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The greatest leave in T20 history as Ashwin releases Chennai 28 III at the Big G


Let’s go back to December 2016. Ravichandran Ashwin had just watched Chennai 28 II, for the first time. Sequel of the 2007 Venkat Prabhu directorial based on friendship set against the backdrop of gully cricket. In awe of it, the all-rounder tweeted, “What a wonderful movie ‘Chennai 28 II’. Completely put my life on rewind mode. Genuinely felt I could have been a part of it.”

Little did he know six years later, he would produce a live sequel of the movie that touched him, almost coaxing Mohammed Nawaz into bowling a wide, and eventually leading India’s finish in the T20 World Cup thriller against Pakistan.

Venkat Prabhu couldn’t resist. “Lucky us,” he tweeted, tagging Ashwin in a social media post alongside a five second scene from his 2007 movie.

In it, actor Ranjith’s character (Imran) is seen taking guard on strike during the last over of a cricket match. With five needed off five balls and just two wickets in hands. As the bowler releases the second delivery of the over, Imran moves from outside the leg stump to inside, rendering the ball wide and earning an extra run.

In Chennai and in Tamil Nadu, they adore their cinema. Ashwin’s love for cinema is often expressed through his social media self. And so, it was only fitting that he picked one of his all time favorite movies and enacted a scene off it in front of some 90,000 plus at the MCG and millions more watching elsewhere.

Hardik Pandya hadn’t been able to close the game in the last over. Dinesh Karthik, the designated finisher, had fallen for the trap and walked back off a stumping just a delivery back. Virat Kohli, the face of the chase had given his all and it was out of his immortal hands now. In came Ravichandra Ashwin.

Only three hours ago, his inclusion over Yuzvendra Chahal had been the talking point of India’s playing XI at the MCG. The 36-year-old had marked his comeback into India’s white ball team only last year after a four-year hiatus. In his spell of three overs earlier, Ashwin had remained wicketless. But here he was, coming on to bat at the most important juncture of India’s 2022 T20 World Cup opener against Pakistan. All that had gone by in India’s favor in the tie would’ve ended in a losing cause. Virat would have experienced Sachin’s sinking feeling in Chennai Test against Pakistan. With that insurmountable seeming pressure, Ashwin took the guard against left arm spinner turned medium pacer Mohammed Nawaz.

Since his return to India’s T20 blues, Ashwin had only batted a total of 27 deliveries. He had procured a four and two sixes but none at a ground this big. But here he was. Now all set to face that last ball, or as it was supposed to be.

Hit the Hotstar app to watch that ball now, if you wish. It is evident from his foot movement pre-delivery that Ashwin knew exactly what Nawaz was going to do. The vice-versa, not so much. Nawaz or most other bowlers would’ve placed their bet on the lower order batter having a go at the ball, trying to maneuver space by moving to either side of the stump. Just as the Pakistan left arm orthodox raised his arm to release the delivery, Ashwin transferred his weight to the backfoot. And just as the ball moved towards its destination, he made his way deep inside his crease, nonchalantly watching the ball go down leg stump as if he had no business to do with it. Umpire Rod Tucker signalled wide as the blue in the MCG popped.

Virat Kohli, who stood at the other end, had defied cricket physics laws to manufacture shots that got the crowd bouncing. All Ashwin did was leave the ball. Just like that. Perhaps the greatest leave in the history of a format where the batter is asked to go after every ball.

Imagine leaving a ball, in a match of this magnitude, against your arch rivals, with that many people in the stands, with so much riding on the result, and in a T20 World Cup match. Imagine doing that with a hint of what would happen if you fail. Audacity never felt more audacious.

He watched all the way as Nawaz darted that delivery down the leg side and didn’t move a muscle of his that had a role in moving his bat. This wasn’t Sydney 2021. No Hanuma Vihari stood at the non-striker’s end. No one blabbering in his ear from behind the stumps. No pacer targeted his body. And yet, he left it with as much saint-like peace as he did during the final session of that Test match not that long ago. And then, he followed it with a calm loft over mid off for….well, who cared? India had beaten Pakistan in a ‘what the hell just happened’ T20 World Cup classic at the big G.

And while the blues within the 90,000 plus crowd chanted ‘Kohli’, it wouldn’t have been if not for the envy of a monk, who ran with his bat up at the other end. That last shot of his may have counted as the only run he scored off the only legitimate ball he played that night. But as years pass by and nostalgia sets in, accompanying a few dozen shots will be that one leave off an illegitimate delivery.

Maybe it was his genius. Maybe it was his love for Tamil cinema. Maybe it was both.

Shortly after he had shared his thoughts back in 2016, Director Prabhu had responded by stating that the then ICC Cricketer of the Year almost made it into the film.

“We actually wanted him to play a small cameo in this part but it didn’t materialize as he was busy with his cricketing commitments. If a part three of the film happens in the future, we will surely rope him in.”

Six years later we can safely confirm, the movie did well.





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