Prasidh Krishna and Lockie Ferguson had a deliberate ploy against Shikhar Dhawan. The Kolkata Knight Riders bowlers wanted to use their pace and bounce to unsettle the Indian opener. The first couple of deliveries hit high on Dhawan's willow and another whizzed past his glove. For the first six balls, he was watchful and gathering the pace of the wicket. Then another lifter, but this one had the width and Dhawan in his own classical manner upper-cut it over third-man for a six.
Dhawan might be vulnerable against the short-ball, but he is been around for over a decade to understand the opposition's tactics. Like a fortune teller, he could predict what was coming and he adjusted by going deeper in his crease, shifting his weight on the back-foot and raising his hands slightly higher. Ferguson and Prasidh persisted with the short ball tactic again, but he was already in position early to dispatch the balls over the inner circle on the off-side for a series of boundaries.
Before one could talk about Dhawan's form he had already raced to 36 from 19 balls. At the end of the fifth over, he had already smashed six fours – all through his favoured off-side. This is the explosive start he needed. The cobwebs had been cleared and now it was just the matter of anchoring the innings to the end.
Like his Indian top-order teammates Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli, Dhawan has become a master at manipulating the ball into vast spaces and running singles once the field has been pushed back. After those initial burst of boundaries, the left-hander didn't send the ball rocketing to the fence for 12 balls. But importantly, he had scored a single or a two in each of the 12 deliveries. The hard hands had turned soft, the blade started to look wider and footwork was secured.
Dhawan's game awareness and smartness stood second to none. Accompanied by Rishabh Pant, he recognised he didn't need to take unnecessary risks. Despite the required-rate reaching in excess of nine runs an over, he knew with Pant by his side, the pair could guide Delhi home.
Ferguson was re-introduced into the attack in the 13th over and tried the two card trick by trying by bowling full. But Dhawan greeted him by smacking two flowing cover drivers. This was Dhawan in full-flow and at the top of his game. It was a pleasing sight for all the Delhi and Indian supporters around the world.
The Indian team selection for the World Cup is on Monday and while Dhawan is a certainty, he's batting in the IPL hasn't been fluent. He had only made one fifty in his last seven innings and has looked out of touch. Dhawan in the ongoing IPL has been a man trying to search for that smooth and silky innings. In Kolkata, he had returned to his dynamic best.
The beauty of Dhawan is that unlike other players, he has the knack of rediscovering his magic in space of a couple of balls. On Friday night, the two uppercuts, where he meets the ball with two feet off the ground, had brought him back to form.
Importantly, Dhawan ensured Pant also never lost his cool by attempting an adventurous shot at the crucial phase of the game. Delhi had already capitulated in two run-chases this season and lost games from unassailable positions. This time around, Dhawan ensured there were no tremors and nervy moments in the dug-out by batting until the end.
A Colin Ingram six might that won the Capitals the match denied Dhawan an opportunity of reaching a century, but the left-hander played down the ‘missed chance'.
"I knew it could be my first T20 hundred but the team goal is more important, hence I took that single rather than taking a huge risk" Dhawan stated in the post-match presentation.
The man known as "Gabbar" was also quick to add that he wanted to capitalise on a pitch that suited his style of batting. Delhi has had the treacherous task of playing on the slow and low pitch at the Feroz Shah Kotla ground and the way Dhawan adapted to a quicker pitch was a delight to watch.
Dhawan's return to form and the maturity of Pant in orchestrating the run-chase augurs well for the Capitals. They will gain enormous belief by chasing down a big total and that too in a cauldron that is the Eden Gardens.