinidadian scored 353 runs in the 2020 edition in the UAE at an average of 35 and strike rate of 169, but has not been able to buy a run this season.

He had been out for nought three times in five innings – the other two had brought him a total of 28 runs – with an unwanted and unlikely treble of second ball, first ball, and run out without facing. He added to the sequence with a mathematician’s precision, lasting three balls this time, Jamieson finding the shoulder of his bat and having him caught at backward point.

With Deepak Hooda and Shahrukh Khan going cheaply, suddenly they were 118 for five from 15 overs and bogged down.

When Harpreet finally stuck a four over mid-off after 17.2 overs it was Punjab’s first boundary since Gayle’s dismissal. But with his captain, who had been there all along, he added an unbeaten 61 for the sixth wicket as the ropes were found with more regularity. Rahul finished on 91 from 57 balls and Harpreet with 25 off 17 as they were punishingly hard on Harsh Patel’s third and fourth overs, the eighteenth and the twentieth; the tournament’s leading wicket-taker with 17 was forced to go without this time, while conceding 53 runs.

There was no sign of the bedlam to follow when Kohli and Devdutt Padikkal added 19 in the first 2.3 overs, although Riley Meredith, the strongly-built Australian quick was perilously close to having Kohli lbw, only the thinnest of edges saving the RCB captain. Padikkal looked as if he was in the kind of mood that brought him an unbeaten 101 off 52 balls only height days ago.

But Meredith hit back the ball after the young left-hander had scooped him over backward point for six, emphatically uprooting his leg stump.

Kohli scratched around, searching desperately for fluency before Harpreet found his magic touch, finally dismissed for one of his less impressive scores in the 30s and using up too many balls – 34 – in the process. Late hitting from Harshal and Jamieson merely made the margin of defeat slightly less humiliating.