Viru the destroyer

A job well done! Delhi Daredevils players celebrate after defeating Rajasthan Royals in the Indian Premier League match in New Delhi.-AP

With three half-centuries in a row, Virender Sehwag showcased his awesome form. The Delhi Daredevils skipper was in splendid touch, making the bowlers look mediocre. By Vijay Lokapally.

Close verdicts in some matches, no result in two and some lop-sided encounters made it an intense week of cricket in the Indian Premier League. Play in Kolkata and Bangalore was rained off, but there was plenty to savour for the paying public at the other venues.

Delhi Daredevils, once again, was the team to watch with three victories in three matches. It was a much improved performance from a team that finished at the bottom of the standings last year. Delhi Daredevils is the most feared outfit in the current tournament.

Virender Sehwag dominated the tournament at the halfway stage. His three half-centuries in a row only showcased his awesome form and his importance to Delhi Daredevils' cause. Sehwag was in splendid touch, making the bowlers look mediocre. With his nonchalant manner of scoring runs, Sehwag rubbed salt into the wounds of the bowlers as they came to grief against one of the finest batsmen of all time.

“What a batsman! What a player!” former Pakistan captain Rameez Raja gushed like and unabashed fan from the commentators' box. At another stage, Raja had confessed to being a “huge fan” of Sehwag. Why not? Contemporary cricket has not seen a batsman who can savage the opposition with such clinical precision as Sehwag.

Sehwag's scoring sequence has been blistering — 87 not out against Pune Warriors India, 73 against Mumbai Indians and 63 against Rajasthan Royals. There was hardly a moment of discomfort in his display as Sehwag tore apart the attack with his trademark aggression.

“Viru is ruthless and fearless,” wrote Mumbai Indian captain Harbhajan Singh. He should know, having been at the receiving end during a Ranji Tophy match more than 13 years ago. Sehwag was running fever but blasted Harbhajan with disdain to score a big century.

In control… Kolkata Knight Riders' Gautam Gambhir in action against Royal Challengers Bangalore. He scored a brilliant 93 in the match.-AP

Harbhajan remarked: “It is very difficult to contain Viru.” Many bowlers have said this in the past after being belted by Sehwag. The Delhi Daredevils skipper batted as if he wished to make a point by leading from the front. He had rued Delhi Daredevils missing out on a few players from the previous line-up, but this was a strong message to his detractors.

Delhi Daredevils won convincingly against Pune and Mumbai before notching a thrilling one-run victory against Rajasthan Royals. The contest between Delhi Daredevils and Rajasthan Royals was the pick of the matches. It had everything that a Twenty20 contest can offer.

There was some tight bowling and superb batting, not to forget a couple of amazing fielding moments, especially the catch that Ashok Menaria took to dismiss Sehwag by running and taking the ball low in front at deep covers. It was difficult to spot the flight of the ball and even more as it dipped.

Sehwag's batting lit up the first half and then Ajinkya Rahane reconfirmed his growing stature in the tournament as a batsman who could be relied upon in all conditions. His was a gallant show in adverse conditions, but alas, it went in vain.

Rahane almost pulled it off for Rajasthan Royals but Morne Morkel produced a superb piece of bowling in the penultimate over. Rajasthan Royals needed 15 runs from 12 balls and it was as good as over for Delhi Daredevils since Rajasthan had nine wickets in hand. But Morkel conceded only three runs.

Most teams would have got the runs. As Delhi Daredevils' bowler Ajit Agarkar observed, “They were obviously in the driver's seat till Morne bowled the 19th over. Scoring 12 runs in the last over is never easy.”

Rahane was on target when he sliced Umesh Yadav for a six. It was down to two off the last ball but Rahane missed an intended steer and Oawis Shah was run out while trying to steal a desperate single to tie the match.

Rajasthan Royals, and in particular Rahane, who scored an unbeaten 84, was devastated by the defeat. Rajasthan skipper Rahul Dravid said: “Rahane's very disappointed. He tried his best. He's batting extremely well this year in the IPL. If he carries on in the same vein, he will surely do well for the Indian squad. It was disappointing to lose from that position (138 for one after 18 overs). We had the game in our hand till the 18th over. Morne bowled a great over. You have to give him credit. He just bowled really well, it's not like he gave us scoring opportunities. He nailed his yorkers.”

After Delhi Daredevils, Mumbai Indians fared the best, winning two of its three matches. Sachin Tendulkar's failure with the bat was a concern, but Rohit Sharma and Ambati Rayudu scored at crucial stages against Kings XI Punjab in Mohali. David Hussey, leading in the absence of an injured Adam Gilchrist, made a significant 68 but Rayudu snatched the contest with some astounding shots. Rayudu was in his elements against Delhi Daredevils too, but the target remained elusive.

Royal Challengers' K.P. Appanna and wicketkeeper A.B. DeVilliers celebrate the dismissal of Owais Shah of Rajasthan Royals. Appanna bowled a tremendous spell to pick up four wickets in the match.-PTI

A professional performance by Royal Challengers Bangalore in Jaipur turned out to be a nightmare for the home team, Rajasthan Royals. T. Dilshan and A. B. de Villiers smashed the Rajasthan bowlers during a stand of 122 after Virat Kohli had flopped in the role of an opener. Poor fielding let Rajasthan down and then it was left clueless in batting as left-arm spinner K. P. Appanna bowled a tremendous spell to pick up four wickets.

For Manish Pandey, a knock of 80 against Delhi Daredevils was a heartening development but then his team ran into an inspired Sehwag. Nagging spells by spinners Shahbaz Nadeem and Pawan Negi left Pune frustrated with skipper Sourav Ganguly making no impact as batsman or bowler.

Deccan Chargers recorded its maiden win in Pune when it beat the home team, thanks mainly to a 78 by Cameron White. His innings gave Chargers the platform to press for a win. But Chargers came a cropper against Mumbai Indians to slip to the bottom of the table with just one win in eight matches.

Former Pakistan all-rounder Azhar Mahmood had a good outing against Chennai Super Kings. He bowled tightly in the closing stages to enable Punjab win by seven runs after opener Mandeep Singh had contributed 56 that fetched him the Man of the Match award.

For Kolkata Knight Riders, the win against Royal Challengers Bangalore meant taking the second slot with 11 points, behind Delhi Daredevils (14 points) after nine matches each. Skipper Gautam Gambhir excelled in that match with an innings of 93. Chris Gayle responded with a fine 86 but failed to alter the result as Knight Riders won by 47 runs.

Though there were a few individual performances here and there, the week belonged to Delhi Daredevils and its charismatic skipper Sehwag, who had a leading hand in the team's all three victories.

Star performers

Virender Sehwag: He just flashes a smile. A smile that reaffirms his attitude to batting! He may dismiss a good ball to the boundary without being nonplussed. The stadium may erupt in celebration but this stroke-player would already be focussing on the next ball, trying to read the bowler's mind and preparing his assault.

Sehwag loves to hit the ball hard, or sometimes just caress it to the boundary. He is always an entertainer with his style of play. Three half centuries in a row, all in winning causes, has placed him at the top of the list of match-winners.

S. SUBRAMANIUM

Ajinkya Rahane: He is unflinching and has a good temperament. He is very professional and has a pleasant range of shots. In the match against Delhi Daredevils, he was at his best in the company of Rahul Dravid. The two gave Daredevils the jitters and Rahane nearly pulled off a victory single-handedly. There was a touch of class in his knock and it was a pity that he ended up on the losing side despite such brilliant batting. As Dravid observed, Rahane was clearly the most improved batsman in the league with a promise to serve Indian cricket in the near future.

Ambati Rayudu: He has been the biggest under-achiever in recent times. The big break never came his way even though he played with distinction in the junior grade, rising to become the India under-19 captain too. He was rated high by Greg Chappell but this talented batsman lost his way when it mattered most. He was also not handled well by his state and valuable time was lost as Rayudu worked hard to impress the National selectors. His improvisation in the middle and the confidence that marks his batting makes him a difficult batsman to deal with. He deserves a break in the higher league.

S. SUBRAMANIUM

Morne Morkel: He loves to compete, loves to make things difficult for the batsmen.

A fast bowler to the core, he firmly believes in bowling to take wickets even in the Twenty20 format. Scorching pace is his forte. And he is not averse to nodding in appreciation if the batsman plays a good shot. For this South African speedster, fast bowling is the most loved profession and he gives his best, whatever the situation. The penultimate over against Rajasthan Royals, where he conceded just three runs, was the most outstanding piece of bowling in the tournament.