Gautam Gambhir's Delhi Daredevils are finally off the mark in the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2018, after a couple of roadblocks early in the tournament. And what's more, they managed to conquer the Wankhede, a venue described as Mumbai Indians' (MI) fortress.
Not only did the Daredevils highlight their batting firepower in this win, but they also displayed their mental strength and the ability to bounce back. Gambhir, whose stint as Daredevils' captain did not quite get off to the best of starts, will now be a lot more confident as he sets about steering his team towards the glories that they've never experienced.
Mumbai Indians have now lost their three opening matches of the tournament by very narrow margins, all of them going into the last over. The club continues its tradition of being slow starters. Rohit Sharma and Co are notorious for losing a spate of matches in the initial stages, only to play catch-up later on, and, as was the case in three previous editions, go on to lift the trophy.
On Saturday, with the support of more than 30,000 screaming fans at the Wankhede, Mumbai would've been tipped by most as the side likely to collect their first points of the season.
Gambhir asked Mumbai to bat first after winning the toss, expecting the slow wicket to "not change much" as the day progressed (or maybe he just wanted to follow the trend, with six matches being won by the chasing side before this game).
However, his bowlers weren't quite up to the mark in the initial overs, with Suryakumar Yadav (promoted to the top of the order in a surprise move) and Evin Lewis smacking them out of the park to collect 84 for no loss in the Powerplay.
Leading New Zealand pacer Trent Boult was hardly accurate in his length early in the innings, and the lack of swing on offer quickly made him vulnerable. Yadav, who has been in good nick both in the ongoing IPL as well as in domestic fixtures in the recently-concluded season, made the most of it.
Daniel Christian, who had the best figures for the Daredevils in their opening game (1/12), was carted for 18 runs off the sixth over.
With the score touching the 100-run mark in the middle of the ninth over with the two openers still at the crease, Mumbai seemed set for a total of 220 or more. And yet, they fell short of the 200-run mark by six runs, losing five wickets off the last five overs, having collapsed from 158/2 after 15.
While Mumbai's middle-order had shown signs of shakiness in the previous games, collapsing in this manner would have created a lot of worries for the team's think-tank.
Credit, however, should go to Delhi's bowlers, who showed much better discipline and presence of mind (with good use of slower balls) in the second half of the innings, Gambhir's smart field placements and the energy shown on the field once the wickets started to tumble.
"Obviously we were expecting (a total) of around 220. But our bowlers restricted the score and really bowled well in patches. The comeback was superb by the bowlers," Shreyas Iyer was quoted as saying after the match.
It took one over from Christian — that saw the departure of Ishan Kishan and Kieron Pollard off successive deliveries — to turn the game on its head. After a nightmarish start in the game, the Australian all-rounder repaid the faith that the team management had put in him when he was drafted into the playing XI in Chris Morris' place. The pressure began to build on Mumbai thereafter, with Delhi not loosening their grip.
That Delhi did not allow their shoulders to drop after the initial mauling is commendable, and one wonders if the former KKR skipper's attitude towards the game is starting to rub off onto his teammates already.
Delhi's chase was all about Roy and his clean-hitting. The Daredevils opted to replace one Durban-born batsman with another, and did it work wonders for them! Both Colin Munro, who had to vacate his berth in this game, and Roy, are a treat to watch as far as the T20 format is concerned. However, with the former's failures in the previous games, Gambhir and Co may have run out of patience and decided to give the English opener a chance.
Not only was Roy's hitting as clean as a whistle, with even a mishit clearing the straight fence on one occasion, but his counter-attack also helped maintain the confidence in the Delhi camp throughout the chase despite the occasional wicket. His effortless lofted drives off the likes of Hardik Pandya (whom he was particularly merciless against) would've brought back memories of old Virender Sehwag in a Delhi jersey for fans in the national capital. And on this occasion, Roy should deserve as much credit for Delhi getting their first points on the board as the bowlers.
Gautam can afford to not be 'gambhir' for some time now, finally getting his team the kind of start that they can draw confidence from. Looking back at the takeaways from the win over Mumbai, the key aspect that stands out is the bench strength that the side possesses, especially in the batting department.
And who knows, it could be a Manjot Kalra grabbing the spotlight for Delhi tomorrow. Or an Avesh Khan for that matter. However, there was something more important that Delhi discovered on Saturday: Self-belief. And that is the factor that will play the most crucial role in deciding DD's fate this year.