Ajit Agarkar steadied himself into a low crouch at long off,and waited for the ball to drop into his hands. At this point of the game the final delivery of the 16 th over faced by the team batting first Chennai Super Kings were 121 for two,going at just over 7.5 runs an over,and the wicket imperiled by that airy drive down the ground was that of their captain and most dangerous batsman.
The ball descended and bounced off Agarkars palms. His face was impassive as always,as he retrieved the ball from the edge of the boundary and threw it in as the batsmen scrambled two.
In the light of what happened later on,and the margin of Chennais victory 86 runs,three more than Delhi Daredevils managed to score in their innings,in falling to their sixth defeat in six matches this dropped chance might not seem like a genuine hinge moment. But psychologically,it might have just had a massive impact on Delhi.
It wasnt as if Delhi had had the game completely under their control till Agarkar dropped Dhoni. But they hadnt let Chennai get away from their sight.
Suresh Raina,boasting a Twenty20 strike rate of nearly 140,had been out not too long ago,after making 30 off 32 balls on what was looking,although a little on the slow side,a perfectly good track to bat on.
Shahbaz Nadeem,from around the wicket,had darted the ball across Raina without putting too many revs on it,negating to a large extent the left-handed batsmans natural advantage against the left-arm spinner.
The seamers,meanwhile,had largely kept a tight line to him,rolling their fingers over the ball,giving him little pace to work with. After managing to give himself room and clear extra cover a couple of times,Raina had fallen to the same stroke.
But Delhis disciplined,no-nonsense bowling plans had also contributed to the fact that Chennai had only lost two wickets. The over after Raina had walked in,Morne Morkel and Umesh Yadav,either of whom could have tried to exploit his well-known frailties against the short ball,gave way to the medium-fast Irfan Pathan and the amiable off breaks of Virender Sehwag,followed by more medium-fast from Agarkar and left-arm spin from Nadeem.
Big let off
Now,Delhi had let Dhoni off. When Morkel replaced Yadav from the Delhi Gate end,Chennai were 131 for two in 17 overs. First ball of this over,the last of Morkels spell,was full. Dhoni launched it in the same direction as that uncharacteristically weak hit from a couple of overs ago. This one comfortably cleared long off. Next ball,Dhoni moved across his crease and flipped it over square leg. Four. A single brought Mike Hussey on strike. The left-hander had moved,almost anonymously,to 56 from 45. Off the last two balls of Morkels over,he scored eight more an edge that flew past the keeper,a chip over the bowlers head,hit like a golfers lob-wedge shot.
The Super Kings were now 150 for two,with two more overs to go. Those two overs fetched them 19 more runs,for the loss of two wickets. Delhi were chasing 170,rather than 150,which they might have been the target they had in mind three-quarters of the way into Chennais innings.
Thanks to this,perhaps,Delhi came under the kind of pressure that often decided ODIs during the 90s the team batting first could afford to keep wickets in hand and launch a late assault; the team batting second couldnt,because of the mounting required rate.
In the second over of Delhis innings,David Warner threw the kitchen sink at a short,wide delivery from Mohit Sharma,and chopped it onto his stumps. Last ball of the same over,Manprit Juneja was given out LBW to a ball that might have been headed over the stumps and down the leg side. Mahela Jayawardene came in,and scored six off his first ten balls. Raina,at one point,had been on six off nine. Delhis run rate at that point just over six an over wasnt too different from Chennais at the same point in their innings. But Delhi were chasing 170.
Out of it
Next ball,Jayawardene was out LBW,playing across the line to Chris Morris. First ball of the next over,Sehwag holed out to deep square leg. Delhi were 30 for four; Delhi were out of it. The rest of the innings,from now,was only an exercise to see how much they could make.
They folded,in the end,for 83. Much like ODIs from the 90s,the innings descended into a procession of batsmen holing out to long on,failing to connect with slogs and losing their stumps,and the obligatory mix-up leading to a farcical run out.