The cricketing summer has well and truly arrived in India, with the Indian Premier League (IPL) already witnessing 22 contests in its 11th year.
Among the noticeable traits of the tournament that gets a makeover this year with a new broadcaster are the nail-biters that are taking place more often than not, with the Delhi Daredevils-Kings XI Punjab clash turning out to be another instance in this context.
Delhi Daredevils (DD) – playing their first home game this season after five games on the road – would've been praying sincerely for their dipping fortunes to change course as the tournament nears the halfway mark, bringing in as many as five changes to their playing XI. Instead, they were left hanging till the very last delivery of the match, only for them to taste defeat yet again.
Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) walked away with yet another win against the Delhi team this season, their confidence all the more bolstered with their elevation to the top of the points table. Delhi, on the other hand, have nothing but a lot of points to ponder over in their next meeting, with the threat of being the first side to lose out on the playoffs race very much hanging over their heads for now (with some competition from defending champions Mumbai Indians).
One of the key takeaways from the recently-concluded game had to be the failure of some of the seniors in the team, especially when it was their turn to bat.
Captain Gautam Gambhir had earlier led from the front as far as batting was concerned in the team's opening game, also against KXIP. But his innings of 4 off 13 balls on Monday led to a lot of disgruntled voices in the stands at the Feroz Shah Kotla Stadium, and was a very poor representation of the fabulous batsman that he is.
The Delhi-born player was a shadow of his old self as he struggled throughout his innings, and barely helped the scoring rate in the early and middle stages of the innings. Australian big-hitter Glenn Maxwell was another disappointment in this regard, perishing after scoring a four and a six, getting caught in the deep off a top-edge.
Both Gambhir and the 'Big Show' in some ways undid the superb start that debutant Prithvi Shaw got the team off to with some lofty hitting.
The teen who led India to U-19 World Cup triumph earlier this year seemed to be making merry on IPL debut with some sweetly-timed shots. Even though he got his off-stump rattled while attempting a rash stroke, he did manage to get himself noticed, thereby ensuring the likes of Jason Roy and Colin Munro don't take their positions for granted.
Add to that the fielding lapses — with both Maxwell and Shaw dropping the dangerous David Miller in a space of a few deliveries, the former's case is all the more baffling.
However, the margin of defeat would've been a lot bigger had it not been for some positive performances from individuals such as Shreyas Iyer, Liam Plunkett and Daniel Christian.
For the dropping catches and fumbles, there was some quality spells from both Plunkett and Christian that tied the KXIP batsmen up, and forced them to commit mistakes. For the failures of Gambhir and the rest of the top-order, there was Iyer to pull them through to the very last ball of the innings.
While the Delhi team's leadership has been playing hide-n-seek with Christian in terms of his inclusion in the playing XI, Plunkett just earned his first game of IPL 11; he couldn't have had a more memorable first outing in a new season.
He rarely erred in his line and length throughout his spell, and did not allow Punjab to hammer their way through in the early overs the way they did in the previous games by removing both KL Rahul and Mayank Agarwal quite early. (KXIP perhaps missing the presence of Chris Gayle in this game).
The Englishman, thus, might've highlighted what the team had missed out on in the last five matches, and is surely bound to get more game time over the next couple of weeks.
Then there was Iyer, who held the innings together after the team was down in the dumps at 76/5, with a few disgruntled Delhi fans at the venue sarcastically hoping for the side to get bundled out for less than 100. His partnership with Rahul Tewatia helped bring Delhi back in the chase of the modest 144-run target, with Iyer himself showing a lot of maturity under pressure as he paced his innings according to the situation.
The gist of this article could've been very different had Tewatia supported Iyer till the very end. Or, for that matter, if Iyer had struck the ball better off Mujeeb Ur-Rahman's final delivery of the innings. That said, he proved yet again why he is a vital cog in the Delhi line-up, whichever position he bats at.
The Mumbai batsman had scored a fluent half-century in the previous game against Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) as well, and is starting to find some consistency now after a couple of low scores earlier in the event.
Both Gambhir and Ashwin had started a new chapter at the start of the tournament when they assumed the role of DD and KXIP captain respectively; one with two IPL trophies in his kitty bag, and the other with almost no leadership experience at this level. Yet, more than two weeks into the tournament, the gulf couldn't have been wider between the two captains as far as the results were concerned.
Ashwin, the KXIP captain, certainly has made a case for himself on one hand with his astute tactics, as was visible in his latest assignment, while Gambhir continues to struggle with his hometown side's team chemistry.