It was the fourth over of Zimbabwe’s innings. Vusi Sibanda had faced five balls till then, and had sent two of them skimming back over the Hong Kong bowlers’ heads. Clean, crisp, effortless lofted drives. Now Haseeb Amjad dropped one slightly short. Out came the pull.
It isn’t certain how many of the 182 — approximately — spectators at the VCA Stadium sat up a little more alertly at this moment, for Sibanda has a somewhat uneasy relationship with the pull. He connected crisply with this one, hitting it in the air but safely wide of the man at midwicket. In the commentary box, Pommie Mbangwa definitely got off his seat. “Good shot,” he yelled. “That’s his favourite!”
So it is, just as cheesecake is for certain dieters.
Sibanda has been out caught 103 times in international cricket. ESPNcricinfo has ball-by-ball descriptions of 80 of those dismissals. Of those 80 lovingly described dismissals, 20 have come about with Sibanda playing the pull. He loves the shot, he can’t help playing it. He scores a lot of runs with it, but it also gets him out a lot. Once, during a home Test-and-ODI series against Bangladesh in 2011, he was out pulling three times off the same bowler – Rubel Hossain.
Haseeb Amjad, though, was bowling at around half Rubel’s pace, and on this Nagpur pitch anything remotely short was sitting up, waiting to be swatted into the leg-side gaps. Three balls later he sent down another short ball, and Sibanda swiveled and forced the square leg umpire into an ungainly crouch.
Later, in the ninth over of Zimbabwe’s innings, Sibanda picked up another pulled four, this one the best of the lot, his weight still on the front foot while dispatching Aizaz Khan in front of square. Once again, a safe shot, its execution owing far more to calculation than impulse.
Calculation over impulse was an overwhelming feature of Sibanda’s 46-ball 59, his first half-century in T20Is. For a batsman with a wide range of shots, against a modest bowling attack, his wagon wheel showed impressive restraint on a slow pitch.
He hit five fours and two sixes, and all of them were the result of two shots: the pull against anything short, and the lofted straight drive when it was pitched further up. Otherwise, given the slowness of the surface, he was content letting the ball come on and showing a full face to push the ball down the ground or work it off his pads. Only one of his scoring shots came behind the wicket.
The restraint was vital to Zimbabwe, who needed someone to tide them through a difficult period when they lost a heap of wickets, some of them carelessly. It was also surprising, coming in the 16th year of an international career full of promising starts and rash dismissals. While it is utterly premature — and perhaps ill-advised — to think Sibanda may have turned a corner at this stage of his career, it must be noted that he has made three 40-plus scores in five T20 innings since his latest comeback during the tour of Bangladesh in January.
“It’s possibly more to do with mindset,” Sibanda said, when asked if he had changed his game in any way. “Also, I just want to achieve a little bit more than I did in the past, and [I'm] just focusing on my game a little bit more than I did before. Hopefully it pays off in the future.
“Maybe the more time you play, the more you understand your game, and now I’d like to say I’m getting to know myself a little bit more. — Cricinfo