Until Sunday night, Manvinder Bisla was no more than a journeyman cricketer, a wicketkeeper-batsman without a first-class team after being left out of the Himachal Pradesh side and wondering what the future held for him. Not anymore.
With a nerveless exhibition of exhilarating strokeplay on a massive stage, the 27-year-old has all but made himself a household name whose stock is bound to skyrocket in the days to come.
Opportunity has a funny way of coming calling. It can either break you, like it did the unheralded Sunny Gupta in Qualifier 2 of IPL V. Or it can make you, like it did the remarkably composed and self-assured Bisla in the final of the competition, against the defending champions in front of a full house unashamedly rooting for the opposition.
Bisla's inclusion in the Kolkata Knight Riders' eleven for the showdown against Chennai Super Kings was a forced change to offset the loss of medium-pacer Lakshmipathi Balaji and yet maintain the balance and composition of the team which could field only four internationals. Having played just one match in the last month, it would have been understandable had Bisla, coming in from Brendon McCullum, been overawed by the occasion and the pressures of a massive run chase in a cup final. Far from being cowed down, Bisla responded in spectacular fashion with the innings of a run-filled title clash.
His 48-ball 89 in quest of 191 for victory was replete with audacious strokes and notable for the felicity with which he used his feet to pacemen and spinners alike.
"I don't think I have hit the ball as well, it's good to play this in the finals to help win it for my team," Bisla said immediately after Manoj Tiwary brought up the winning runs in the final over of the title clash. "I felt a little tense but after getting one or two to the fence, I got the confidence."
What made Bisla's effort even more commendable was that Gautam Gambhir, the Knight Riders skipper, was dismissed in the first over with just three on the board. "There was no plan, I wanted to go out there to enjoy after Gambhir got out," Bisla added, without hyperbole.
"I feel very happy that I played my part. I am lucky I got a chance." Alongside Jacques Kallis, who was happy ticking the score over and handing the strike to his inspired partner, Bisla put on 136 in just 82 deliveries even as he showed lightning quick footwork and an intrepidness that allowed him to hit freely over the infield. "Kallis is a legend, batting alongside him was a great opportunity," gushed Bisla. "He asked me to keep it simple and get going."
The Super Kings were clueless in the face of Bisla's ferocious onslaught, Mahendra Singh Dhoni's changes failing to provide the breakthrough. If Albie Morkel's second over, which went for 20, set the ball rolling, Bisla made a massive statement in R Ashwin's first over, twice dancing down the track to cleanly deposit the ball over the long-on fence, immediately pushing the off-spinner on to the back foot.
"It was one of the best Twenty20 innings I've seen," Gambhir, who himself has played a blinder or two this season, remarked. "Especially under pressure against the defending champions in their backyard, in conditions that suit them, getting 90 odd in 40 off balls shows his character."
The Super Kings, coach Stephen Fleming insisted, had not come unprepared for Bisla. "We had our plans in place but just failed to execute them," the coach pointed out. "In saying that, it was a brilliant innings from Bisla. He had a bit of luck, as you must have when you score as many as he did in the balls that he faced, but that's no more than what you need as a batsman in this format."
Match eve, Dhoni had asserted that the final was an opportunity for someone to raise his hand and be a hero. Bisla grabbed that opportunity with both hands, and is now the toast of a city that can finally boast a trophy to go with its passion for the game.