Delhi Capitals squander the springboard for success

Tame finish from Pant and Sarfaraz

Aryan Surana

Delhi Capitals were heading into the third match of their campaign against Lucknow Super Giants with a monkey on their back. They had the second-lowest average in the PowerPlay in the two matches they'd played and had also lost three wickets in the first six overs on each occasion. Not amused with the false starts, Ricky Ponting had called upon his batters to get through the PowerPlay unscathed.

"If you are losing three wickets in the Powerplay, it's really hard to win games from there. That's certainly one area that we got to get better at, getting through that Powerplay. None or one down would be a nice start to a run chase."

Prithvi Shaw single-handedly ticked that box on Thursday at the DY Patil Stadium with a breakneck 34-ball 61 which included nine fours and two sixes, but DC frittered away the foundation laid by the opener to post a below-par 149 on the board. While the head coach must've been a proud man as DC stood intact at 52/0 at the end of the PowerPlay, it all went downhill from there onwards. They crashed to 74/3 around the halfway mark and huffed and puffed to 149, managing just 19 runs in the last three overs – the second-lowest in IPL history when a side had two top-six batters on the crease.

As the oft-repeated adage goes, cricket is a team game. Individual brilliance can set up the game for you, but consolidation is the keyword. Shaw's stable base and lightning-quick hands meant DC were off to a flyer, a start so good if capitalised on well could ram the opposition out of the battle. However, the spin troika of K Gowtham, Ravi Bishnoi and Krunal Pandya stacked up the dot balls and converted the emerging pressure into wickets, leaving DC with a total that did great injustice to Shaw's blinder of a knock upfront.

In defence of the DC batters, the pitch was a little tacky. Though the freewheeling assassins that are Shaw and Quinton de Kock made it appear like an absolute road, the ball was gripping a touch, even in the overarching presence of dew. But when David Warner and Rovman Powell comprise your top-order and following the firepower with some more are Rishabh Pant and Sarfaraz Khan, the scoreboard isn't expected to come to a screeching halt.

Promoting Powell to one drop, ahead of Sarfaraz, was a tactical blunder on DC's part as it locked him up in a tussle with leggie Ravi Bishnoi, who still had three overs in his quota. It is understandable that they wanted to keep the tempo high as showman Shaw fell nicking to Gowtham, but it isn't wise to expose your best finisher to his most unfavourable match-up. Even during his century against England in Barbados, Powell had to see out Adil Rashid to clear the path for an assault. Unable to come to terms with the slowness of the surface and itching to get a move on, Powell heaved across the line only for the googly he didn't read to knock the stumps over. Bishnoi now had two in the kitty, having slanted one across the strike-starved Warner to elicit the top edge.

The brakes had been applied on the juggernaut but the ambition of a huge total hadn't died down entirely with Pant and Sarfaraz in the middle. The DC skipper has the lowest strike rate versus off-spinners since IPL 2020 and LSG were successful in cramping him for room as Gowtham bowled a maiden to Pant, who'd lumbered to 6 off 17 balls. Andrew Tye then fumbled a throw at the non-striker's end to reprieve Pant but the error wouldn't cost LSG much as DC managed only 32 runs in the last four overs. Tye and Jason Holder utilised the spongy bounce in the pitch with their cutters but also nailed the yorkers to keep a duo as enterprising as Pant and Sarfaraz in check. Holder, in fact, conceded no boundary in his two overs at the death and Pant was quick to admit that the failure to build onto the rock-solid platform led to DC's loss.

"When the dew is like that you can't be complaining, as a batting unit we were 10-15 short, at the end Avesh and Holder pulled it back, credit to them. We were talking about giving 100% till the last ball of the 40th over, no matter what happens [on his message to the team before the start of the 2nd innings]. The powerplay was fine, we didn't get any wicket, our spin attack did well in the middle overs but in the end we were 10-15 short,'' Pant reflected.

It didn't help Delhi's cause either that fit-again Anrich Nortje had a miserably poor outing. The express quick who had been retained by the franchise was wayward to an extent that he was taken off the attack after hurling two beamers, the latter fetching Quinton de Kock six awesome runs. Then again, the southpaw was sighting the ball so beautifully that it shouldn't be a surprise he was able to nudge a 150kmph full toss coming straight at his throat for a maximum over the keeper's head.

After his 52-ball 80 handed LSG their third win on the trot, De Kock said "It was a matter of just playing what's in front of you, reacting to it. It was a chaseable score. You want a decent start in the powerplay and we didn't want to get too ahead in the chase. Was important to keep wickets in hand. Prithvi did make it look easy, for me, I also felt that it was a slow surface. Even with the dew, there was a bit of grip. If we were chasing 180, might have been difficult but thanks to our bowlers.''

The two dozen runs that DC left out there due to the lack of a cohesive effort, in De Kock's view, swung the odds in LSG's favour. The match nonetheless turned into a nail-biter, but the fact that the winners had someone to shore up the innings after the tone was set made all the difference.