IPL 2013: Adam Gilchrist and Azhar Mahmood rekindle memories of a bygone past with electrifying batting

Adam Gilchrist brought back memories of the days he opened the batting for Australia © IANS

By Nishad Pai Vaidya

In a tournament where most veterans have struggled, Adam Gilchrist and Azhar Mahmood scripted one of the most memorable partnerships in 2013 Indian Premier League (IPL). Battling critics and their own indifferent form, they produced gems that outsmarted the Royal Challengers Bangalore in their own backyard of the Chinnaswamy Stadium. Chasing 175 wasn’t an easy task for the Kings XI Punjab, but the old warhorses made it look like a cinch.

Punjab made a few brave decisions during their run-chase. Firstly, they demoted Mandeep Singh — who has shined in the opening role — and summoned Shaun Marsh up front. Some may have felt that Mandeep would walk in at No 3, instead Azhar was given the challenge. Some may have expected the youngsters to take centre stage, but the experienced men took charge.

Gilchrist of the old on show

Gilchrist has shown signs of form in the last few outings. He had benched himself after an initial struggle and then returned to open the batting. Throughout his career, he had shown the ability to pick up the length quickly and had enough time to essay strokes. That was missing early on this season, but his footwork and stroke-making had been more assured leading up to this knock.

Some of the shots Gilchrist essayed brought back memories of the days he opened the batting for Australia in one-day cricket. He was waiting for the length balls and punished them when they were in the zone. There were those trademark pulls off the fast-bowlers and the short arm jabs towards the leg side. When he plays those strokes, it is an unmistakable sign that he is seeing the ball well.

However, the most entertaining aspect of his innings was the way he dealt with Muttiah Muralitharan. The Gilchrist of old was on show as he fearlessly slog-swept the Sri Lankan genius. He also charged to get to the pitch of the ball and loft him for a few boundaries. Muralitharan may have rekindled unwanted memories of the 2007 World Cup final, where Gilchrist destroyed the Sri Lankan bowling to win the title.

Gilchrist scored an unbeaten 85 came off 54 balls with 10 fours and three sixes. He strike-rate was a staggering 157.41

IPL 2013: Adam Gilchrist and Azhar Mahmood rekindle memories of a bygone past with electrifying batting

Azhar Mahmood clobbered eight boundaries and a six to score 61 © IANS

Azhar comes to the party

Throughout his innings, Azhar matched Gilchrist stroke for stroke. The all-rounder hasn’t had a very good season and needed a performance to boost his confidence. He was mainly used as a bowling all-rounder, batting lower down the order for Punjab. This time around, the team management showed faith in his batting by handing a promotion. Azhar repaid the faith in style. Scoring his 61 off 41 balls (eight fours and one six) and stitching a match-winning partnership with Gilchrist.

Azhar didn’t middle the ball on occasions, yet managed to score at a healthy strike-rate. His six off Muralitharan was astonishing as he went on the backfoot and lofted it over long-on. He was moving about the crease constantly and making room to disturb the bowlers.

In the last few years, Azhar has plied his trade in numerous countries to good effect. T20 cricket has given him a chance to travel the world and make a name for himself. One gets the feeling that Pakistan underutilised his talent. In him, they had a genuine all-rounder who could contribute in both departments. Such players add value to any side irrespective of the format.

In an interview to CricketCountry, Punjab’s assistant coach WV Raman spoke about Azhar’s importance to the side. He said, “Multi-dimensional cricketers are a captain’s dream, even in Test cricket. In a T20 league like the IPL, their presence is priceless. His experience and tremendous all-round abilities make him one of the most exciting players in the side.” At the age of 38, Azhar is still going strong and might prolong his career courtesy the shortest format.

However, to expect Gilchrist to return next year is asking too much. He is 41-years old and is past his sell by date. Punjab have two games to go and this might be his swansong. There were murmurs that he wouldn’t return this year, but came back to don the Punjab jersey. Chances of a similar return next season are slim.

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with cricketcountry.com and anchor for the site’s YouTube Channel. His Twitter handle is @nishad_44)