Capitals threaten to implode
The recurring feature of Delhi Capitals’ calamitous implosions in three of their last four home matches has been misreading the conditions and injudicious shot-selection. On Saturday’s evidence, they seemed to have rectified at least the former. At the outset, recalling Sandeep Lamichhane and dropping medium-pacers Chris Morris and Keemo Paul looked like a pragmatic choice on the slow, abrasive Kotla track.
But in the end, head coach Ricky Ponting still had to endure some anxious moments as his batsmen tried their best to make heavy weather of a straightforward chase. When Delhi required six runs from the final over, thoughts of another Super Over, like the one they had played out against Kolkata, would surely have crossed Ponting’s mind. But captain Shreyas Iyer held his nerve, smacking Sam Curran to the mid-wicket region to help Delhi register their sixth win, and only the second in five matches on their home turf.
There was pressure on Delhi’s batsmen, but Shikhar Dhawan and Iyer embraced a cool, common-sense approach to guide the chase with a robust 92-run stand. Running well between the wicket and carving out boundaries at regular intervals, they made the pitch look benign. But Dhawan’s departure triggered a familiar meltdown, with Rishabh Pant, Colin Ingram and Axar Patel perishing in the space of four overs. However, Punjab’s bowlers were done in by the dew.
When Chris Gayle made his international debut for West Indies in 1999, he was deemed a misfit in a team that boasted sublime stroke-players such as Brian Lara and Carl Hooper. Critics would continually take swipe at his aesthetics (or lack of it). What remained a constant over the past two decades in his batsmanship is the brute savagery. Those sinewy arms and humongous bat often made a mockery of bowler’s lengths, pummeling them into submission.
Despite being heavily criticised in initial stages of his career, Gayle stuck to his strengths. It’s something that has served him well in all these years, quietly morphing into a mean six-hitting machine. Even at 39, Gayle continues to terrorise bowlers.This IPL alone, he has smoked 31 sixes, second only to compatriot Andre Russell’s 39. Ahead of this duel, the central talking point was the worn-out Feroz Shah Kotla track. Could Gayle unfurl his monstrous hits against a Delhi XI that had three spinners in Sandeep Lamichhane, Amit Mishra and Axar Patel? When he eventually took strike, all pre-match hype surrounding the 22-yard strip dissipated.That’s because Gayle kicked off Punjab’s innings, tearing into Lamichhane and Mishra.
While sixes have always been Gayle’s preferred currency, he also showed the awareness to nurdle singles. This is another feature in his batting on Saturday evening that deserved credit. Quite often, Gayle has shown his aversion to run, happy to whir his arms and clear the boundaries at will. Tonight, in between stroking sixes and fours, he also ran 15 singles. Even as Gayle looked fairly unflustered by the conditions and bowling, his teammates found it a tad difficult to get their act together. The rest flattered to deceive, frittering away their opportunities after getting off to positive starts. After 12.1 overs, the visitors were sauntering along at 106/3, with Gayle ticking along unbeaten at 36-ball 69.
Then came the defining moment of the innings; a thrilling relay catch between Colin Ingram and Patel at deep mid-wicket boundary that terminated Gayle’s knock. Once Punjab’s talisman was dismissed, Delhi’s bowlers came back. In the remaining 7.4 overs, Punjab could only notch up another 56 runs, for the loss of three more wickets. Even though it scuttled Punjab’s progress somewhat, they still mounted a competitive 163/7 after 20 overs. But in the end it didn’t quite suffice.
Brief Scores: Kings XI Punjab 163/7 in 20 overs (Chris Gayle 69 off 37 balls, 6×4, 5×6, Mandeep Singh 30 off 27 balls, 1×4, 1×6; Sandeep Lamichhane 3/40, Kagiso Rabada 2/23, Axar Patel 2/22) lost to Delhi Capitals 166/5 in 19.4 overs (Shikhar Dhawan 56 off 41 balls, 7×4, 1×6, Shreyas Iyer 58 not out off 49 balls, 5×4, 1×6; Hardus Viljoen 2/39) by five wickets.