Cricket has a new favourite thing. That thing is to call people freaks. Jos Buttler is a freak. Glenn Maxwell is so freak. AB de Villiers is the original freak, although Ian Harvey was really the original original. Steve Smith is definitely a freak. Virat Kohli, of course a freak. Jasprit Bumrah, definitely a freak. MS Dhoni is the like the godfather of freaks. Andre Russell is this season's freak. Rashid Khan is the first Afghan freak and Hazratullah Zazai might be the next. Not so long ago to be a freak was to be Murali, which is to say it wasn't a great thing.
A hot tip, and remember that you heard it here first. Hardik Pandya is a freak. If he's not already, he will soon join the Brotherhood of the Freak. The exact moment at which his freak became obvious at The Oval came halfway through the 46th over. Pat Cummins will go down as part-deliverer of this moment and he really didn't do anything wrong.
He'd been hit straight down the ground for six by Pandya in his previous over. That was a non-freak shot, though yes, freakery is often enhanced by dint of being able to do that, to be able to play an orthodox-ish straight drive. For six. Off a genuine-pedigree fast bowler. It's a little cute quirk freaks have, a conceit: "I can do this to blow your mind, but I can also do this straight, to blow what's left of your mind." Like when Buttler plays a cover drive, or de Villiers spends a day building a Test innings.
The next ball after that six he did something that was borderline freakish but it wasn't the moment, not yet. Still, it's worth lingering over that shot for just a little bit. Cummins bowled a cutter, really dug into the pitch and it took off from there. It ended up not just chest-high but because Pandya had shifted across just a touch, the ball now had his right shoulder firmly in its sights. He'd be cramped here for sure and how many times have you seen just such a shot end in a little tickle to the wicketkeeper? "Cramped himself a little there Pandya, and the extra bounce from Cummins does for him… India 273-3 now, good hand," says AN Commentator.
But then - and I apologise because I don't understand what combination of brain, eye, physiology and physics whirred this into happening - and the ball was slipping off his bat, not like a cut but if you threw a cut, a dab and a glide into a hotel room and let them get it on, you might get this shot. It nearly went for six at deep point. This wasn't the shot.
So that shot. Cummins had just bowled another slower bouncer which Pandya had missed. Like all good bowlers at the death, he had to keep Pandya guessing. He chose to go with the wide yorker. Now the wide yorker is not the Superman of death bowling. It isn't invincible. It does not leap buildings in a single bound and no speedgun has ever recorded it as faster than a speeding bullet.
But it's a good ball to bowl most days to most batsmen. It gets them thinking. A reverse-lap-scoop maybe, or move to square leg and try and dupe the umpire into giving it wide. A punt, to cover or point, a single, let's move on. MS Dhoni, when he's feeling it, chooses to helicopter-shot it into oblivion but he's MS Dhoni.
WATCH on Hotstar (India only) - Pandya cuts loose
Pandya again shifted across, just before delivery, but also deeper into his crease and looked as if he might just chop down on the ball once he had intuited its length and line. And then happened that whirl which, I'm sorry again, is impossible to explain but this much is clear that by its end, the face of his bat was facing third man, the back of it mid-on and impact between bat, ball and ground all happened at once. He was crouching, looking all wrong and squeezing this impossibility into extreme possibility. And again it was speeding away for four more.
A boundary through point off a wide yorker is stuff that now happens. It is a part of our reality. Batsmen can open the face and let it glide off their bat and it's usually a fairly conventional looking stroke. But nothing about how Pandya played it looked like it had ever happened before. All at once he had deflected this wide yorker, scooped this wide yorker (but not in the air at all), glided this wide yorker, guided this wide yorker, maybe even square- driven this wide yorker. It's worth repeating that his bat face was to third man and by its end, his hands were holding the handle all wrong and yet the ball was whizzing to the right of backward point and not to the left, between that man and short third man. The field was wrong sure, but the shot was wrong too and all of it was so, so right.
This is not doing any justice to it really. Watch it again if you can, wherever you can: 45.3, slow it down, pause it and watch it. There may well have been moments earlier in his career that made his freak obvious to you and maybe this was a freak shot, but it feels right to think of it as the shot of a freak.