At the start of the tournament, Steve Smith was often complaining about how Rising Pune Supergiant couldn’t seem to get all three departments to click together. While the team have put up a string of excellent results since, Friday night was one of those nights where the old habit returned.
Their fielding? They were fine there, in fact they were exceptional. The batting? They got to what was a par score on that wicket. So that was ok too, though not great. The bowling? Yes, that’s the one that didn’t come together as they would have liked. All said and done, Delhi Daredevils became the first side to beat RPS in both the encounters between the teams.
Fielding: It starts and ends with Stokes
“Give this man more money” screamed one of the commentators on air as Ben Stokes effected a run out in the first over. Delhi Daredevils’ Sanju Samson made it easy for him, trying to conjure a run where none existed, but he would have gotten away with it had Stokes not thrown down the stumps from point. Full credit to the Englishman, who finished the innings with a stunning two part catch, like a film whose first half is all unbelievable action and second half is just so cool.
In between these moments of athletic exhibitionism, there were a number of fine efforts from the rest of the RPS squad. Whether it was Ajinkya Rahane and Rahul Tripathi guarding the square boundaries, or MS Dhoni taking a stunning one handed overhead catch. Jaydev Unadkat took one that he made look difficult to dismiss the DD topscorer Karun Nair. The only blemish was when Washington Sundar almost comically tripped over his own feet to miss a skier deep in the innings. For a team that had dropped 13 catches in their first nine matches, it was a night that only the most fastidious fielding coach would complain about.
Batting: Just not enough at the start
Cricket can be a cruel game. Lose a match like this, and it is often the batsman who has scored the most runs, rather than the least, who cops all the flak, because of the concept of ‘being set’. So Rahane’s first ball duck and Dhoni’s complacent run out will be set aside, and the exploits of the others dissected.
T20 cricket played on tracks that resemble highways have reduced the importance of the set batsman, with nearly every batsman being able to hit through the line from the moment they take guard. But on Friday night, the Ferozshah Kotla wicket was drier than usual, and even the most gentle revolutions imparted on the ball had it gripping the surface.
This made Steve Smith, Manoj Tiwary and Stokes kingmakers. Smith was looking silken till he misjudged the length of a Shahbaz Nadeem delivery and went for a pull that he missed. He seemed to be fuming at the decision as he walked off, but it was most likely at himself. He would have known full well the importance of batting deep on this pitch.
Then Tiwary and Stokes strung a partnership together, and at the end of the 15th over, the pair were batting on 42 and 27 respectively. Faced with some good block-hole bowling from the DD bowlers, Stokes fell miscuing a big one, and then the boundaries dried up. From the 16th to the 19th overs, no boundaries were scored, and two wickets fell. Then with 25 runs to get, Tiwary launched a desperate assault in the last over, a final sortie by a fort under siege. But it was too late.
Tiwary got his highest score this season, and his first half century, but his inability to find the boundary at the end, and the runs that RPS conceded with the ball, hurt their chances.
Bowling: Fine margins prove costly
RPS had already drawn the short straw, having to bat last on a wicket that would slow down as the game progressed. In such a situation, they needed to keep a check on the scoring in the first six overs, where the conditions would be the best for batting. While they conceded no boundaries and took two wickets in the first three overs, they let go of nine in the next three. A few of those were enterprising shots by the batsmen taking advantage of the restricted field, but more were bad balls that deserved punishment. Shardul Thakur and Stokes bowled lines and lengths that allowed the batsmen to help the ball to the boundary, not really have to work hard to send it there.
Previously on slow wickets, the RPS bowlers had been extremely intelligent with their variations and made scoring difficult. They had defended low totals successfully, most memorably against RCB and SRH, both away. On a Kotla wicket that suited their attack, they seemed to have had on off day.
“We let a few runs go in the field,” admitted Smith after the game. “We thought 160 was par on this wicket, and we got 161.”
Smith’s side have now set themselves a virtual quarter-final at home on Sunday afternoon, a blockbuster show lined up on a holiday. With the first pre monsoon showers having dulled the Pune heat, expect a large crowd to see if RPS can make the playoffs.
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Updated Date: May 13, 2017 12:05:55 IST