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The art of set-ups

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Bowler_set_up_wicket_batsman_cricketIf you’re a batsman and you’ve been dismissed by a false shot, it was your mistake. When you're beaten by pitch conditions, it was your miscalculation. But when you've been set up by a bowler, you've been cremated. Your cricketing abilities become a pyre, fuming away, adding to the glory of the bowler. No matter what the situation, there's only one thing you are absolutely sure of when you walk out to bat: you’re a batsman.

 

So, when the bowler has made an absolute mockery of the one skill you’re known for, no matter what the situation is, only your body goes back into the dressing room. Your professional soul is lying on the pitch helplessly, like a snake, a snake without its venom, a snake without its fangs, a snake at the mercy of a masterful snake charmer.

The following three examples were some set-ups from the recent times which, were the highest quality, in my opinion. They may not necessarily be your pick for the best of the best, but they are exceptional.

Pujara sliced in two by a magician : 19 overs to go on the fifth day at the G’. The top order of Dhawan, Vijay and KL Rahul had been sent off for 12 runs between them. Pujara and Rahane were the last of the recognised batsmen, with only MS Dhoni and the tail to come. MJo hurled in a beast of a bouncer and caught a somewhat-set Pujara flush on the grill, who then needed a bit of time to recuperate, and followed it up with a bumper down the leg side.

The last and the final delivery. Not a single person in the ground would have thought, “Johnson bowl a slower one?” It wouldn’t have even crossed Pujara’s mind that MJo would try that. Hence, when Mitch rolled his off-cutter on middle, it gripped and turned away viciously, more so because of the angle created from around the wicket, Pujara thrust his bat forward well before the ball had arrived and missed it by a good few inches. An unsighted Che Pu could only hear the death knell, which was drowned out by the deafening roar from the MCG. Even though MSD and Ashwin did manage to guide India to safety eventually, that dismissal was pure magic from Mitchell Johnson.

God versus Satan : Zeus versus Kraken (the man in question is a legendary monster and loves the sea), in short, Tendulkar versus Steyn.

South Africa had posted a huge 550 plus score on the flattest of Nagpur tracks, but Steyn had his tail up already with Vijay’s scalp in his kitty. Sachin came on next. Now Steyn didn’t want Tendulkar to settle, so he started to plot his downfall.

The first delivery to Sachin, comes a little wide of the crease with an in-swinger. Sachin leaves it. The next delivery comes closer to the crease with an out-swinger, and it is well outside off so another comfortable leave. Next over, Steyn bowls that full length out-swinger from close to the wicket yet again, but wide outside off, and finds only an inside edge from Sachin’s bat. Steyn has probably figured by now that’s how he’ll snap up Sachin today. Tendulkar has also probably read Steyn and his tactics. Hence in the last ball of the same over, he drove the full length out-swinger down the ground for a gorgeous boundary. Ordinarily, a bowler would have given up at this deflating moment and switched tactics, but Steyn was no ordinary bowler, and stuck to his plan with a little extra twist.

Next over, again closer to the crease, but this length out-swinger landed on off stick and shaped away merrily. Out stepped Tendulkar again for the drive but the ball was slightly shorter. Tendulkar read the line, not the length and the outside edge was snapped up gleefully by Boucher. Sehwag did keep SA at bay with a beautiful ton but when he was gone, Steyn came back and ate up the tail in what eventually was one of the most devastating spells of swing bowling away from home on the flattest of wickets.

Punter Punctured : The most complete all-round performance of the most unbelievable Test of the most unpredictable Test series of all time. The story of Edgbaston 2005 is a tale that will be retold for decades to come.

In England’s1st innings, Flintoff came in at 4-187 and, along with Pietersen, put on an entertaining display of power hitting. Brett Lee was murdered, Shane Warne was butchered. In the 2nd innings again, Freddie batted like a possessed soul, setting a target of 282 for Australia.

The 4th innings, over 13: Australia are cruising at 47/0. Vaughan tosses the ball to Andrew Flintoff.

Ball no 1 - On a hat-trick from the last innings, it is kept out easily by Langer. There’s a buzz in the air though. The crowd are right behind Freddie in every step he takes in his run-up.

Ball no 2 - Got ‘em! Langer tries to feed away an in-cutter but only dragged it on the stumps. Ponting time, pressure time.

Ball no 3 - Absolute jaffa! Sears in from way outside off to rap a jumping Ponting on the pads, not out.

Ball no 4 - The out swinger from wide of the crease, squares up Ponting, outside edge but short of gully. Ponting is visibly shaken. He never looks comfortable at the start of his innings and today, he was up against an avalanche.

Ball no 5 - Another in-swinger. Ponting has moved right across the line to remove the LBW equation, struck on the pads again, not out. Flintoff is glaring down at Ponting. Ponting is not even looking back. You’d expect Ponting to be one of the last cricketers to shy away from a fight, but he’s just not looking back. Gardening the pitch, reflexing his muscles, hopping up and down. Huge boos from the crowd; they want Punter gone, Flintoff wants Punter gone. Short leg is brought on to intimidate Punter even more.

Ball no 6 - Out-swinger, outside off but no harm as Punter leaves it with a sigh of relief. Hold on, he’s over-stepped, no-ball then!

Ball no 7 - Flintoff bursts in, a cracker of a leg-cutter, Ponting squared up, outside edge, Geraint Jones eats it up. Those 4 balls to Ponting were so good, yet wicketless, that the cricketing gods conjured a no-ball out of nowhere to get the wicket on the 7th ball. Edgbaston erupts like never before. Flintoff roars with his arched back celebration. Ponting knows he’s been done in by something far superior to his ability at the time.

The question that Andrew Flintoff posed was not who was going to let him win, it was who was going to stop him from winning. With all the bags of experience he had, during that heat of the moment, the presence of Ponting was pointless. The aura of Andrew Flintoff’s magic engulfed Edgbaston as England then went on to win that Test in the most miraculous manner.



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