It took just three deliveries in the match for the first sign to be revealed. A length ball by Ishant Sharma wrapped Quinton de Kock on the thigh pad. The left-hander wasn’t really rushed, it was the spongy bounce that deceived him. Both Delhi Capitals and Mumbai Indians must’ve known then that the Feroz Shah Kotla track wasn’t going to offer too many runs.

If the first few deliveries were too early to tell, MI knew for sure soon after that runs were going to be hard to come by. “At the end of the second over, De Kock and I discussed that 140 would be a good total on that surface,” Rohit Sharma would go on to say in the post-match presentation after his side registered a 40-run victory.

Rohit won the toss and for the first time this season elected to bat. Captains in the Indian Premier League this year have on most occasions opted for the tried and tested method of fielding first and chasing down totals. The MI skipper’s decision left his counterpart Shreyas Iyer “surprised”, which was itself the first hint of how clueless the hosts were of their home conditions.

However, Rohit knew exactly what he was doing. He, along with De Kock, Suryakumar Yadav and Krunal Pandya, batted with restraint to take Mumbai Indians to 118/4 at the start of the 18th over. At that time, the visitors had Hardik Pandya at the crease and Kieron Pollard to come in next. The platform had been laid for two of the best finishers in the game.

Mumbai, though, didn’t need the services of Pollard as Hardik went berserk in the last three overs. The all-rounder, who has been phenomenal with the bat this season, plundered a 15-ball 32 and powered his team to 168/5 in 20 overs. It was an incredible knock, which would go on to earn Hardik the Player of the Match award, on a pitch that simply had no pace in it.

Mumbai had achieved a total that was well above their expectations. Although it was an above-par score, it wasn’t beyond reach. Delhi had matched Kolkata Knight Riders’ 185 at the same venue earlier in the tournament. They surely had the firepower to pull-off a similar chase.

The hosts did manage to get the start they were looking for. Prithvi Shaw carved Hardik for two boundaries in the first over, before Shikhar Dhawan took center stage. The left-hander, who has shown sparks of brilliance this season, timed the ball wonderfully from the get-go and hit a string of boundaries. At the end of the powerplay, Delhi Capitals had reached 48 for no loss. It was the first time in this campaign that they hadn’t lost a wicket in the opening six overs. However, it all went south for them from there on.

Delhi went from 49 for no loss to 76/5 in a span of 51 deliveries. All their proper batsmen – Dhawan, Shaw, Colin Munro, Iyer and Rishabh Pant – had been sent packing. MI leg-spinner Rahul Chahar returned with superb figures of 3/19 as the visitors went on to seal a one-sided win.

Own goals by DC

Now, Delhi’s loss can surely be pinned on yet another batting collapse. Three of their four defeats this season have been caused by a cluster of wickets falling in the middle overs. As their Head of Scouting Pravin Amre said after the match, they have no choice but to address this issue as the tournament nears its business end. But the disappointment against Mumbai on Thursday had the home team scoring two other own goals.

Firstly, Dhawan throwing his wicket away after scoring a quick-fire 35 off 22. On a pitch where batsmen walking in found it hard to get used to the pace, the experienced opener looked in complete control. The 33-year-old drove the ball fluently until he decided to attempt an inexplicable reverse-sweep and perished. When he got out, Delhi needed 120 off 94 with all their wickets intact. Had the senior pro stayed at the crease for a little while longer, his team would’ve been in a much more comfortable position and could well have avoided the collapse that was to follow.

Secondly, and most importantly, Delhi read their home conditions terribly wrong. Iyer may not have anticipated Rohit’s decision to bat first, but what was even more surprising was his decision to play just two spinners on a ridiculously slow pitch.

Mumbai went in with three spinners – Krunal, Chahar and Jayant Yadav – and among them they accounted for the first four Delhi wickets. The hosts, on the other hand, opted for a four-pronged pace attack, with just two spinners in the XI. And to make matters worse, Iyer didn’t even bowl the vastly experienced Amit Mishra, who rattled Rohit’s stumps off his first delivery, his full quota of overs.

The Kotla pitch has been consistently poor this season, with head coach Ricky Ponting even calling it out in public after Delhi’s loss to Sunrisers Hyderabad earlier in the tournament. “I think it is fair to say that the wicket surprised us a lot,” the Australian had said. “Talking to the groundsmen before the match, we thought this would be the best pitch that we had by far but it was the worst. You saw how little it bounced and how slow it was.”

As valid as Ponting’s concern is, Delhi simply have to find a way to win games at home. They have played four matches at the Kotla this season and lost three of them. Only Royal Challengers Bangalore, of course, have a worst home record. Even Mahendra Singh Dhoni had criticised the Chepauk track after the opening IPL game this year, but that hasn’t stopped the table-toppers from remaining undefeated at home.

“We practice in the nets on slow pitches but the surface is totally different when we come here for a match,” Iyer said the after the loss on Thursday. The Capitals can’t afford to use this excuse going forward as the race to the playoffs intensifies. They have five more league games to play, with three of them at home. In a season where Delhi has done remarkably well to win four away games by the halfway stage, the last thing they’d want is for their home ground to turn out to be their biggest enemy.