DC and SRH faced off for the penultimate clash of the season at Abu Dhabi. DC was coming off a pasting from MI and they looked the underdogs going into the eliminator clash. Shreyas Iyer’s men were coming off 5 losses from their last 6 games and SRH was riding high with 4 victories in their last 4 matches. On top of that, the DC batting has been misfiring for quite a few matches and their batting form touched a new low as they succumbed to 0-3 in a 200 plus chase against MI in Qualifier 1. On the contrary, both Warner and Williamson have been in a purple patch throughout the tournament and the addition of Holder has provided the Orange army with the right balance in the recent past. In short, everything has been going right for SRH, while for DC it has been a downward slide after a bright start to the tournament.
It is strange how one tactical change can turn the tide in your favor completely. Ricky Ponting has seen Marcus Stoinis open in the BBL and achieve reasonable success for the Melbourne Renegades. In a crunch match like this, the DC team management decided to give Stoinis a go at the top of the order. These kinds of strategic changes in big matches can prove to be masterstrokes like we saw today or can be detrimental like we saw for RCb last night. Luckily for Iyer’s men, the move to promote Stoinis at the top of the order proved fruitful.
Stoinis provided the initial momentum to the DC inning in the powerplay- something that they have been missing terribly in the last few matches. The burly Australian took on Sandeep Sharma and Jason Holder in the powerplay overs, forcing Warner to turn to the spin of Shahbaz Nadeem in the 6th over. The belligerent attack from one end gave Dhawan a few balls to settle down in the crease allowing him to set himself up for the long haul.
SRH bowlers were caught napping to Stoinis’ onslaught as DC raced to 65 off the powerplay. Rashid Khan had to be brought into the attack as early as the 7th over and though he scalped Stoinis with a beautiful leg-break in his second over, Stoinis had done his job by then. Shikhar Dhawan, who had started finding the middle of the bat by then, took matters into his own hand and ensured that DC did not get into a middle-over lull.
Dhawan showed maturity as he played out Rashid and tore apart Nadeem from the other end. The absence of the 5th bowler hurt SRH badly as the duo of Dhawan and Hetmeyer targeted Nadeem and Holder to take 99 from their 8 overs. Shikhar Dhawan played a fluent inning of 78 once again, to anchor the DC inning from one end. The fact, that Dhawan scored 603 runs in the season in spite of scoring 3 ducks, speaks volumes about how Shikhar has been the backbone of the Delhi batting this season.
Hetmeyer’s late over pyrotechnics threatened to push the DC to score over 200, but some excellent bowling from Natarajan ensured that SRH was restricted to 189-3. Amidst the carnage of Dhawan and Hetmeyer, 2 bowlers stood out for SRH. One was the much famous Rashid Khan, who is gaining so much respect from the opposition that they are deciding to play him out. And the other one was the much impressive yorker-king Natarajan. To concede just 32 from his 4 overs, in spite of bowling the toughest overs is amazing, especially when the opposition has scored at 9.5 per over.
SRH began on a somber note. Rabada dismissed Warner with a yorker, which was so identical to the yorker from Bumrah that dismissed Dhawan last night. Rabada & Bumrah- 2 bowlers who have assumed legendary status at such a young age dismissing the lynchpin of the opposition batting with inch-perfect yorkers in successive nights. This is the reason why IPL is the best T20 league in the world.
Priyam Garg could not cash in on the opening opportunity as he fell to a cross seamer from Stoinis, who had a dream night with the ball after his brisk innings with the bat. Stoinis dented SRH further by dismissing Manish Pandey off the same over. Pandey tried to power another cross seamer over the infield and was holed out at mid-off.
With 3 wickets down in the powerplay, SRH was again staring at their banker Williamson to rescue them out of trouble. Williamson, aided by Holder and then Samad at the other end started doing what he does the best – milking singles and doubles by piercing the gaps. Williamson was particularly severe on Ashwin and Axar as he used his brisk footwork to good effect to hit 1-2 boundaries per over against the spinners. In fact, Williamson’s onslaught meant that the DC spinners conceded 66 from their 7 overs.
Abdul Samad is another bright spot in the SRH lineup. He is somebody who strikes the ball cleanly and I hope we will see much more of him at the top of the order. He powered the serious pace of Nortje over the boundary and he shone almost as brightly as Williamson tonight. Just when Williamson was threatening to take the game away from DC, as they needed just 30 from the 2 overs that is when Superman Stoinis struck again.
It is fair to say that Stoinis’ intelligent bowling took DC to the finals, as with Williamson in the crease, SRH was going to chase that down. Having been slashed over point for a boundary earlier in the over, Stoinis slowed it up and threw it wider against Williamson, who mistimed it straight to Rabada and covers. The match was done then and there and Rabada’s trio of wickets in the penultimate over put an official mark on the same.
Will Stoinis’ brilliance overpower the Mumbai Indians? Or, will it be a 5th title for the men in blue? We will wait to find that out.