Royal Challengers Bangalore 189 for 2 (Devine 99, Mandhana 37) hit Gujarati Giants 188 for 4 (Wolvaardt 68, Gardner 41, Patil 2-17) for eight wickets
When sophie devine she was growing up, she was a big drag flicker taking penalty corners for fun in Wellington. The push she would impart to the ball, as she selected trajectories at will, would send her screaming to different corners of the net. It was an early sign of her sporting potential.
Growing up in a multi-sport country that rewarded additional skill sets in the form of academic credits led him to take up cricket as well. And nearly a decade and a half later, much of this early brutality and promise on display on the hockey field continues to wow fans around the world on cricket grounds as well.
If you saw Devine’s savagery on Saturday night, you’ll likely be the first to back that it’s time to remove the 48m limits from the women’s game with immediate effect. Not only was he clearing them, he was launching them into the upper levels or onto the adjacent tennis courts, about 300 feet away.
The crowd, who had come out expecting some fireworks, the photographers trying to get the perfect shot, the umpires standing a surprising distance away, the poor bowlers, all stood in awe. The sixes kept flying as fast as the ones in Mumbai kaali peeli taxis do it along Marine Drive.
Devine hit an astonishing nine fours and eight sixes on his 36-ball 99. He holed halfway to look for his ninth six and had to back off after falling agonizingly short of the WPL’s first century. Everyone on the ground stood up to applaud her. Her shocked opponents were speechless, as Sneh Rana later said. Royal Challengers Bangalore is still a long way from qualification for the play-offsbut they are still alive.
Gujarat Giants, having set a formidable 189 to win, perhaps look back and say it was just one of those nights, but their bowling line-up looked flaky all night and he had few answers for Devine. Ashleigh Gardner was the first caught in the storm. Having come on to unsettle Smriti Mandhana, who had been out five times to deflect this WPL, she conceded 24 in her first over when Devine took her for a sequence of 0, 6, 4, 4, 6, 4 to set the tone for The Royal Challengers response. They came out to 77 for 0 on the power play.
Devine lifted his half century off just 20 balls and then put his innings into orbit. Once the Giants realized that the rhythm on the ball wasn’t working, they tried to slow it down. Devine, who talked about “being in a zone,” wasn’t going to die wondering. He brought in his quick feet and long sticks and the ball was repeatedly lobbed into the clubhouse. The pose he held as he followed the ball’s trajectory told you how much he enjoyed it.
However, it wasn’t just Devine who enjoyed it.
“There are few people who can do what she did tonight, but she’s been doing it consistently for years and what she did tonight was special,” Ellyse Perry told Sports 18 after the game. “To be fair, that last shot she went on typifies Sophie. It’s not about racing for her, it’s about playing for the team.”
“Going for a big shot on 99 when the cover was open for a single says a lot about his character as a person. It was a special chase led by Sophie, it was fun to be a part of and it has kept us in the competition. I don’t know if Sophie can express to us what she’s capable of. She’s got the fastest hands and she’s got a good stable base where she draws her power from.”
That stability comes from her trusting her technique and not basing her game on guessing what’s coming. Much of this is instinctive; she derives that confidence from her innate ability to have different options for similar deliveries. She can spike a long ball through the half-wicket and a flat bat with a similar toss over the bowler’s head for six. It is this range that she accesses that makes her a dangerous proposition, even more so on surfaces with good rebound and carry.
“Sometimes the best thing for me is that I don’t have a game plan,” Devine said as he tried to break down the events later. “When you’re chasing 180-190 you have to push yourself. When I went a couple away I thought it was time, it was a combination of freedom and determination to stay as I threw my wicket a couple of times
“Cricket can be so fickle. I’ve been struggling for six to nine months, if I have to be completely honest. Having some freedom on these grounds was good. It’s also been good to trust myself and free my hands. Our The Coach RX Murali challenged me to hit for a long time, so it was good to score some runs tonight.”
The “some runs” may well have delivered a blockbuster that will go down in WPL folklore. The blow came at a time when you thought it would have been hard to top Laura Wolvaardt’s surgical precision and Gardner’s monster six hits.
“I’m so used to hearing chants for Perry and Mandhana, and I felt a little left out,” Devine laughed. “Hearing your name and experiencing this atmosphere will stay with me for a long time.”
This is safe. Devine isn’t going to be the only one to remember this shot for long. And Mandhana wasn’t the only one craving for popcorn as she enjoyed the Sophie Devine show.