Before Wednesday, leg-spinner Pravin Tambe had taken a single wicket in three Twenty20 matches, the only top-level games he had ever played.
Thrust into Rajasthan Royals’ side for its Champions League T20 encounter against Highveld Lions, the 41-year-old remained irrelevant for the first 31 overs of the contest.
When Tambe’s turn to bowl finally arrived, he did not even finish his four-over quota. Three were enough.
Tambe’s 18 deliveries of his only spell brought four scalps, enough to ensure RR’s 30-run win over Lions at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium. Rahul Dravid’s side now needs to win only one of its remaining two group A fixtures to enter the semifinals.
Though Lions was chasing a tough target of 184, it had recovered from 36 for three after five overs to 88 in 11. Hence, Tambe’s intervention was crucial to seal victory.
Hardus Viljoen, Jean Symes, Sohail Tanvir and Alviro Petersen were dismissed in the space of 11 deliveries by Tambe, whose returns were a result of accuracy more than turn. The 41-year-old’s performance seemed even more impressive on a track which had been exploited well by RR’s batsmen.
422 runs had already been scored in the evening match between Perth Scorchers and Otago Volts when skipper Petersen stuck to convention by choosing to field.
Initially, Tanvir swung the ball away a bit to restrict the run flow, in addition to claiming Ajinkya Rahane’s wicket when he lofted the ball to mid-on in the fourth over.
Sanju Vishwanadh began confidently by striking two fours off Viljoen’s first over before edging the last delivery to first slip, only to be dropped by Petersen.
However, the teenager’s intention to guide the ball to third man got the better of him in the following over, when Lonwabo Tsotsobe had him caught behind.
The introduction of Dwaine Pretorius and Aaron Phangiso ensured RR’s progress remained within the Lions’ control. Dravid was lost in the 10th over and his side had only 69 on the board at the halfway point.
However, Shane Watson had played himself in by then and the inevitable explosion arrived in the 13th over. Phangiso strayed from the middle-and-leg stump line, which had served him well, to bowl shorter on the off side.
The result? 22 came off the over as Watson blasted two sixes and a four.
Tsotsobe returned to bowl the next over — his last — and promptly dismissed the Australian, but this only brought Brad Hodge to the crease.
While Stuart Binny produced another vital cameo, Hodge took some time to settle before displaying a brutal batting exhibition.
The high point of the Australian’s assault came in the final over, when he ruined Tanvir’s figures to add 21 to RR’s total.