Just when Delhi Daredevils (DD) seemed to be getting their mojo back and appeared to be getting themselves on the right path, a resurgent Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) sent them crashing back into the depths of despair.
A defeat by 71 runs might not quite portray a one-sided contest in the 50-over and five-day formats of the game, but is considered a hiding as far as the shortest version of the game is concerned. DD travelled to Kolkata on the back of a morale-boosting seven-wicket victory over Mumbai Indians, with hosts KKR having lost their last two games to Chennai Super Kings and Sunrisers Hyderabad respectively.
Yet, the Daredevils found their plans collapsing spectacularly in the face of a spirited comeback by the Knight Riders, and skipper Gautam Gambhir surrendered meekly before Dinesh Karthik at the Eden Gardens, the venue that he considered home between 2011 and 2017. While the crowd accorded him a rousing reception despite him donning a different jersey, it was a night that Gambhir would like to forget in a jiffy.
Having opted to field yet again, Gambhir gave the same justification at Eden as he did at the Wankhede, that is conditions not changing during the course of the game. Delhi even got the start that they were looking for, as Kiwi pacer Trent Boult dismissed opener Sunil Narine early in the KKR innings, highlighting how vulnerable the experiment could be, especially if the West Indian is subjected to quality pacers.
Boult was off to a great start as he conceded just five runs off his first two overs, including a maiden, getting the ball to nip around quite a bit. Delhi, though, didn't quite make full use of it, with Narine's partner Chris Lynn and No 3 batsman Robin Uthappa getting into their zones quickly, and smashing the likes of Shahbaz Nadeem out of the park while producing a counter-attacking partnership that helped shift the momentum in favour of the home team in no time.
The situation looked hopeful for Delhi when a fit-again Chris Morris outsmarted opposition skipper Karthik to get him caught at deep midwicket, with the scorecard reading 117/4 in the 14th over.
However, the passage of play between the 14th and the 20th overs of the innings would go on to define the match, as Nitish Rana (59 off 35) and Andre Russell (41 off 12) led an assault that put KKR in control for the rest of the game. The pair were particularly merciless against Mohammed Shami (1/53 from four overs), and had it not been for the 20th over, in which leg-spinner Rahul Tewatia collected three wickets for just one run, KKR could've easily posted in excess of 220.
Delhi would have understandably been under tremendous pressure at the start of their chase, and losing early wickets when you have a target of 201 is virtually half the battle lost. Jason Roy failed to carry his form over from the Wankhede, getting stumped off Piyush Chawla's bowling in the very first over of the innings. Shreyas Iyer was gone in the second over, poking tentatively at a short delivery from Russell to get caught by Rana in the slips.
The two men who guided Delhi home against Rohit Sharma's men barely a couple of days ago were suddenly back in the hut having faced three balls each. Add Gambhir's dismissal off the bowling of rookie Shivam Mavi, chopping the ball onto his stumps, and Kolkata were already eyeing their second home win this season with another 17 overs to go in the Delhi innings.
Among the positives for Delhi in this game was the return of the 'Big Show', with Glenn Maxwell (47 off 22) finally regaining his powers after struggling against both Rajasthan Royals and Mumbai Indians. He found the middle of the bat more often than not with crisp timing, and the Delhi franchise owners would have smiled at the prospect of their most expensive purchase this season finally starting to yield profits.
Maxwell forged a quickfire 62-run stand with the hard-hitting wicketkeeper-batsman Rishabh Pant (43 off 26), with the pair incidentally being the only batsmen in the XI to post double-digit scores, and giving Delhi something to smile about in an otherwise forgettable outing. Kuldeep Yadav, however, effectively buried any hopes that DD might have built over the fourth-wicket stand by dismissing Pant and Maxwell off successive overs, with the remainder of the innings turning out to be a mere formality for the Karthik-led side.
DD can afford to catch their breath for a bit after the walloping at the Eden Gardens, with their next fixture another five days away at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium where they face Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB), another side desperately looking to revive their fortunes. While there were a few positives for Gambhir's men to draw from this game, whether it Maxwell's big-hitting or Tewatia's usefulness in the death overs, there were also quite a few chinks exposed once again, especially the dependence on the top-order to set up chases. Gambhir, coach Ricky Ponting and the rest of the Delhi management certainly have a lot to ponder over as far as recovering from the shock of this loss is concerned.