Scintillating strokeplay of Shikhar and Shaw leaves MS Dhoni shellshocked at IPL

Prithvi Shaw blasted out of the blocks in IPL 2021

Al Hotchkiss

The Delhi Capitals sent a huge opening statement to the rest of the 2021 IPL today, making a chase of a difficult target seem ridiculously easy. They beat the Chennai Super Kings by seven wickets in the opening game in the Mumbai-based bubble after an opening partnership of 138 in 13.3 overs between Prithvi Shaw and Shikhar Dhawan.

The Capitals were missing their first-choice seam attack in Anrich Nortje and Kagiso Rabada, but had no hesitation in sending the Super Kings in to bat first. Avesh Khan, selected in preference to Umesh Yadav, opened in tandem with Chris Woakes and was too full and fast for Faf Du Plessis, who rightly opted not to challenge his lbw decision.

By the first ball of the third over, both openers were back in the hutch, with Ruturaj Gaikwad pushing too hard at a swinging ball and edging to slip. Moeen Ali and Suresh Raina balanced stabilizing and counter-attacking through to the end of the powerplay, with the score by then 33 for two.

The England left-hander tried to take on Ashwin, initially finding success with consecutive straight sixes – the second one absolutely huge – but Ashwin stuck with it and got his man next ball as Moeen top-edged a reverse sweep to Dhawan, making good ground. Both Suresh Raina and Ambati Rayadu continued the onslaught him, though, adding another two maximums and Ashwin was bowled out by the 11th over having conceded 47 from his four overs.

With the return of Raina to the Super Kings side after missing the last IPL for personal reasons, it must feel like MS Dhoni's side has a new world-class signing, and if there was any rust, he didn't let it show with his customary muscling of the ball to all areas of the pitch.

Rayudu proved to be a very effective foil, and coupled with ineffective bowling, the run rate was up to nine by the time of the 14th over, during which Raina passed fifty off 32 balls.

The reintroduction of Tom Curran induced a mistimed shot from Rayudu, with Dhawan proving to be a ball magnet in the field, taking a third catch but Ravi Jadeja came in ahead of Dhoni, hinting at middle-order flexibility in the line up.

Raina's innings, however, was ended in calamitous fashion as Jadeja ran into Khan's back turning for a second run and then ran back to the non-striker's end, with no apparent call or look towards his partner. Raina, already halfway down the track, simply had nowhere to go but back to the pavilion. He was followed by his captain two balls later as Dhoni pulled at a ball and under-edged it on to his stumps.

There was some late innings game-within-a-game action between opposing Currans, especially in the important 19th over, when Tom was hit for 22 of the 40 runs he conceded in his four overs, 17 of them by his brother Sam, continuing his good form in India after the final ODI.

Delhi struggled with their line to the two left-handers, opening the leg-side for expansive late innings hitting, allowing a 50 partnership between the pair at a strike rate of 200. The Super Kings total of 188 seemed a little higher than par, but still achievable given the right start to the reply.

The right start is exactly what the Capitals got. Neither Shaw nor Dhawan was overly aggressive, relying on playing through the line. But by the end of the powerplay they had doubled CSK's score at the same point.

Dhoni tried to stem the tide of runs with spin through Jadeja and Moeen and it almost produced a breakthrough, but chances went begging, first as Bravo and Mitchell Santner made a mess and then when Gaikwad could not hold on as he dived forward. The context of the chase made it feel that these had to be taken and Shaw and Dhawan swept on to half-centuries in 27 and 35 balls respectively. Dhoni tried desperately to find a combination that would either build pressure or take a wicket but his efforts were akin to rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.

Dhawan was not hanging around but the batting of Shaw was sublime, one of those rare occasions when the bat seemed composed entirely of middle; even mis-timed shots seemed to fly for six. The run rate, just over nine at the beginning of the innings, was down to seven by the time Shaw holed out to deep cover, his feet slipping at the moment of contact.

His 72 off 38 balls with nine fours and three sixes was a delightful exercise in controlled aggression.

Losing a wicket after such an imposing stand could cause a loss of momentum, but is that really true if Rishabh Pant is the man coming in at No 3? The effect or lack of it that captaincy has on this young phenomenon will probably be something that is discussed throughout this tournament but given his displays against England, it was interesting to see that domestic bowlers really don't seem to know where to bowl to him either.

He settled quickly into the pace of the innings, playing second fiddle to Dhawan, whose great timing made it appear as if there was more room to hit the ball into than there actually was: when he started moving across his stumps, it was if he knew where the ball was going before it left the bowler's hand.

Dhawan was dismissed the one time he didn't move his feet, caught emphatically in front, but 85 off 54 balls was damage enough. Pant, Marcus Stoinis – who fell just before victory was completed, caught by a Sam Curran underused with the ball – and Shimron Hetmyer saw Delhi home with eight balls to spare.

There is a video of Ricky Ponting, coach of the Delhi Capitals, talking to his team last week. He mentions four key words for his team – Attitude, Effort, Commitment and Care. Their display, in all phases in this opening game showed that they have enough of each to be a force to be reckoned with this year.