IPL 2016: DD's ‘horses for courses’ gallop as race for knock-out places hots up

It's looking very tight at the top. The Delhi Daredevils' convincing victory on Thursday night means there are five teams bunched together, separated only by two points. Defeat for the Sunrisers Hyderabad in a lacklustre performance did not take them off the IPL 2016 summit, but it does mean they are less assured of bagging one of the four qualifying spots. Someone is going to be mightily disappointed ten days from now, when they are eliminated by the narrowest of margins.

It's only run-rate that keeps Sunrisers at the top of the table, with Gujarat Lions — who have also played 11, won seven and lost four — in second place. This solid victory over the league leaders pushes the Daredevils into third with 12 points from 10 games, the same record as the Kolkata Knight Riders. Mumbai Indians sit in fifth place currently, also with 12 points, but from a game more, but they know they have every chance still to qualify. The Royal Challengers Bangalore could also still spring into the top four, but with eight points from 10 games, they need to win each one of their remaining fixtures.

Delhi Daredevils players celebrate the fall of a wicket. BCCI

Delhi Daredevils players celebrate the fall of a wicket. BCCI

The Rising Pune Supergiants and Kings XI Punjab are no-hopers — some writers for this publication might remind us they knew that before the season got underway — and the only competition they have left is the one of avoiding the ignominy of last place. Genuinely, this is a tournament that could still be won by any of five fairly evenly matched, and similarly performing sides.

Delhi's accomplished performance on Thursday puts them right back in contention. Defeat would have left a very different complexion to the table — the Sunrisers would have been proudly clear at the top and the Daredevils chasing the pack, two points adrift in fifth place. A win was essential.

They got off to the right start by winning the toss and opting to bowl, but the necessary objective of getting rid of the opposition skipper David Warner was not immediately achieved. He raced along in the early overs and looked as unstoppable as ever. The commentary box rattled off a series of statistics to underline just how dominant he has been this year: He was the second man to 500 runs in the season (behind Virat Kohli); has scored two of the season's top five fastest 50s; and by some distance has clobbered the most sixes — 22, with AB de Villiers second with 17.

In the fourth over of the innings, bowled by Mohammad Shami, Warner became the eighth man to complete 3,000 IPL runs, and in the second half of the over began an explosive sequence where he got 23 runs off six balls, in which he went 4, 4, 1 (to keep the strike), 4, 4, 6. The first four was a smart back cut — which he repeated the next ball, only sharper and squarer. He then plundered fourteen from the first three balls of Jayant Yadav's over: Lofting the spinner straight off the back foot for four; next, he stepped away and induced the bowler to follow him – whereupon he pulled him while down on one knee. Yadav was brave next ball; he tossed it higher and fuller — and was thundered straight for a resounding six.

At 61-0 without loss after eight overs and Warner already in his 40s, the Sunrisers looked ready to go large. But the match-turning point arrived in the next over, when Daredevils' skipper JP Duminy was rewarded for backing his hunch in keeping Yadav on to bowl his fourth over. He conceded a boundary, but then went through Warner with one that was flatter and quicker, and the key man was disposed of.

It didn't immediately derail the innings, as Shikhar Dhawan and Kane Williamson took 20 from the next two overs to reach 88 off 11 overs. But I don't think anybody would have expected them to add just 58 more runs for the loss of seven wickets in the final nine overs. And it wasn't like this was the result of a spectacular middle or late-order collapse — the innings simply decelerated, admittedly against some good bowling, and just fizzled away.

Dhawan and Williamson pottered along, but didn't seem able to find another gear to advance the scoring rate; and both went in quick succession; they and were followed by Moises Henriques, who was plumb LBW first ball — a misfortune for him, but not as bad as the calamity he once experienced of managing to bag a pair in a Big Bash match (he got zero in the game, and then another when the game needed a Super Over).

Keeping Sunrisers down to 147 was a terrific performance by the Daredevils, and they didn't have too many alarms while chasing either. They started sweetly, Mayank Agarwal hitting a superb lofted straight drive off Bhuvneshwar Kumar over mid on; then Quinton de Kock rocketed a cracking cut to the boundary, followed by a gorgeous straight drive on the deck past Ashish Nehra. "Glam shot after glam shot!" drooled Simon Doull at the stroke-play exhibition.

Agarwal went for 10 in the fourth over, but de Kock and Karun Nair kept the Daredevils comfortably ahead of the rate. The only uncomfortable moment they had was when the duo was out in the same Henriques over — the South African being erroneously given out caught behind off a ball so high and wide his helmet flew off as he tried to reach it. What possessed umpire Marais Erasmus to raise his finger in response to repeated yelps of appeal from the bowler we'll never know, but it took him over 10 seconds to make up his mind; and then took de Kock even longer to begin trudging, disbelievingly, and only setting off because Erasmus gave him a kindly nudge.

But a splendid unbeaten partnership of 72 in 8.2 overs between 21-year-old Sanju Samson and 18-year-old Rishabh Pant delighted the crowd and sealed the win with nearly two overs to spare — neither captain Duminy nor the destructive Chris Morris being required to bat. The young pair hit five sixes between them, and the final two scoring shots of the innings were a confident smash into the crowd.

So, it's all to play for, and the top five sides need to find their winning formations and formulas right now. The Delhi Daredevils demonstrated here that, just in time, they may have hit upon theirs.

Updated Date: May 13, 2016 11:08 AM

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