Take only the first 10 overs of both (full) innings into consideration, and this game would have the appearance of a low-scoring pot-boiler. 49/3 versus 55/5.
Now consider the last 10 overs of both (full) innings in isolation, and you’d be staring at what would look like a high-scoring chartbuster. 108/5 versus 102/3.
One of these ‘games’ could have belonged at Chepauk, the other could easily feel home at the Chinnaswamy.
Yet, in the cauldron of Dubai, instead, these two games – two crazy, crazy games – combined to provide a see-sawing classic… which would need a third ‘game’ to decide the outcome.
And there were some who spent this week questioning the buzz ahead of this competition!
IPL 2020 did kick off with a last-over finish, that too between the two most decorated teams in the history of the tournament, on Saturday, but on Sunday evening, we saw the return of that device-turned-emotion so integral to the fancied flight of this elite event: The roller-coaster.
Both Delhi Capitals and Kings XI Punjab (seemingly) won and lost this game on at least a couple of occasions. At multiple points, this was a thriller not so much in the who-blinks-first mould as it was in the who-keeps-their-eyes-open-to-not-crash domain.
Eventually, they went into a Super Over. And that mini-contest, ironically, was the most straightforward of all contests over a four-hour humdinger.
Where was it won? Or lost? Or not won? Or not lost? Let’s examine.
Pant-Iyer: Patience pays, eventually
For two 20-somethings who are still looked at more as the ‘future’ of Indian limited-overs batting than the present, Shreyas Iyer and Rishabh Pant are strangely veteran-esque in this Delhi Capitals setup. One of the two, if not both, has been a standout feature in four of the last five seasons for the team.
Given everything that transpired after their 73-run association for the fourth wicket, it almost seems as though it was a partnership from the MI-CSK clash and not this one. But rest assured, it would have come for high praise from Ricky Ponting and Co.
At 13/3 in four overs, the Capitals were on the verge of receiving a knockout punch inside the first Powerplay of the match. That’s when Iyer and Pant joined forces and presented 10 overs quite unlike themselves – reined in, modest, largely unattractive. Pant was even being worked over by a 20-year-old leggie on IPL debut, who ultimately succeeded too (and fair props to Ravi Bishnoi, for a commendable maiden outing).
One could almost blame both Pant and Iyer for giving it away when they did, having done the hard work, and carried Delhi to the 14-over mark without any further dents. But could any of what followed in the last few overs of the innings been possible if Delhi were four or five-down inside, say, 10 overs?
Stoinis at the death, part one
Ricky Ponting’s pre-tournament suggestion that he would look to use Marcus Stoinis as a ‘floater’ in the Capitals’ batting lineup was met with quite a dose of admonition in online quarters.
Most of Stoinis’ big returns with the bat in the Big Bash had come from the top of the order, but that was out of the question given Delhi’s surplus in the department. A career T20 strike rate of less than 130 didn’t inspire confidence for any role outside the top-order either.
Having walked out at the fall of Pant’s wicket, the Aussie all-rounder had hobbled around, largely unconvincingly, to four runs from his first seven deliveries at the end of the 17th over.
A six and an inside-edged four got him moving in the 18th, which was followed with street-smart batting that fetched three boundaries in a row off Sheldon Cottrell in the 19th.
And then, the Stoin-bomb exploded.
Sixes for fun over square leg, a crunched drive over cover, a smart deflection past short fine leg. It was almost as if he was in the bowler’s head. And one look at the match-up, and you discovered he was, indeed: Een before that ill-fated 20th over, Chris Jordan had been taken for 62 runs off 30 balls by Stoinis in all T20s. The head-to-head now reads 87 off 36.
From 100/3 in 17 overs, Delhi had managed to put 157 on the board – Stoinis alone accounting for 49 of those runs, from only 14 balls.
He wasn’t done for the day…
Mayank’s calculated classic falls short
Sandwiched between Stoinis’ two 20th overs from the wildest dreams, was an effort that came within a few inches, or a run, of being sent straight into the masterclass catalogue.
For the first half of Kings XI’s run-chase, Mayank Agarwal had been a troubled spectator of sorts, stuttering about to 13 off 20 balls as Punjab languished at 55/5 from 10 overs. Even at the 15-over mark, with the chasing team just about hanging on to a slim thread with 60 still to get, Agarwal had only moved to 35 off 37.
In fact, it was only the 40th ball of his innings – the first ball of the 17th over – when India’s Test opener saw his strike rate touch 100 for the first time on the night.
He finished with 89 off 60 balls.
Agarwal – at times limping, at times cramping, clearly short on energy and fluids – had smashed 51 off 20 balls to convert an equation that read 53 in 24 to one in two. Anrich Nortje, Mohit Sharma, Kagiso Rabada, and then Stoinis, for the first three balls of the 20th; no one had evaded his short burst.
There are some, already, criticising his shot selection. There will be a sadistic temptation to liken the choice to one so infamously made by Mushfiqur Rahim when faced with an eerily similar situation in a famous game from 2016. But don’t do that, please.
Because Mayank Agarwal had done everything that could have been asked of him, and more. On a day where none of his teammates crossed 21, and all of his teammates combined to hit seven boundaries (Agarwal hit seven fours and four sixes), he had carried them to the cusp – single-handedly.
That KXIP couldn’t get that one remaining run, or that they tanked the resulting Super Over, wasn’t his fault.
Stoinis at the death, part two
If Marcus Stoinis the batsman was surrounded by doubts coming into IPL 2020, Marcus Stoinis the bowler was, arguably, the smaller ‘bit’ in the bits-and-pieces category that you could slot him into.
A career haul of 62 wickets from 117 games, compounded by an economy of 8.74, meant he was strictly a sixth-choice bowler in the lineup fielded by Delhi. An IPL career economy of well above nine per over furthered the troubles. Last year, he was part of the guilty RCB taskforce that allowed Andre Russell to chase down 53 from 18 balls… with five balls to spare.
Which is why the moment R Ashwin was forced off the field, wincing in pain while holding his left shoulder, it meant a possible foot in the door for Punjab, even if they were 35/3 at the end of six overs.
The first two of the three overs Stoinis was forced to bowl were relatively event-free, going for 17. The first three balls of his third disappeared for 12 – and Kings XI now needed a solitary run from the final three deliveries.
One good ball produced a dot. Then a wicket. And then another.
Yes, both the wickets came off full tosses. Yes, it was Punjab finding a way to blow it more than Delhi winning it. But on a day of the finest margins (more on that below!), one minuscule margin might well have missed some eyes.
When he aborted his first run-up to the crease for the final ball, with Chris Jordan on strike, Stoinis asked Kagiso Rabada to move slightly finer from the square-leg position where he was stationed.
Now go take a look at that last ball again.
Rabada: The Super Over Iceman
The 20th over of the chase might have been a case of Punjab blowing it, or maybe the entire first 40 overs might have been a case of someone or the other blowing it. But when it did come down to the decider, there was a clear winner to this contest, and that was all down to one man.
Kagiso Rabada had been here before. In 2019, he had seen his Capitals teammates make a royal mess of a seemingly won match before leaving it up to him to defend 10 runs in a Super Over, in front of one Dre Russ. And he did it.
This time, he got to go first instead of defend, and the line-up facing up to him, purely based on T20 credentials, was pretty damn solid: KL Rahul, Nicholas Pooran, and Glenn Maxwell.
The three-man team was back in the hut three balls later.
Rabada has now delivered nine Super Over balls in the IPL – three to Russell, two each to Robin Uthappa and Rahul, one each to Dinesh Karthik and Pooran. He’s conceded nine runs, and taken three wickets.
The run that was, but wasn’t.
During IPL 2019, the world realised after a last-ball finish in a game between Royal Challengers Bangalore and Mumbai Indians that Lasith Malinga had over-stepped, only for it to not be noticed by umpire S Ravi. Virat Kohli would later bemoan a call that seemed very “club cricket”. Now, we have an extra umpire calling no-balls.
Months later, when the 2019 World Cup final ended the way it did, the world bemoaned the ‘boundary rule’ that saw England crowned world champions and New Zealand bite dust despite finishing level, twice. Almost instantly, the said boundary rule was scrapped.
You get where this is going.
Cricket has the technology. The cricket world, even if belatedly, has shown glimpses of common sense too. Let’s just put the two together, please? Maybe address the next game - or tournament - or career-defining error before it happens? I mean, we don’t have to be reactive all along, right?
And let’s just hope Kings XI Punjab don’t miss out on any defining spot in the points table by the margin of one win. That will be a travesty. And a travesty isn’t how one of the games of the tournament should be remembered some years down the line.
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While Stokes will be an important cog in the RR wheel, the team will also have to fix its top order which has been short of runs in the last five games, leaving too much for the lower-order to get.
KXIP have already played IPL 2020’s table-toppers – Mumbai Indians, Delhi Capitals, and Royal Challengers Bangalore twice. Their final match-ups are against Sunrisers Hyderabad, Kolkata Knight Riders, and Rajasthan Royals, with already-ousted Chennai Super Kings the final game on 1 November. Safe to say, their playoffs chances are very much active.
Going by Rabada’s admission, the UAE conditions have been “tricky”, the silver lining being the fact that they have something on offer for “all facets of the game”.