Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing

Quizzed about the atmosphere in the Delhi Capitals’ camp owing to five defeats on the bounce, Manish Pandey cut an optimistic figure. ‘’We’ve not had a perfect game in terms of batting, bowling and fielding altogether. We’re just one game away from changing things around,’’ he said. As David Warner catapulted the underachievers to 61/1 in the PowerPlay, Manish must’ve envisaged his wish coming true. After all, Kolkata Knight Riders were torpedoed to 127, their habit of self-destruction in the first six overs rearing its ugly head.

In IPL 2022, KKR lost 27 wickets in the PowerPlay – the most of all teams. Their tally this year stands at an alarming 15, again the worst at 19.3 runs per dismissal. The lone survivor from the top-order tonight was Jason Roy, whose message to assistant coach James Foster during the refreshment break was that ‘the wicket is a bit two-paced, especially around the good-length zone, and the par score will have to be assessed.’ The full extent of the sluggish nature of the pitch was revealed once the field spread out in the chase, with a spin stranglehold practically coercing DC into an ignominious bottlejob.

Much like winning, losing can prove to be infectious. Teams on a losing streak find incredible ways to squander advantage, perhaps because ascendancy becomes such an alien concept to them that they no longer have the wits to deal with it. DC were not only fancying their chances of victory at the outset but also contemplating a win margin that would do their NRR a world of good. However, the fall of Mitchell Marsh and Phil Salt in quick succession on the other side of the PowerPlay served as a gruff reminder to not put the cart before the horse.

Heading into the home fixture, Warner had scored 228 runs this season at a rather unflattering strike rate of 116.92. Part of the problem was the lack of contributions from the batters around him. While the modest target was incentive enough for the southpaw to bring his naturally expressive self to the crease, there was no discernible difference in the grander scheme of things with supporting acts coming in short supply. Varun Chakravarthy, Nitish Rana and Anukul Roy bowled 12 overs between them for 52/6 including 37 dots as DC trod water in the middle phase to take the match too close for comfort.

Slow to react to Lalit Yadav’s catch at mid-wicket when the equation was down to a run-a-ball, Kulwant Khejroliya may be in for an earful from Chandrakant Pandit given the disciplinarian he is. Litton Das botched a stumping to reprieve Axar Patel shortly thereafter, and KKR were left pondering the what-ifs had the last two recognized batters been disposed of. They didn’t operate as a well-oiled defending unit, with fielders letting down the bowlers. Take, for instance, Chakravarthy fumbling the meekest of pushes to give away a run in the PowerPlay and boundary rider Andre Russell taking his eyes off the ball to concede four and release the pressure at a time nails were being chewed in the DC dugout.

The lack of cohesion wasn’t limited to groundwork, as Sunil Narine and Khejroliya leaked 56 in 5.2 overs combined. DC were far more clinical in both respects. Each member of the attack did his bit and enjoyed the unerring support of his teammates en route their best bowling performance of the season. Mukesh Kumar responded to a pair of boundaries in his first over by waving off Litton Das, who made the elementary error of pulling a short ball from way outside off-stump.

Venkatesh Iyer nicked an effort ball from Anrich Nortje that kept climbing onto him. Fresh off a century, his duck established the fact that cricket is a great leveller. Although Iyer was unable to ride the bounce, he accelerated his hands through the ball in order to punch, leading to a warp-speed edge that Marsh gathered commendably over his left shoulder. Ishant Sharma adorned the cake with a cherry by removing Rana in the final over of the PowerPlay, finishing with 2/19 on his jovial return to the league after 717 days.

Kuldeep Yadav’s four-wicket hauls earned him the Player of the Match award twice in IPL 2022 against KKR, and he continued to have the wood on his former franchise. Just three runs came off the penultimate over of the innings, where Kuldeep assumed the unenviable job of keeping Russell on a leash. His bag of variations included a 117kmph darter bowled from the front of the hand, a surprise element par excellence given the previous ball was clocked at 82 clicks. ‘’I love bowling the quicker ones, in future too I will bowl the quicker ones to keep the batters guessing,’’ Kuldeep highlighted.

Simplicity was at the core of his spin compatriot Axar’s operation. As is invariably the case with the metronome, a chunk of his balls zeroed in on the stumps, cramping the batters for room and eliciting adventures in turn. Mandeep Singh and Rinku Kumar tried upsetting his line and length to no avail, unlike Russell who cleared his front leg to wallop Mukesh for three consecutive sixes after the seamer had nailed boot-crushing yorkers to deny him the space for a clean swing in the first place.

The inch-perfect execution must’ve harboured thoughts of control in Mukesh’s mind, before Russell flipped the narrative. It was a microcosm of how the do-or-die clash panned out for DC.

Broadcast Schedule

India v England 2024 Test Series
IND v ENG 5th Test, Dharamsala
7th March to 11th March
Start time: 4:00 am GMT