Before the match between Sunrisers Hyderabad and Delhi Capitals started, batsmen all over the Indian Premier League must have had their heads in the clouds. The reason for that was simple. We had seen 29 sixes in the Rajasthan Royals vs Kings XI Punjab match followed by 26 more in the Royal Challengers Bangalore vs Mumbai Indians match. Batsmen must have been feeling they could hit anything and everything out of the ground.
But then the cricket moved to Abu Dhabi and the conditions gave the bowlers some breathing space. The batsmen could still play their shots but on a two-paced wicket, they had to abandon the recklessness; they had to pick and choose which balls they would attack.
Batting first, SRH put on 162/4 thanks to some very smart cricket by David Warner, Jonny Bairstow and Kane Williamson. They kept wickets in hand and then accelerated ever so slowly. This wasn’t the kind of wicket where one could just hammer their way out of trouble; rather you had to build and wait for the loose ball.
Williamson, playing his first match of the season, showed how it had to be done. He relied on timing and placement, rather than brute power. And it worked. His 41 off 26 balls gave the SRH innings a boost just when it was needed.
Still, a target of 163 against a powerful Delhi batting line-up, that included Prithvi Shaw, Shikhar Dhawan, Shreyas Iyer, Rishabh Pant, Shimron Hetmyer and Marcus Stoinis, was not going to be easy to defend.
But then over the years, this was precisely the kind of situation – a wicket that afforded some help to the bowlers and a middling total – that allowed SRH to shine brightest.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar had looked a little off-colour in the first two games but his set-up to send Shaw back was beautiful. The first four deliveries were all angled into the right-hander and then, he got the fifth one to move away, take the edge and go through to the keeper. There is always talk of how T20 comes with its own set of rules but to see Bhuvneshwar deceive Shaw was pleasing in an old-fashioned way... the kind where one knowingly nods.
It wasn’t a one-man show either. Early on, T Natarajan got his line and length right too. The first over went for just 5 runs and the second for 7. The 29-year-old had first shot into the limelight in 2017 when KXIP made him the highest-paid uncapped Indian player. But he played just 6 games, had an ER of 9.07 and picked just two wickets. Too big a jump, they said.
But on Tuesday, he showed that he never stopped working on his game. Natarajan bowled nine yorkers on the night - that is more than any other team (as a whole) has managed in a match so far this season and quite a few of them were bowled at the death. The DC batsmen were simply unable to get them away.
As a unit, SRH sent down 16 yorkers against DC. The next best by any team is just 7 by KXIP against RR.
The best show of the night, however, was delivered by a spinner. Leg-spinner Rashid Khan used variations of flight, spin and speed to great effect as he devastated the DC batting order. He got the first ball he bowled to Shreyas Iyer to spin past the outside edge and from that point he knew he was going to be a factor.
He reserved his finest for Pant though. Iyer fell early and then he sent back Dhawan too. But by the time match moved into the second half, the DC keeper was set and more than capable of a quick blast.
But Rashid simply didn’t let him. He bowled 9 balls to Pant, conceded just 3 runs and got his wicket too. Each ball seemed to add to the pressure and eventually, the left-hander succumbed. Rashid finally bowling figures were a fantastic 4-0-14-3. In only three matches across his career has he taken more wickets and registered a better economy.
After SRH’s 15-run win, there is talk that as IPL 2020 goes on the pitches (because of repeated wear and tear) will get slower and help spinners more. If that does happen, one can’t help but feel that Warner’s team will be among the frontrunners. They have always been a team that backed the bowlers to do the job and if the conditions are in their favour even the biggest hitters won’t have it easy.
And in case you were wondering, DC managed to hit just 5 sixes and 9 fours in their innings. A bowling masterclass that – after the previous two matches – would have given hope to bowlers across the league. The balance, as one might say, has been restored.