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Cummins' bash, Iyer's composure and a tale of two contrasting fifties

If anyone needed a primer into how unforgiving T20 cricket can be, they need only to look at Pat Cummins’ night out on Wednesday against Mumbai Indians. 

In the eleventh over of Mumbai’s first innings, he picked up the wicket of Ishan Kishan, who departed for a plucky 21-ball 14, looking to pull a short delivery that climbed onto him only to find Shreyas Iyer at mid-off. Bowling the final over, he had the half-centurion Suryakumar Yadav slashing at a wide yorker to feather a catch to Sam Billings behind the stumps, a dismissal that was confirmed only after being referred to the third umpire. So far so good. 

What followed was rotten luck for Cummins. He was powered down the ground by Kieron Pollard for a six, an attempted yorker gone wrong. He pulled his length back to take the ball away from Pollard’s hitting arc but ended up conceding two sixes off the final two deliveries - and 23 runs off the final over. To make matters worse, the final two sixes were top edged over the Third man boundary. Knight Riders ended up conceding 76 runs from the final five overs. 

“It’s a welcome to T20 cricket,” Cummins said after the match. “I was trying to take it away from his [Pollard's] strengths but he got away. That happens in T20 cricket. I thought 161 was a good score, we would have taken that at the start of the game.”

Pune’s pitch had notoriously been an outlier up until last night’s game. Chasing teams had lost both games at the venue and the defending team had the advantage of the absence of dew, a factor that had foiled plans of teams aplenty at the other venues. 

With the Knight Riders precariously placed at 101 for 5 in the fourteenth over, it seemed the game would follow the same trend. Andre Russell was out too but Cummins had other plans on a tacky pitch. 

Nobody quite saw the carnage that ensued, coming. Not even Daniel Sams, who bowled a fateful sixteenth over. Not even Shreyas Iyer and not least, Pat Cummins himself. 

Cummins had looked ominous in the build-up to the sixteenth over, slogging Jasprit Bumrah over cow corner for a six and following it up with a boundary past short third man to allow some breathing space in a tense chase. He had already meted out similar treatment to Tymal Mills an over before. 

Needing 35 off the final 30 balls, Cummins needed just six to seal the game in his side’s favour rather emphatically. He clubbed Sams for two boundaries and four sixes, two straight down the ground, including the winning hit, and a couple over fine leg and deep backward square, in the over to hand himself the joint-fastest fifty in IPL history, alongside KL Rahul, and Sams, an ignominious feat of bowling the second-most expensive over in the league. 

“I probably think I’m most surprised by that innings,” Cummins said at the post-match presentation. His astonishment was well-founded after Shreyas Iyer recalled his batting in a net adjacent to him the night before. 

“I couldn’t believe the way he was hitting the ball,” Iyer said. “Because yesterday [Tuesday evening] in the nets, he was getting bowled now and then, I was batting in the nets beside him.”

If Cummins’ innings was replete with classic T20 range hitting, Venkatesh Iyer’s half-century, with his 41-ball 50 being his slowest in the IPL, was just as crucial. Having weathered the storm with wickets falling around him, he overcame a slow start to register his first fifty of the season and provided a launchpad for Cummins to blast off.

“There will be days where you may not hit the balls as well as you want, but with the batting line-up we have it was important for me to stay there till end and play that anchor role so that the rest of the batsmen can play freely and attack from ball one,” Venkatesh Iyer said of his approach. 

If his was a plan to drop the anchor and attack the odd loose balls, Cummins’ was to go boom or bust from ball one. “I was thinking of having a swing if it was in my area and wasn't trying to overthink it,” he said. 

It sounds like a simple plan, tailor-made for a T20 finisher batting at No. 7, that came off just as well as he would have hoped for. 

Welcome to T20 cricket, indeed.