The 2018 edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) is heading towards its business end, with the upcoming weekend set to witness a high-voltage showdown between five teams for the two remaining playoff spots that are on offer.
Against the backdrop of such highly-anticipated contests towards the end of the week, the fixture between Delhi Daredevils (DD) and Chennai Super Kings (CSK) may have appeared somewhat insipid, given that one team has already confirmed its entry into the playoffs, while the other has been doomed to end up with the wooden spoon after losing nine of their 12 games heading into this fixture.
The lack of context is what essentially kills a good game of cricket, especially when it is supposed to be packaged and sold to the masses. As far as Chennai were concerned, the game was initially perceived to be a stepping stone towards dislodging Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) from the top of the points table. For Delhi however, their remaining games of the tournament had been limited to an attempt to salvaging some pride from what has been yet another disappointing campaign.
When the Daredevils were busy shaking each other's hands at the end of the contest, having pulled off an unlikely 34-run win over the higher-rated visiting side, they probably would've relished the moment — one that was the result of gelling as a unit on the field without having to worry about the next set of games, something that coach Ricky Ponting would've wanted ideally a little earlier in the tournament.
For a team that had gone through the turbulence of captaincy change, aside from suffering one pride-denting loss after another, Friday's win was an example of the potential that the team had boasted of at the outset of the event, which they couldn't quite bring out on the field when it mattered.
The biggest takeaway from Friday's result, which many a CSK fan would still find hard to digest going into the weekend, would have to be narrowed down to captain Shreyas Iyer's decision to field leg-spinners Amit Mishra and Sandeep Lamichhane in tandem shortly after the 10th over of the CSK innings, a decision that proved to be decisive in the end. When Chennai skipper MS Dhoni opted to bowl at the toss earlier in the evening, he may not have expected the wicket to slow down the way it did in the second innings, making the prospect of tonking the bowlers out of the park all the more difficult for him and Suresh Raina, especially against the spinners.
Lamichhane would've realised his dream when he was handed his cap on IPL debut in the match against Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) and bagged his maiden wicket by dismissing Parthiv Patel. As if to highlight that he truly belonged to this stage, and that the performance against RCB was no fluke, he helped set off the downfall in a way by getting rid of Raina with a well-disguised googly, getting the batsman caught at midwicket.
Mishra, who found a regular spot in the side after his match-winning spell against Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) at Kotla, continued to put his experience to good use after drawing first blood with the dismissal of explosive opener Shane Watson. The veteran leg-spinner may have fallen out of favour with the national selectors, but he continued to assert himself as an asset for his team with the collection of tricks up his sleeve.
Barring a wristy whip through the gap between backward point and short third man, skipper Dhoni couldn't quite carry his resurgent form over to his game, and struggled to connect throughout his stay at the crease. It was an evening that saw the famed CSK batting lineup being contained by the disciplined approach of the Delhi attack (barring one Avesh Khan). However, the bowlers' efforts wouldn't have counted for much had it not been for the kind of fields set by Iyer, as well as the energy displayed by the men in navy blue and red kits.
Harshal Patel walked away with the 'Man of the Match' award at the end of the game, and was completely justified in receiving the same. While the leg-spinners helped dry up the runs in the middle stages of the innings to build pressure on the CSK middle order, it was the unbroken 65-run partnership that Patel had built with Vijay Shankar for the sixth wicket that helped Delhi finish on a competitive total. Add the fact Patel carted an established death bowler of Dwayne Bravo's calibre for three sixes in the last over, with the late surge injecting confidence into the home side as they prepared for the second innings.
Later in the CSK innings, the Sanand native was picked to bowl the last four overs out alongside Trent Boult. CSK needed 58 off the last four overs, with Dhoni still at the crease, and the visitors would've required just one big over to keep themselves alive in the chase, something that was flatly denied to them as Patel conceded just three off the 17th. That eventually led to Dhoni holing out to long on off a miscued slog, which then made the remaining overs of the game a mere formality.
Heading into the last four games of the league stage, there isn't much left for Delhi to do other than enjoying themselves on the field and playing for their fans. At most, they can spoil the party for the Mumbai Indians, who are currently fourth on the table with the best net run rate among all teams, and impede their progress into the qualifiers. Sure, the tournament has been a disappointing one for the side, but it surely doesn't need to end on a similar note. The pain of a sixth consecutive failed campaign might be eased a little with a victorious exit from the tournament come Sunday.