A Bangladeshi spinner bowling to a West Indian – who has just taken his helmet off to sport his blonde Mohawk; at the non-strikers' end stood a young Indian awestruck at the carnage. At a stadium in Kolkata, 65,000 cricket fans including Bollywood's biggest movie star were vociferously chanting "We want sixer!" – how can one not fall in love with the Indian Premier League?
If the first match between Chennai Super Kings and Royal Challengers Bangalore was a snooze fest, KKR versus SRH was surely the wake-up call. For 37 overs in the game, there was only one winner; but as it turned out, the West Indian muscle man Andre Russell conspired with Indian newbie Shubman Gill to script one of the greatest eleventh-hour heists in IPL history.
Chasing 182 to win their opening encounter of IPL 2019, KKR had only reached 129 runs at the end of 17 over, requiring 53 runs off the last three overs to win the game. Just then, Russell turned it on and smacked a six over midwicket even Michael Slater on commentary kept insisting that if the all-rounder gets one ball into the stands, the game is still alive. The game indeed was alive as Russell plundered 19 runs in that over.
It still looked improbable if not totally impossible as 34 runs were needed off two overs and one of the world's finest death bowlers in Bhuvneshwar Kumar had one over up his sleeve. Bhuvi perished into the stands too as even a tumbling Russell, on his knees, managed to easily clear the boundary. The equation was simple then – 13 runs from six balls with Shakib to bowl the final over. Four balls and two sixes later, the Knights were celebrating with boundless mirth.
But it was not Russell who finished the game off because he mistimed a hoick to square leg leaving a 19-year-old opener who had faced just 7 balls to score 11 runs in five balls. Gill obliged to dance down the track twice in the space of three balls to deposit Shakib twice over his head into the stands and complete the victory. It may just have been three balls but it was batsmanship of the highest order by Gill. He had noticed Shakib bowling good length to Russell, so Gill stepped out for the first six to convert the ball into a full delivery. Shakib responded with a Yorker and Gill's match-winning dance down the pitch was to convert the next Yorker into a full toss.
Even though Shubman finished the game, it was a different Gill senior who scripted it because stepping out to spinners – a forgotten art in Indian cricket – was an eventuality of Lakhwinder Singh's insistence. "I talk to my father over the phone even on tour. When I'm practising in the nets, I make a video of a few balls and send it across to my dad. He guides me accordingly and points out a few things I need to change. For example, during the domestic season, he told me that he had noticed I had stopped stepping out to spinners. He asked me to bring that aspect back to my game."
In an interview with KKR, Gill mentioned how his father, who was also his first coach, has been the biggest contributor to his success and always kept track of his progress.
"He [my father] has played a very important role in my career. He left everything for my cricket. He left his parents and shifted to Chandigarh for me and that in itself is so difficult. He used to go back to his village only when there was a gap in my training or when I would go out of station to play matches," said Gill.
"When I was in Chandigarh, there was hardly a day when he was not by my side. Even if he had important work, he wouldn't go. He saw it this way – if I had four-five days of constant practice, he would stay on to keep track of my progress. So yes, he has been extremely supportive and that has helped me a lot."
There was one point in the game when a particular floodlight tower malfunctioned in the 16th over of the Kolkata Knight Riders run chase and from the perspective of Sunrisers Hyderabad, all the lights may well have been turned off for it was a robbery – a match that looked destined to go the way of SRH, miraculously turned to KKR's corner in the space of 16 balls. On one hand, it was the magic of the T20 game but on the other, there must have been bewilderment.