Let's first get the match details out of the way. Delhi Daredevils were faultless; Gujarat Lions didn't know what hit them, whether batting or bowling. A clever use of bowlers in the powerplays disrupted the Lions' top-order and they never recovered. And finally, Rishabh Pant’s knock delivered the sucker punch. Fifth win in the bag, ten points on the board!
Just a day before, at the end of the Chelsea-Tottenham game on Monday evening, after Leicester City were crowned Premier League champions, one of the TV pundits remarked that Spurs had experienced their best-ever season. And that, if that anyone had offered them second place and qualification for Champions League at the start of the season, their hand would have been bitten off.
Now, cut back to the IPL players' auctions room back in February, when the rest of the world couldn't make sense of what was going on at the Delhi Daredevils' table. They redrew their team from scratch, and adopted a youth-first policy. With Rahul Dravid on board, you can say this is almost the India Under-25 team playing in the IPL.
Even so, it was a gamble, perhaps the last one GMR would take in this franchise-based tournament. And if anyone had told them that Delhi would be placed second in the standings after seven matches, with two games in hand over table-topping Gujarat Lions, the owners would have probably laughed it off.
It is not to judge whether this is a fine achievement just yet, for fortunes can change in the blink of an eye in this tournament. And yet, due appreciation must be given to their efforts. More importantly though, applause is due for the Daredevils' support staff for the manner in which they are making things happen, as much as the players are doing it on the field. In the shortest format of the game, it is more often than not a single player who makes a match-winning impact. This point gains more importance when a youthful side is concerned, and you need to back them up with strong theories.
Take for example, the horses for courses policy. It has been written to death how the team management looked to experiment as their side gained in winning confidence. But recently, they have been taking this a notch higher. In their home match against Gujarat, they introduced Shahbaz Nadeem to pair up with Zaheer Khan. The pace-spin combination of two left-handers was apt to strike against Dwayne Smith and Brendon McCullum, but it didn't work out.
A week later, in the return leg, they tried it again. And this time they got their wickets for cheap, dismantling the Gujarat top-order. It was a pivotal moment of the game, for the Lions struggle to string together big-hitting partnerships in the middle. Simply put, the opening stand — or the lack of one — was the difference between chasing 150 and 180-190.
Dig deeper, and there was another moment that proved the value of homework done well. Two-down early, and Suresh Raina came to the crease, hoping to resurrect the innings. Almost immediately, Chris Morris was brought on and a short fine leg fielder put in place to work on his short-ball weakness. They were hoping Morris' extra pace would again do the trick that had worked like a charm last week.
While it indicates the studious methods of Dravid and Paddy Upton, it takes someone like Zaheer to ring in the changes. Sometimes it works like clockwork, such as Tuesday's win, but at other times you have to improvise. On both counts, the former Indian pacer's immense experience has come in handy. What has stood out, meanwhile, is the manner in which he has exacted the best out of his young players, encouraging them with a smile on most occasions and a clap of hands at other times.
"Zak bhai told me to grab whatever opportunity comes my way with both hands. He told me not to worry about the match situation and not take pressure, but to play my natural game,” said 18-year-old Pant, who was named man-of- the-match.
The key take-away from this win is the settling of the batting order to an extent. With Shreyas Iyer struggling and JP Duminy back to lend experience, they needed to balance the top-order without putting added pressure on Sanju Samson, just as he is about to regain his touch. Pant's promotion is another calculated masterstroke. The audacity with which he smacked James Faulkner for a flat-batted six down the ground was more than admirable. That, simply put, was the shot of the night.
Updated Date: May 04, 2016 14:21 PM