Daredevils, a different entity this time

Delhi Daredevils' Shahbaz Nadeem celebrates with Captain Virender Sehwag on getting J.P. Duminy's wicket during the IPL match against Deccan Chargers.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

Delhi Daredevils gained the most as the IPL reached the halfway stage. Deccan Chargers, strangely, failed to open its account, while Royal Challengers and Kings XI Punjab, slipped in rankings. Over to Vijay Lokapally.

Delhi Daredevils made steady progress as the IPL reached the halfway stage. As a team, it made a huge impression. The Indian Premier League (IPL) was a nightmare for Daredevils last season as it finished at the bottom. “Those were miserable days,” Virender Sehwag would remember. The failures of IPL 4 are buried and forgotten now. The team is chasing a dream and the contributions are coming from every member, even those who occupy the dugout and cheer.

In Sehwag, the team has a brave leader. That he believes in setting an example is well known, but it is also very pleasing to see him back his players. “I am doing what a captain is expected to do,” he explains.

But he was more than a leader when Pawan Negi, a promising all-rounder from Delhi, made his IPL debut. It was a big occasion for Negi and he was looking forward to making his presence felt. The encouragement came from Sehwag, who observed, “He is a good player and also a good hitter so we decided to send him up the order. If a left-arm spinner is going to bowl Negi would have an over to take a chance and hit him hard. But as he was playing his first game and that also on such a big platform, I can understand he might have been under a bit of pressure. He is a good allrounder, can field well, bowl his left arm spin and bat well too. I have played with him, in Ranji Trophy and T20 matches, where he has won us the game by hitting a six on the last ball.” So Negi knows his job well.

Negi was a proud member of a team that climbed to the top slot in the third week of the tournament. Winning four of its six matches meant that Daredevils had got its combination right. As Sehwag observed, “Having big players in the side doesn't make sure that you will always have victory in hand. But yes, having experienced and big players in your side does help you when the target is say 140 or 150. But when the target is 190 it doesn't matter what kind of batting line-up you have. What matters is that you have to keep hitting for all the 20 overs and that also at a run rate of ten per over which is a difficult task.”

Sehwag's views were endorsed by Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) captain Daniel Vettori. “The difficult part of IPL is fitting in four foreign players and with so many good players available you are bound to leave them out even if they deserve to be in the final XI. At the moment our strategy is to go with three batsmen between Chris (Gayle), AB (de Villiers), (Tillakaratne) Dilshan and Andrew (McDonald). So it obviously rules out (Muttiah) Murali.”

Daredevils was bolstered by Kevin Pietersen, the English batsman who crafted a brilliant century at the Ferozeshah Kotla against Deccan Chargers. It was one of the better contests of the competition as Chargers looked in control and threatened Daredevils at one stage but Pietersen ensured there were no alarms.

More than Pietersen, the player who made the most from this match was Jharkhand left-arm spinner Shahbaz Nadeem. Having almost quit the game to pursue studies,Nadeem did his family and team proud with his skilful bowling. “He can surprise many batsmen,” said Pietersen even as Sehwag praised the left-arm spinner, “He is a good lad. He knows how to use his experience of domestic cricket.

Rajasthan Royals' Brad Hodge was in his elements against Deccan Chargers.-R.V. MOORTHY

“I am also lucky and honoured to be leading a side which has three captains from different countries,” Sehwag had remarked at the beginning of the tournament. Pietersen, Mahela Jayawardene and Ross Taylor ensured their support and Daredevils gained immensely.

Winning against Mumbai Indians in Mumbai was a special occasion for Sehwag and his men. In a low-scoring match, Nadeem made an early impression by claiming Richard Levi and Davy Jacobs. These two early blows created the winning course for Daredevils as Mumbai Indians was skittled out for a paltry 92. The crushing defeat hurt Mumbai Indians which clearly missed Sachin Tendulkar.

Rajasthan Royals scored a superb win against Chargers thanks to the clinical batting by Brad Hodge. His unbeaten 48 off 21 balls came at a stage when Chargers appeared to have wrapped up the contest. The target (197) was indeed stiff but then the surface was as placid as one could ask for. There was nothing for the bowlers and even Dale Steyn came a cropper as he came in for some severe caning in his last two overs. That he conceded 44 runs showed how off-the-mark Steyn was in this contest. But credit to Hodge for giving the finishing touches to a job well begun by Rahul Dravid and Ajinkya Rahane.

RCB won a last-ball battle against Pune Warriors at home. Chris Gayle made a blazing assault but the job was only half done when he departed at 127 after making a typically dashing 81 off 48 balls (four 4s and eight 6s). Saurabh Tiwary and AB de Villiers finished the job to leave Chargers frustrated.

Five defeats in five matches hardly reflected the true strength of Chargers. It struggled at the crucial stages and came to grief even in matches it dominated for most part.

RCB too slipped in rankings, just as Kings XI Punjab, which suffered four defeats in seven matches. Shaun Marsh was the lone fighter for Punjab. He began shakily but went on to make substantial contributions with the bat. It was a tricky chase against Mumbai Indians. The target was 164 and Mumbai was a determined lot in front of its home crowd. But Marsh had made up his mind. He batted like a professional and crafted a victory that meant a lot to Punjab.

The rise of Pune Warriors was praiseworthy. Led by the mercurial Sourav Ganguly, the team came to terms with its strength and won a good contest against Daredevils at the Kotla. Chennai Super Kings stayed in the hunt too, but Pune, Rajasthan and Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) played better cricket in this phase of the tournament.


Faf du Plessis: A low-profile top-order batsman can always be an asset. Like this energetic South African. At 27 he has the desired experience to make an impact and playing for Chennai Super Kings he did it in style against Pune Warriors and Rajasthan Royals. In back-to-back matches he left his mark by showing the way against Pune and guiding the chase against Rajasthan. With knocks of 58 and 73 he played dominant roles in Chennai's two crucial victories. His unhurried style is unique even in this format. His drives can win your heart and his brilliant fielding makes him a valuable all-rounder in the Twenty20 format.

Kevin Pietersen: He's a delight in all forms of the game. There is a certain assurance that marks his stay at the crease and he is known to translate his good form into big innings. His self-confidence is evident in the ease with which he innovates. Of course, he likes to bat straight but there are times when his cross-batted swipes can scatter the field. His switch-hit is too well known and his century against Deccan Chargers was a gem. Crafting an unbeaten 103 off 64 balls with six fours and nine sixes showed his ability to raise his game when it mattered. His back-foot play was awesome indeed.

Sourav Ganguly: His histrionics at Kotla after claiming the wicket of Kevin Pietersen was a real sight. With his right fist raised the affable Dada just kept running.

It was his first ball and he had got such a prized scalp! Pietersen swung and did not connect. As the ball hit the stumps, Ganguly exploded, setting off on a celebratory run that must have come as a surprise to some of his former colleagues. Ganguly's passion to play and win was his strong point but this aspect was new. His emotional response was possibly a pent up reaction from a man who loves to be in the limelight.

Shahbaz Nadeem: A left-arm spinner from Jharkhand. Hardly in the news despite some above average performances in the Ranji Trophy. But then the plate division hardly attracts attention and this young man just grabbed the opportunity when it arrived. He may have claimed only six wickets but it is the confidence with which he has bowled that has stood out. For a 22-year-old, his performance in this demanding format is praiseworthy indeed. He stood his ground even as the batsmen went after him. This confidence should carry him far, not to forget the nice words that skipper Virender Sehwag and Pietersen have for him.