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Delhi win big despite Uthappa resistance

Wisden India logo Wisden India 30-04-2016

Less than halfway into their campaign in the Indian Premier League 2016, Delhi Daredevils are dangerously close to equalling their highest tally of wins in the last three seasons. With four wins from seven games – the latest a 27-run triumph over the fancied Kolkata Knight Riders at the Feroz Shah Kotla in New Delhi on Saturday (April 30) – the little devils on the shoulder may be temporarily silenced, allowing this group to dare to dream of a spot in the playoffs this season.

When Delhi almost pulled off a stunning heist against Gujarat Lions in their previous game, losing by one run after a Chris Morris blinder, there was much grumbling about their team composition. After all, few teams field three wicketkeepers in a playing XI. They went one better on the day, completing the quorum, bringing Sam Billings in for the indisposed JP Duminy, making it four men who could don the big gloves.

But Sam lived up to the billing, celebrating his IPL debut with a cheery half-century and a face-saving, innings-building 105-run partnership with Karun Nair.

Put in to bat, Delhi began disastrously, losing Shreyas Iyer for a duck, trapped in front first ball playing across the line, and Quinton de Kock, heaving to square-leg. At 2 for 2, there was a genuine feeling of here we go again, and Sanju Samson did little to calm the nerves when he was dismissed to make it 32 for 3.

Nair and Billings then set to work, the Indian taking up the responsibility of rebuilding while the Englishman went about enjoying himself and entertaining the crowd with some pleasing shots. It was not as though Nair was beyond playing shots, but he clearly wanted to ensure that he stayed at the crease for a long time, and the fact that Billings kept the scoreboard ticking over made this task easier.

When Nair fell, having made 68 off 50 balls, trapped in front by a skidder from Umesh Yadav, the hero of the last game, Morris, walked out to loud cheers. As is so often the case, though, the cricket gods spurn one day those they had smiled on only two moons before. Morris, advancing to Yadav, swung and missed, and was cleaned up for a duck, a far cry from his 32-ball unbeaten 82 against Gujarat.

Billings, all along, had driven, clipped, sliced, swept and pulled with all the joy of a child being allowed to hobnob with his friends after a week spent indoors doing his vacation homework. When Billings (54 in 34 balls) was dismissed, Delhi turned to Carlos Brathwaite to do his thing, and he duly obliged, tonking 34 off only 11 balls, the same number of runs for one extra ball faced as that innings in the World Twenty20 final.

With 186 on the board, Delhi would have felt they had done enough with the bat to even out whatever advantage Kolkata had coming into the game with a set line-up, in-form players and proven matchwinners. And so it proved, despite a fine hand from Robin Uthappa, who threatened to bat through the innings and take his team over the line.

It was Zaheer Khan who put his foot in the door for Delhi, getting Gautam Gambhir early, the batsman closing the face of the bat early to spear a catch to cover. Piyush Chawla was elevated to take a big bite of the pie at No. 3, but he only managed a nibble before Zaheer trapped him in front of the stumps.

With exactly five bowlers in their line-up – unless you counted Nair or Iyer as an option, and that would have been foolhardy on a bald surface – Delhi were forced to persist with Brathwaite even as he went at nearly 12 runs an over. This worked out for them in the end as Yusuf Pathan (10), Suryakumar Yadav (21) and R Sathish (6) all contrived to get out to the medium pace of the tall West Indian.

With wickets falling at the other end, it was all down to Uthappa, and he seemed up to the ask. Clipping the ball off his toes with practiced ease, driving on the up with confidence and going back to pull with assurance, Uthappa had taken the game deep, entering the 18th over with 36 needed but not much company to help him. Off the fourth ball of that over, delivered by Morris, all Kolkata hope was extinguished as Uthappa (72 in 52 balls) tried to slant one behind square on the off side and only found the point fielder.

The Kolkata tail did not wag and a well-oiled Delhi team bowled the opposition out for only 159 in 18.3 overs, winning comfortably. Delhi had been exceptional in the field, Iyer being the star, and the perennially unlucky Amit Mishra deserved far better returns than he ended with. On the day, he won’t complain, though, for Delhi got what they came for, a victory in their penultimate home game at the Kotla.

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