It was a scene straight out of the dangerously game of chicken. Tim Southee and Ajinkya Rahane were headed for the skier from Kagiso Rabada from opposite directions. Who would be the first to swerve away or will they collide head-on? Both looked set for a serious on-field clash. Those were some tense moments at the Wankhede on the night of Friday (April 1).
In that serious death wish game, it is said the best thing for a driver is to speed on straight while waiting for the other to pull away to avoid what could be a lethal crash. Rahane had the reflexes, intelligence, and a sense of timing to withdraw at the right moment. Southee went on to attack the ball and did exactly what the manual says: run straight. In a flash, he completed what could be the best catch of the IPL 15. Blinder? Well, it was an athletic marvel.
“It is right up there,” R Sreedhar, the fielding coach of the Indian team until recently, told Cricbuzz. “It is too early to say if it will be the best catch in this IPL, but it could well be, eventually. Because, it had all the ingredients – timing, intent and a daredevil finish.”
After the game, Southee’s KKR teammate Sam Billings felt the catch could have changed thesituation of the match dramatically in their favour. “Moments like that change the game,” said the English cricketer. “Extra 10 or 15 runs, it could be a different game. I was at the other end of the ground but I can say it was a phenomenal catch. Great hands,” added Billings, who was involved in a match-winning stand with Andre Russell, who cocked a snook at the Punjab Kings bowling to make sure the Knight Riders romped home without breaking much sweat.
Southee was placed mostly on the outfield and before he exhibited his biomechanical brilliance to send back Rabada, he had taken two more catches – one a well-judged one on the boundary line to have an ominous-looking Liam Livingstone dismissed.
The Rabada catch, as many have said and Sridhar too has felt, was theoretically Rahane’s. Standing at long-on, he was closer to the ball when it was skied by the left-handed South African batsman. But Southee ran faster from long off, crossed the on-field advertisement and grabbed it with a well-calibrated dive.
“After diving, he had the alertness to extend his hands to ensure the elbows were not hitting the ground. He did everything right. The main thing above all this was intent and he exhibited a lot of it,” said Sridhar, considered by Ravi Shastri as the best fielding coach in the world.
Sridhar felt if the collision was averted, it was because Southee called for it, and Rahane pulled away at the right time. Rahane may have been a bit of a lame-duck in that effort but he made the right call. “Very wise of him,” Sridhar said of the Indian batsman and added, “The secret of outfield catching is athleticism and safe pair of hands.”
Simon Doull, a fellow New Zealander, threw more light into the catch. “Tim has got an incredible pair of hands and this catch shows that,” Doull said. “The running and diving effort stands alongside Ravi Bishnoi’s catch of last year for the Punjab Kings team.”
Apart from taking three catches, Southee (33) claimed two wickets too. “Tim is one of the most-liked guys in the New Zealand side. For a long time, he has absolutely been the team-first man. His ability to adjust and develop as he slowed down is incredible. His slip catching is on par with the best in the world. Fielding in the slips after bowling competitive overs and taking blinding catches is no mean achievement,” Doull added.
With three catches and two wickets, Southee was involved in five dismissals which helped Knight Riders restrict Punjab Kings to a total that Russell could make easy mincemeat of. “He has shown, what a world-class performer he is. He is the best in the world (in power hitting),” said Billings after Knight Riders’ six-wicket win.
He himself was unbeaten on 23 and was involved in a 90-run unbeaten partnership with Russell, who remained unbeaten on 70 off just 31 balls. “My role was to keep holding the game there. He (Russell) is the star and I wanted to let him play the game and as we saw, he did it in five overs (7.3 overs). We saw the destruction he can cause.” One also saw the brilliance that Southee can exhibit.