The overlooked diamond shines bright

Rajat Patidar

Aryan Surana
Rajat Patidar wasn't meant to be here. When 590 players went under the hammer in February at the ITC Gardenia in Bangalore, he had found no takers. 71 runs in 4 innings last year meant even RCB, his former franchise, refrained from raising the paddle. An injury to Luvnith Sisodia, however, saw Patidar return to the fold and, as destiny would have it, he's made a case for a longer association with the team by spanking a hundred off 49 balls in the all-important playoff versus LSG.

Patidar might have scored a fifty and a 48 at one-drop in IPL 2022 but there would've been some butterflies in his stomach as he strode out to take centerstage at Eden Gardens after Mohsin Khan sent Faf du Plessis packing for a duck. You've lost your captain in the first over itself in a knockout game. The ball's doing a bit in the air thanks to the Kalbaisakhi-induced blustery showers that delayed the toss. The left-armer's natural angle from over the wicket is amplifying the away movement and you get beaten to begin with. Much to Patidar's relief, the early jitters would disappear with the same speed as the Kookaburra when he stood solid and unfurled a backfoot punch in the next over.

The early wicket called for stabilization and RCB only managed 24 off the first four overs, as a result. The onus to maximise the PowerPlay lay with Patidar as Virat Kohli went about his business at a run-a-ball. Well aware of his Madhya Pradesh teammate's modus operandi, he nullified Avesh Khan's hit-the-deck ploy before toying around with the field to gather 20 runs off Krunal Pandya's second over. RCB finished the PowerPlay on a high at 52/1.

''In the last over of the powerplay, when I was facing Krunal Pandya, the way I could execute my plans, I felt I could score big today,'' the 28-year-old said.

Patidar was serving the mantle of the chief aggressor, but it was only a matter of time before Kohli too had to pull his socks up. He backed away early to employ the upper cut against Avesh but the execution went awry and third man settled underneath. While he dismissed Kohli for the second time in 10 balls across three innings, Avesh was proving to be a one-trick pony as far as bowling to Patidar was concerned. The proclivity to bang it in short made him predictable and his bouncer was helped over fine leg for a six.

Patidar's fifty off 28 balls was the glue that had binded RCB's innings as wickets continued to tumble at the other end, with Krunal Pandya putting the kibosh on Glenn Maxwell for the fifth time in T20s and Mahipal Lomror flaying a drive to extra cover. The second strategic time-out brought about an eventful couple of overs during which Dinesh Karthik survived a LBW shout on the virtue of umpire's call and was then reprieved by KL Rahul who caught the leading edge only for the ball to bobble out as his elbows hit the turf. It was Patidar, though, at the epicenter of the action as he ransacked 27 off Ravi Bishnoi's last over after the leggie had maintained an economy rate of six hitherto.

Bishnoi was asking for trouble when he dropped it short to a batter who accrued 36 off his 112 runs in the mid-wicket region. A lusty blow over Deepak Hooda was followed by a flat hit that went straight to him, but the generally tidy customer in the field let it burst through his hands for a boundary. It was plain as a pikestaff that Bishnoi will address his length and Patidar was waiting for the corrective measure, a full ball right in the slot that travelled the distance. The no-holds-barred assault not only razed Bishnoi's figures but also had a ripple effect on Karthik who ended up with an impactful 23-ball 37.

Coming into the eliminator, RCB had one of the worst records against spin this season, averaging 22.82 and scoring at a rate of 7.49. Patidar single-handedly mollified the concern by taking 58 runs off 22 balls versus spinners. He was reluctant to sweep or charge down the track and believed in having a strong base to launch his shots from. He is a pristine stroke-maker in the mold of KL Rahul, with the lack of exaggerated motions and an emphasis on keeping a steady shape being the commonalities in their respective techniques. It's not to say unorthodoxy isn't the sharpest tool in his box as Patidar did walk across the sticks to scoop Dushmantha Chameera fine for four after muscling a slower one over cow corner.

''I have been timing the ball and that was the focus, instead of powering the ball. My focus was about cashing in on the opportunity and looked to play with the straight bat and time it. I don't come under pressure even after facing dots because of the ability I know I have. I wasn't picked up in the auction but was involved in my practice and that helped,'' Patidar reflected.

Faf du Plessis was effusive in his praise for the first uncapped player to score a century in the IPL playoffs. ''Today was a special day. I am over the moon with the way Rajat played. In a match like today, it's a bit more pressure. The way he played and celebrated his hundred, tells me that he's got a good head on his shoulder. He has got all the shots. Every single time he attacks, he transfers the pressure back on the opposition,'' the RCB skipper said.

Patidar and Karthik looted 84 runs in overs 16-20, the second most in this edition. If one has to put a finger on where the match slipped away from Lucknow's grasp, this was it. Losing captain Rahul tried his level best to strike an equilibrium between anchoring the innings and exploding at the opportune junctures but his 58-ball 79 was no match for the masterclass that came via an Indori enabler who'd attracted no bids in the auction in the first place.