Lalit, Axar, Kuldeep: The heroes of Delhi Capitals' heist

Axar

Aryan Surana

From Tim Seifert's gymnastics-inspired boundary save to Ishan Kishan's collection of a high ball that was swirling away from him, fielding in the day game between Mumbai Indians and Delhi Capitals was top notch. Diving efforts on the rope drew gasps and shies at the stumps brought out the theatrical oohs and aahs. 10 catches were held including the Seifert special to dismiss Kieron Pollard. The only blemishes cast were by Tim David and Shardul Thakur, with the former's fault allowing Axar Patel to take the game away from under MI's nose.

27 March, Sunday, was the 15th occasion when DC lost five or more wickets under 10 overs. They had gone on to lose in all the previous instances, and seemed destined to end up on the wrong side of the result today as well as Basil Thampi bounced out Prithvi Shaw and Rovman Powell to leave them ramshackled at 72/5 at the halfway mark chasing 176. Earlier, it had been a PowerPlay of two contrasting halves for DC, with the first reaping 30 for no loss and the next 16/3. Much of the firepower back in the shed as Shardul Thakur went for a 11-ball 22, the hopes now hinged on the left-right pair of Axar and Lalit Yadav.

An ask of 72 off 40 balls was a daunting proposition, more so because Lalit was struggling to beat the fielders. DC were in urgent need of a kick, a boundary or two which reignites a dead chase and sets you on the path towards the final flourish. They got it when both Basil and Tymal Mills failed to close out their overs, conceding a six and a four respectively. Jasprit Bumrah's tough day at the office was then made worse as 15 runs came off his third, razing his figures to an abnormal 38 for none. While Axar picked the slower ball early to deposit it over long-on, Lalit took advantage of the freedom outside off and carved four over point. DC were scenting a come-from-behind victory with the equation dialling down to 41 off 4 overs.

Much to DC's pleasure, Lalit was shifting gears. Having lumbered to 4 from his first 10 balls, he scored 9 off his next 10 and then 21 from the ensuing 10. Axar, on the other hand, was raring to make MI pay after David spilled a sitter to let him off on 15. He thumped Basil down the ground for four before launching into an astronomical hit off Daniel Sams, who was guilty of overcooking the slower ones as Axar whipped a flat six en route backward square to cap off the 24-run over. Jammed between Axar's twin maximums were a six and a four from Lalit as MI were taken aback by the lower-order pyrotechnics.

Rishabh Pant was proud of the fact that his boys believed they could get the job done even in such adverse circumstances. ''At the back of our minds with us losing wickets, we felt it was gone, but we just kept believing. We tried to focus on controllables. We knew we didn't have a lot of manpower with Mitch Marsh and (David) Warner not here. But we just wanted to make use of whatever we had,'' Pant said in the presentation ceremony.

The emphatic entwining of Lalit and Axar not just handed MI their 10th successive defeat in an IPL season opener but also took the gloss off Ishan's magisterial knock of 81 that buoyed the five-time champions after they had lost three wickets between overs 7 to 15. Ishan, not unlike Lalit, was slow off the blocks, batting on 47 off 33 at one stage. However, his strike rate catapulted to 200 after facing 30 balls as nobody could escape punishment save for Khaleel Ahmed and Kuldeep Yadav, who returned boundary-less figures of 3/17, his best in 15 IPL matches since the start of the 2019 edition.

"It was a difficult time for me. I was out with injury for five months. It was important for me to go for the rehab and thanks to the facilities and trainers at the NCA, I recovered very well and in time to get back into the Indian set-up. And slowly I started match preparation and when I started playing the games, I got the confidence and Rohit motivated me a lot. Whatever changes need to be done, I had that communication with him. And here in the Delhi set up I spoke to Ricky (Ponting) and he backed me a lot. I was lacking rhythm from a long time and I worked on my rhythm a lot and never compromised on turning the ball despite the variation in pace,'' Kuldeep reflected on his match-defining spell.

Though Kuldeep rediscovered his mojo in Brabourne, Axar leaked 0/40 – his worst figures in IPL since the beginning of the 2019 season. But thanks to the 17-ball 38, the bowling coach might cut him some slack.