New Delhi: On an ordinary day, it is difficult enough to tell the cultural difference between Delhi and Punjab. The well-documented bombast, the exaggerated manifestation of over-the-top, the rowdy, raffish aggression that typifies the North make for an easy, lazy generalisation. Saturday was no special day, and so Delhi Capitals and Kings XI Punjab did little to thwart that notion, extending the cultural confluence to the cricketing context.
Before this match, Delhi Capitals were placed third, and Kings XI Punjab fourth, with same points, same wins, and same losses. Shreyas Iyer and Ravichandran Ashwin, the opposing captains, were both wary of dew and both wanted to bat first. Both fielded three spinners each, both their teams depended heavily on their top order, both had malfunctioning middle-orders and powerless lower orders.
It doesn’t end there. Both teams reached the 100-run mark in the 11.5 overs of their innings, both scored 68 runs in middle overs (Overs 7-15), and a left-hander played a pivotal role for either side.
Eventually, Capitals managed only their second win from five matches at home when they overhauled Punjab’s 163/7 with two balls to spare. The win puts them, as of now, in serious contention for the elusive playoffs berth, although the teams retained their respective positions on the points table.
Delhi’s thought process was on the right track when they opted for Sandeep Lamichhane in place of Keemo Paul on a typical Kotla pitch, while retaining the experienced Amit Mishra in the XI. However, two leg-spinners in dewy conditions against a side that had three left-handed hard-hitters – Chris Gayle, David Miller, Sam Curran – was a brave call, and both did go at 10-an-over, but Lamichhane’s two-wicket burst in the 13th over made a decisive impact on the final outcome.
The combined brain-trust of Sourav Ganguly and Ricky Ponting, though, will look back at this match slightly differently, especially on the evidence of how the Capitals went about this chase. Prithvi Shaw continued to struggle for timing on the home pitch, and his 11-ball 13 belied the class and potential that he possesses. 10 of his 13 runs came off two scoring shots alone, which gives an indication of his difficulty in rotating the strike on the day. Since his 99 against Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) at this venue last month, Shaw has failed to reach 30 even once, and Capitals would want the youngster to return to form sooner than later.
Local boy Rishabh Pant was another disappointment on Saturday. With 38 needed from 30 balls, Pant, inexplicably, went for an across-the-line swipe against Hardus Viljoen and was caught by Sam Curran in the deep. Now, Pant is not a novice to high-stakes cricket, neither is his recklessness a novelty anymore. Having just missed the World Cup berth, presumably because of the very nature of this dismissals, one expected some application from the youngster. However, he, rather needlessly, went for the glory on just the seventh ball he faced and paid the price.
In doing so, he not only let go of a chance to finish unbeaten while guiding his side past the finish line, but also exposed his team’s brittle lower-middle order to a tense scenario. It was in a similar situation in Capitals’ previous match against KXIP in Mohali when Pant’s wicket triggered a barely-believable collapse that led to their loss.
The murmurs grew louder when Mohammed Shami bowled Colin Ingram in the penultimate over, and when Axar Patel was run out next ball, an all-knowing sigh of resignation swept the stadium.
Eventually, skipper Iyer guided the team home in the final over, but Capitals really should have killed the chase – and the jitters – earlier. That would have given them a much-needed belief to boss around on the home turf, and would have done their net run rate no harm. With two of Capitals’ four main batsmen once again coming unstuck against a middling target, one can imagine the pressure they’ll find themselves in while chasing something more daunting.
Dhawan’s fifty showed that he is finally peaking at the right time, but considering his seniority in the team and his knowledge of the Kotla track, the left-hander should have looked to bat through the chase. An unbeaten 70-odd would have soothed Capitals’ frayed nerves and set an example for the likes of Pant and Shaw. Delhi Capitals should be rightfully pleased with where they stand, as of now, but with the breakneck speed of the tournament that is swiftly moving towards its business end, such follies and fallibility are prone to be exposed at the most crucial times. Even as they rejoice the win, the Capitals will do well with some course correction.