In the end, the victory was a stagger than a stroll. In the end, the difference was just Marcus Stoinis. His cameo powered Delhi Capitals to a rocket-fuelled start before his seemingly- innocuous medium pace struck at the most critical junctures of the match. But Sunrisers Hyderabad fought valiantly till the end while chasing 190 — another day, the hero could have easily been Kane Williamson or maybe the energetic Abdul Samad — leaving Delhi with more relief than joy after the 17-run victory, as they encounter Mumbai Indians in the IPL final on Tuesday.
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Stoinis, the charm
It was one of those days when Stoinis could do no wrong. A day that was just meant to be. After the cameo upfront with the bat, the robustly-built Australian vindicated his bowling utility by nailing three wickets, including two in an over, and literally blowing Hyderabad’s chase.
After Kagiso Rabada had disturbed David Warner’s stumps, Priyam Garg and Manish Pandey were counterpunching when Stoinis strode in. It seemed a blunder when Pandey whipped him for a boundary, for introducing a part-time seamer at a critical juncture seemed a defensive move. But in three balls, Stoinis changed the perception with the scalps of Garg and Pandey. Garg with uncanny inward movement — when he bowls full, he does purchase a hint of seam movement — and the latter with an off-cutter that stopped on Pandey.
Both batsmen had clearly underestimated Stoinis’ bowling and his ability to steal wickets. He doesn’t possess pace or too many variations, but is cerebral, mixes his length, slips in the odd cutter and has a surprise effort ball that skids onto batsmen. The delivery that rattled Garg’s stumps was a couple of yards quicker than his usual speed.
Then came the most vital of all blows. That of Kane Williamson, whose 67 sparked hopes of a Hyderabad heist. From the realms of improbability, the Kiwi maestro had brought the equation within the sphere of possibility. But Stoinis pushed in another off-cutter, full and wide, which Williamson could only mistime to deep cover. Some days are just there to be. Stoinis would agree.
D for Dhawan, destruction
On the third ball off Jason Holder’s first over, Shikhar Dhawan sashayed down the track, manufactured room by sliding leg-side, and flung his bat at a short-of-length ball that crashed behind point. A stroke full of muscle and authority. Only that with Dhawan it’s not a stroke that reflects his confidence, but his nerves. It’s his get-out-or-get-into-form stroke. One that he dials in an emergency.
After three blobs in the last four outings, Dhawan was understandably nervous, which manifested in his twitchy footwork in the first over. But the aforementioned stroke settled his nerves, as he bedded in and stroked himself to a sublime 78, a knock that provided Delhi Capitals both strength and stability, though the pace of scoring tapered off towards the end.
With 606 runs, this season has already been Dhawan’s most prolific ever in the IPL. Central to his resurgence has been an improved ability to rotate strike and adding deftness to his leg-side game. The slog-sweep to spinners has always been his staple stroke, so proficient that he could play this with eyes blindfolded. Just sample the brace of sixes he struck off Shahbaz Nadeem — just picking the length, bending, and bludgeoning them over midwicket.
But these days against seamers, the left-hander has learned sophistry, as exemplified by a flick off Holder. He just shuffled across, crouched a bit, and slapped the ball through square leg. In the past, he would have tried to heave those deliveries through midwicket, which he did employ for a couple of boundaries early on. That he did not score off only 10 deliveries showed Dhawan’s improved strike-rotating prowess.
Dhawan, thus, embodied Delhi’s belligerent approach. He, though, was the only survivor of the tweaked top three after the capitulation against Mumbai Indians. As much as a change in personnel, their approach was markedly more aggressive. The decision to open with Stoinis telegraphed their intent. The 86-run first-wicket alliance was rope-a-dope stuff. Thrust with the opening duties, in the wake of Prithvi Shaw’s sustained patchiness, the burly Aussie batted uninhibitedly like a bull given the licence to run amok.
Dropped on 3 by Holder at silly mid-on, he fleeced four boundaries and a six in the next eight balls. Two days ago, Delhi were three down without a run on the board, here they raged to 50 in only 4.5 overs. The momentum was irresistible, and they managed to sustain the tempo until the very last over, when T Natarajan delivered a terrific no-boundary gig.
The hitherto underwhelming Shimron Hetmyer provided death-over fireworks, his 22-ball 42 not out a fusion of power and flair. A slashed six off Natarajan was a throwback to the Guyanese tradition of batting. He just sized up the length and smacked it, a twirl of the wrists at the last moment providing the necessary elevation and placement. He then tore apart West Indies skipper Holder, plundering four boundaries in the 18th over.
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