Game 13: Delhi versus Punjab, Chandigarh
Chandigarh is historically a 180-par ground – and on such, it is always tough knowing what target to set, how hard to go from the start, which adds pressure to the side batting first. Here it was the home team feeling the pressure, once Delhi won the toss and put Punjab in to bat. The home team had two handicaps going in -- Chris Gayle was out through injury (and Andrew Tye was rested); against that, they had to face four overs of the amazing Kagiso Rabada, who had bowled probably the over of this or any IPL just the other night.
The pressure told. KL Rahul started off the blocks like a rocket, whipping Rabada off his pads, then flicking Morris, and pulling him dismissively over backward square for six. Morris off the very next ball went wide of the crease and bowled the fuller length at top pace, beating Rahul’s attempt flick off the lips and nailing him in front. Sam Curran, opening for Gayle, similarly went after Avesh Khan with two cover drives and an off drive for fours, followed by a lofted straight six off the teenage spinner Lamichchane bowling the fourth over – but a ball later, the spinner produced the flipper and Curran, back where the length demanded front foot play, was beaten and nailed in front of middle and leg. When Mayank Agarwal ran himself out, backing up too far to a Sarfaraz Khan drive to Dhawan at mid off inside the circle, the front wheels had come truly off the Punjab cart.
The back wheels followed in the death overs when, in the last five overs, Punjab managed to throw away five wickets for just 37 runs – even that score gaining a measure of respectability only because Mandeep Singh took Rabada’s last two balls for a forehand four and a straight six.
In between these two disastrous bookends, the likes of Sarfaraz Khan (39 off 29, including one of his audacious look-ma-no-eyes scoops at a ball into his body) and David Miller (43 off 30 with four fours and two sixes) went hard and well, but the pressure to make up for a bad start on a big scoring ground was always going to cause batsmen to over-reach, and both paid the price. Lamichchane, who bowls with a maturity way in advance of his 18 years, forced Sarfaraz to nick off on a floater on fourth stump that turned away past the bat; Miller tried to muscle Morris out of the park and was deceived by the change down in pace, managing only to sky high to the keeper.
Rabada was his usual self, bowling with great pace and superb control at both ends of the innings, but the man to catch the eye was Lamichchane. Of the 24 balls he bowled, 8 were not scored off – and this is particularly remarkable when you consider that he bowled in the powerplay, and also in the middle when Sarfaraz and Miller were opening out. He was twice taken for sixes, and yet he ended with 27 runs off 4 overs for two key wickets.
The story of the Delhi chase is best told in reference to the halfway mark: the visitors were 83/3 at the halfway mark, against Punjab’s 85/3 at that stage.
On a track that will not surprise you, with a deep batting lineup against an attack that does not have anything extra special at the death, you plan your chase like you plan a middle-distance race: the aim is to stay just behind the shoulder of the leader, moving along in the slipstream, and pick your time to overtake.
In this game, the logical point where you could pull ahead, assuming you stayed the pace till then, was at the death. Punjab does not have a Rabada-type death bowler; and when they batted they lost wickets in a heap in the last five overs. Theoretically, it was set up for a relatively easy chase.
Ravi Ashwin, leading a three-pronged spin attack tailored against the bevy of left-handers in the Delhi lineup, struck two key blows that upset Delhi’s plan somewhat. He bowled the first over and with his very first ball, one of those variations of his where he cuts his fingers under the seam to scramble it and sending it through straight with the arm, he forced the nick off from Prithvi Shaw, centurion of the previous game, to get Punjab off to a great start at 0/1.
Shreyas Iyer, in very good nick, and Shikhar Dhawan, in his usual slow-start mode, mounted a 49-run recovery that put Delhi back on track. Iyer greeted Hardus Viljoen with a dreamy cover drive that drew a line from bat to fence, but the very next ball was a bit shorter and a good bit wider and Iyer, driving at it without getting in line, dragged it on to his stumps. When Ashwin came back in the 10th and produced the carrom ball onto Dhawan’s pads, it set up the second half of the chase beautifully – with the explosive Rishabh Pant and the prodigal son Colin Ingram paired out in the middle.
Ingram was a revelation in the way he read spin and played forcefully on both sides of the wicket. It’s a facet of his game he seems to have worked hard on; in this avatar he stays leg side of the ball, reads it off the hand, and picks his strokes with little or no room for error. Against that, while Pant was his usual belligerent self and impressed with his footspeed between wickets, his timing was a bit off at the outset. What made it easy for him was that Ingram was scoring at pace, reducing the pressure on the temperamental youngster.
At the 15 over mark, the game seemed as good as done: Punjab had made it to 129/4; in reply, Delhi was 128/3 and with an ask of just over 7 heading into the death, there was only one way the game was going.
Rishabh Pant is exuberant – and therefore eminently watchable. But the problem with exuberance is the rush of blood that comes with it, and with Pant that is always one ball away. He smacked a six off Ashwin in the 16th , and off Shami in the 17th. But then he played that one shot too many, swiping all around a full length ball from Shami and, for the second time in two games, walked off when the game was his to win (39 off 26, two sixes and three fours).
Off the next ball, Chris Morris drove to mid off, tried to sneak a single against the normally leaden footed Ashwin, and was surprised when the pumped up Punjab captain attacked the ball and threw down the stumps. Even at that point Delhi needed just 23 more off 19 balls, with five wickets in hand including the set Ingram.
A breeze, you would think. But Delhi has made something of a fetish of trying to snatch defeat from the jaws of easy victory. In the 18th, Ingram teed off at Curran but didn’t get under the flat drive he was trying; all he managed to do was hit it down the throat of deep long off and suddenly, at 147/6, it was as if DC was competing with Punjab in losing wickets at the death.
The last ball of that Curran over made it worse – angled across the right handed Harshal Patel, who swiped at it and nicked off. Neither ball deserved a wicket, but two wickets fell in the over for just 3 singles and a wide. Four wickets had gone down for four runs in nine balls starting with the wicket of Pant, and you could hear DC’s nerves jangling over the roar of the suddenly energized Punjab crowd.
Shami does what you do in this situation – bowl straight, bowl full on the you-miss-I-hit theory. Hanuma Vihari swung, missed, and Delhi was now 12 balls, four runs, five wickets.
Curran came back for the final over, and flattened Rabada’s stump with an inswinging yorker Rabada himself would have been proud to bowl. And with the very next ball, a repeat yorker destroyed Lamichchane’s off stump; Curran had his hat-trick, and Punjab had won by 15 runs. Or more accurately, Delhi found a way to throw away seven wickets for eight runs in the space of 17 deliveries – and that is the kind of thing that will hurt you in a tournament of this kind, not just because of the points lost, but because of the dampener it casts on the dressing room, and takes a long time to recover from.