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Morris magic can’t save Delhi as Gujarat prevail in thriller

Wisden India logo Wisden India 27-04-2016

In the best underdog teams, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It was on this Aristotlean ethos that the Rajasthan Royals enjoyed wave after wave of success, and it came as little surprise that the 2016 Delhi Daredevils, a reincarnation of the deposed Royals, adopted a similar approach. And the fairy tale continued against Gujarat Lions at the Feroz Shah Kotla on a fantastical Wednesday evening, even if they ended up losing a thriller by the smallest of margins.

Delhi just did not have the firepower to stop the belligerent Dwayne Smith-Brendon McCullum duo soon enough, but through Chris Morris and JP Duminy, they willed themselves towards victory from the cold embrace of defeat.

To chase down a serious target, Delhi needed Quinton de Kock to do the powerlifting, but when he became the middle part of three quick Dhawal Kulkari strikes that brought run-making to a halt at 16 for 3, the writing seemed to be on the wall.

That Delhi ground their way to the slowest team 50 of the 2016 Indian Premier League, off 59 balls, in stark contrast to Gujarat’s effort earlier in the evening, off 23 balls, the fastest of this edition, only lengthened the odds further.

When Duminy and Morris came together, 126 were still needed, off only 56 balls, with barely any batting to follow. Duminy started the engine, but it was Morris who brought the fuel injection. From picking off James Faulkner and sweeping him for six, to launching Praveen Tambe for consecutive sixes over midwicket, Morris was hitting the ball more cleanly than anyone on the day. Smith, who had launched a few rockets of his own, was sent for a hat-trick of sixes, the second of which took Morris to the fastest half-century of this IPL, off only 17 balls.

Even the fall of Duminy, for a 43-ball 48 at the end of an 87-run stand, did not spell the end. With 14 needed off the final over, Morris blasted Dwayne Bravo to cover, but the ball burst through Faulkner’s hands and sped to the fence. Two singles later, Morris was back on strike with eight needed from three. Twice off the next two balls, Morris drove to long-on, Eklavya Dwivedi, the substitute fielder throwing to the wicketkeeper’s end, and miraculously Morris got home on both occasions.

A boundary was needed off the final ball but Bravo found the blockhole yet again and run as Morris would, Delhi fell short, by one run. Morris, unbeaten on 82 from only 32 balls, had put in a superhuman effort, but cruelly, on the day, even this was not enough.

Zaheer Khan’s instinct as a leader of a bowling attack is without question, but more than a few eyebrows were raised when Delhi put him in charge of their team. Initially it appeared that Delhi had a made a mistake confusing leadership with captaincy, as the only thing that went in Zaheer’s favour was the toss, as he was taken to the cleaners after putting Gujarat in to bat. Smith and McCullum were in the mood, and when the mood takes such a combination, there is precious little the opposition bowling can do than ask questions and wait for a mistake. Batting became a literal rendition of that ageless tagline of closing down sales: everything must go.

Smith began the carnage, taking four fours off Zaheer’s first over. McCullum took over for the next couple of overs, lofting Shahbaz Nadeem over long-off and then carved Zaheer over cover before clattering one over midwicket. As if to show he could also clear the ropes, Smith waded into Nadeem, timing him effortlessly over long-off.

Suffice it to say there was little respite and the Delhi bowling soon wore the look of a mismatched boxer in a heavyweight fight – battered and bruised. At the end of the six Power Play overs, Gujarat were 71 without loss. Stretch this to the second milestone, the halfway mark of the innings, and the openers were still unseparated, with 110 runs on the board.

The next three overs brought Delhi back into the game. The 11th, bowled by Imran Tahir, cost only five runs, and included the wicket of Smith (53 off 30 balls), trapped in front by a googly. The 12th over, sent down by Chris Morris, cost only two runs and crucially, accounted for McCullum (60 off 36 balls), bowled by a full one, and Suresh Raina, tucking a short ball climbing onto his ribs around the corner for a simple catch. Tahir then conceded only three off the 13th over, bringing to an end an 18-ball sequence that yielded three wickets and cost Delhi only ten runs.

With the momentum firmly on Delhi’s sides, the run-flow was brought back down to human proportions and the wickets came regularly enough. From 110 for no loss in ten overs, Gujarat suddenly found themselves at 142 for 6 from 16.5 overs. But, the benefit of that flurry at the top of the order, and a late push from James Faulkner (22*) lifted Gujarat to 172 for 6. Zaheer, after bowling a typically wily penultimate over where batsmen could barely lay bat to ball, had still endured four wicketless overs conceding 48 runs. Of Delhi’s bowlers, only Tahir, with 3 for 24, would want to remember this particular outing. Morris, with 2 for 35, however, will forever remember this as the day he almost outplayed the Lions singlehandedly.

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