To keep their IPL season alive, the Delhi Daredevils had to exceed expectations in their penultimate group game against league leaders Sunrisers Hyderabad. I suspect I was not alone in having very low expectation from them on Friday night. So poor have the Daredevils' recent performances been that I was prepared to write off their season as basically finished after their last defeat, even though they still had a chance to break into the leading pack and qualify. In fact, even one win from their last two matches by a big enough margin, coupled with other results going in their favour, may have been enough for them. However, I was convinced that their last two games would only bring further beatings and disappointment. How wrong I was.
They may yet not make it — they were still far from perfect in this game against Sunrisers Hyderabad, but there was sufficient endeavour and good cricket to suggest they might get there.
David Warner, in his post-match interview, was quick to put his finger on the difference between the two sides on the night: The fielding. In any match that keeps the spectators and viewers hooked throughout, and the result in doubt until the very last ball, there are naturally many moments one can look back upon as having made the difference. In this particular match, and putting aside for one moment Karun Nair's excellence and heroics, we must acknowledge that it were two fantastic pieces of fielding from the Daredevils that laid the foundation for the victory.
The Sunrisers started well, skipper David Warner yet again dominating with the bat. In any other season than this record-breaking one for Virat Kohli, we would be acclaiming Warner as the league's best batsman. He and Shikhar Dhawan had put 42 on the board in the first five overs, and this despite opposing captain Zaheer Khan only conceding eight runs from his two overs. But Jayant Yadav and Nathan Coulter-Nile had been tucked into, so Zaheer had to turn elsewhere. With Chris Morris out injured, the Daredevils recalled a player absent for much of this T20 season: Barbados and West Indies' Carlos Brathwaite. Remember the name?
His first over stemmed the flow, but it was his reactions rather than his bowling that made us jump up from our seats. Early in the over, he dropped a sharp, tough caught and bowled chance offered by Warner; but when Dhawan offered him a different kind of opportunity off the over's final delivery, he pounced with alacrity. The Sunrisers opener drove back a fierce shot heading towards mid-on, but the big outstretched left hand of the Bajan stopped the ball in its path as he dived full-length upon it; and then pivoting, he transferred the ball to his throwing hand, his right, and with a whirlwind, whistling throw, hurled down Dhawan's stumps with the batsman still moving forward out of his crease with the propulsion of the stroke. It was a wonderful, dramatic, free-flowing piece of destructive wizardry. The previous day we had seen a not dissimilar moment of fielding genius from Shadab Jakati — but this from Brathwaite topped it. Reaching back into my memory bank, the only thing I can recall even better was Roger Harper's astonishing run-out off his own bowling of Graham Gooch at Lord’s in 1987.
Brathwaite had broken the partnership, and in the next over Amit Mishra, also off his own bowling, also performed a smart bit of work to run out new man Deepak Hooda — who'd backed up too far after Warner had driven the leg-spinner back down the track. Mishra, parrying the drive, had pounced on the ball quickly and hit the only stump he had to aim at with the non-striker still midway down the wicket.
The two splendid run-outs slowed down Warner and the Sunrisers, and they didn't regain their momentum sufficiently to set a big enough score. Warner was one of Brathwaite's two victims (caught safely at third man by Mishra from an upper-cut); and he conceded only 27 from his four overs — one more than his miserly captain.
The Daredevils' out-cricket was excellent. Their fielding was near faultless throughout the innings — a miss by Pant at extra cover off Morgan being the only blemish — and they conceded only three extras in total; a figure instantly surpassed by the Sunrisers when Bhuvneshwar Kumar misdirected the first ball of the reply to the boundary for five wides. He followed that with another wide.
The early loss of the Daredevils' most productive batsman this year, Quinton de Kock, caught behind off a hideous, ungainly slog — a violent, ungainly swipe, legs akimbo — threatened to be a mortal blow. They've scored most quickly and heavily when he has been in the pink; so his dismissal made the Sunrisers' 158-7 more imposing.
The second-wicket pairing of Rishabh Pant and Karun Nair played attractively and with confidence; and there was always the feeling that they were off the pace — and the danger that the run-rate, the match, and the competition was slipping away from them. Pant was run-out for 32 off 26 balls, not showing enough energy in scampering back for a second; and Nair's subsequent batting partners, JP Duminy and Brathwaite, both tried to up the scoring rate, but never quite mastered it. Duminy was given a life, dropped by Bhuvneshwar, but he gave another chance next ball to Warner which was accepted. Warner threw the ball in the ground in disgust — not at the previous drop, but because he himself had earlier floored a straight-forward chance at long-on off Nair. That was the match-winning/losing moment.
Nair carried on, unfazed by the rising run-rate, the dropped catches, and loss of partners — and hit two sixes in the seventeenth over off Barinder Sran: One magnificently over square leg; the other thrashed over wide long-on. The 24-year-old's composure served him best in the final two overs. Needing 16 from 12 balls, only five came from the first six delivered by Mustafizur Rahman. But Nair kept a cool head for the last half-dozen, and hit the last two balls of the match to the boundary: cross-batting Kumar straight past mid-off, locating the gap where a deep fielder wasn't protecting the boundary; and threading the last ball just out of the reach of Warner's hands at wide mid-on.
It was a superb, match-winning knock — and this young man deserves the opportunity to further demonstrate that his batting is good enough to grace this competition's final stages.
Updated Date: May 21, 2016 09:19 AM