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Punjab’s Kings: Shikhar Dhawan and Nathan Ellis

Synopsis:  Innovative Shikhar Dhawan helped Punjab Kings finish strongly with the bat, and the skiddy Nathan Ellis delivered the knockdown punches in the chase but Rajasthan Royals’s Shimron Hetmyer-Dhruv Jurel pair threatened a dew-powered heist but fall short.

Ellis, the man who took a hat-trick in BBL earlier this year, showed why he was chosen ahead of Kagiso Rabada as Punjab Kings defended 186 on a dewy night where it was difficult to control the slippery ball. He took out Jos Buttler, Sanju Samson, Devdutt Padikkal, and Riyan Parag to derail the chase though Hetmyer and Jurel tried their best for rearguard heroics. The target was set up by the aggressive Prabhsimran Singh and Dhawan, who started conservatively before unleashing a creative turnaround in the second half.

Hetmyer-Jurel threaten dew-powered heist 

At the end of 16th over, when Rajasthan were 126 for 6 and 61 runs adrift of target, it didn’t seem there might be a real twist in the tale. But the dew seeped in, Sam Curran and co. struggled to properly grip the ball, and Hetmyer, the Caribbean dasher, and Jurel, the son of Kargil war veteran and the Impact Player, threatened a heist. “I relish opportunities when you walk out to bat with your team in trouble… that’s the kind of challenge I look forward to,” Jurel had once told this newspaper and he walked the talk.

Sixteen runs came in Ellis’s last over, the 17th of the innings, 19 came in the next off Curran with Hetmyer looting a couple of sixes, 18 reeled off the penultimate over with Jurel crash-landing a six and a couple of fours. Curran had the unenviable task of defending 16 from the last and he kept wiping the ball dry with his towel and kept wiping out hope from Rajasthan with full straight deliveries. Hetmyer was run out off the third ball and when Jurel missed the next ball, the chase was over.

Until the last ball of the 12th over in the first innings, it seemed Shikhar Dhawan was playing a retro T20 knock. A couple of fours upfront was bracketed by a meandering silence, where he pushed around. It wasn’t clear if he was just giving the strike to Prabhsimran Singh or he wasn’t able to find his fluidity. The jailbreak shot, a slugged six over long-on off Yuzvendra Chahal, too hadn’t given the indication of a turnaround. He was beaten in the flight, but somehow reached out to heave it up and over. It was in Chahal’s next over, the 14th of the innings with dew already setting in, that he decidedly turned the corner. Three fours flowed: a sweep, a whip, and an inside-out thrash.

He then brought out the laps and the reverse-slaps to the seamers to trigger AB de Villiers, in the half-time show, to say: “To be honest I haven’t seen him play like that.” Perhaps it was the reverse-crunched six off Jason Holder in the 18th over that made AB perk up like that. Dhawan had turned around for the reverse but Holder managed to spear it really full, but somehow he managed to lift one leg up and scoop-drag it for a stunning six – a flamingo reverse drag-flick. He then lapped KM Asif for a six over fine-leg and finished unbeaten.

Before Dhawan found his feet, it was all Prabhsimran, who took a liking to KM Asif’s offerings, pulling, cutting, charging, slamming him for five boundaries that included two sixes. He also has a reputation for taking on the spinners in domestic cricket, and showed it against R Ashwin, slog-sweeping and lofting him for boundaries. He had just flat-batted Trent Boult for a straight six when he lifted Holder but Jos Buttler ran in from mid-on to fling himself to poach a peach of a catch to terminate his innings in the 10th over. Luckily, a few overs later, Dhawan found his wings.  But the question that swirled around was the total enough considering the dew?

Skiddy Ellis seals the deal 

Ellis was picked ahead of Kagiso Rabada for this game and he proved his value. Ellis is a skiddy customer whose bowling was best captured by the hat-trick he took in BBL earlier this year. The first ball was a skiddy in-curler to a left-handed batsman, the next was a slower one, and the final one swung into the right-handed batsman. Three different balls, back to back, and all within the line of stumps caught the variety of his art. Ellis won’t blow away a hole in the batting camp like Rabada might on his day, but he possesses a big heart, the smarts, the variety, and the confidence to do the job.

On Wednesday, he used the cross-seam balls smartly to do the job. First he took out Buttler in the 6th over with a one that tailed in late. Buttler was a touch locked up as he went for the heave-ho, and inside edged it on to the pad that had the ball lobbing up for an alert Ellis to swallow it. In the 11th over, just when Sanju Samson looked to be in a destructive mood, Ellis had him holing out to long-off. All the Samson shots were present in the 25-ball 42 but perhaps the best shot was a silken square drive off a full ball from Ellis in the sixth over. But with him gone, the chase started to splutter.

Ellis barged through whenever Rajasthan began to hope. The hometown boy Riyan Parag, who made a breezy 20 with two sixes, was taken care of with a slower one. Devdutt Padikkal, still not at his fluent best, went for a slog but was cleaned up by the skiddy rattler to leave Rajasthan floundering at 124 for 6 in the 15th over. Ellis’ figures at that point read 3 for 14 from 3 overs.