The Dubai International Stadium welcomed DC and KXIP tonight in the Ring of Fire. These 2 teams played their first match against each other a few weeks ago and that ended in a super over. KXIP team just went down and down after that super over loss in the first match and are struggling to be in contention for the playoffs. DC, on the other hand, has soared to the peak of the table and is looking to establish its position in the playoffs in the next couple of matches.

DC won the toss and chose to bat on a belter of a pitch at Dubai. Pant was finally back into the team and that meant Hetmeyer could be back as well. While Rahane and Carey are excellent players, they could never adapt themselves to the pace of the UAE wickets, to be honest. I personally felt that Hetmeyer returning to the team added more value to DC than Pant. KXIP bolstered their batting by including Neesham in place of Jordan.

There are 2 players in world cricket, who look like they cannot bat when they are not scoring runs. The same two players look like never getting out when they are in form. No prizes for guessing that I am talking about Shikhar Dhawan and Shane Watson- the definition of an oxymoron in the cricket field. Shikhar Dhawan’s bat comes from the third man and sometimes gully when he is out of form. In fact, in the first few matches where he was scoring at just around 100-120 strike-rate, his bat swing left a huge gap between bat and pad.

Then that decisive inning against MI happened, where his slow 60 had cost DC the match. Dhawan has been a different batsman ever since. Suddenly from the next match, his bat swing started from the third man, and including today he scored 4 consecutive 50s on the trot in the last 4 matches. The last time, he has looked in such devastating form was against Sri Lanka in Galle in 2017, where he decimated the Lankan bowling to score 190 at around 100 strike rate in a test match.

Today he looked like carrying his form from the last match perfectly. The cover drives, the square cuts, and the straight drives connected with extraordinary timing. The disdain with which he despatched the express pace of Shami down the ground simply spoke volumes about the kind of talent the left-hander possesses.

He looked equally at ease against the wrist spin of Bishnoi and Murugan Ashwin as well. Today he employed an interesting strategy against the spinners. Dhawan’s go-to shot against spin is the slog sweep. He does not like stepping out and hitting the ball down the ground. However, sweep has proved to be his undoing quite a lot of times in the tournament against spinners, as he gets trapped in front of the stumps if the ball misses the willow. Today, interestingly he took a leg-stump guard to avoid that nemesis. Though he missed a couple of slog sweeps against Bishnoi, his leg stump guard ensured that the impact was outside leg stump.

Shikhar Dhawan scored another century, but unfortunately, nobody could stick around with him from the other end. The next best score in the DC line up was 14 by Shreyas Iyer and they finished with just a par score of 164 in spite of the brilliant century from Shikhar.

I have always rated best captains by their ability to identify and trust players and then back them. Backing a player can pay rich dividends for the team and I will pick out an example here. Back in 1971, in India’s historic series victory against England, BS Chandrasekhar was having an average tour till the third and final match of the series. The first 2 games have been drawn and while Chandrasekhar looked economical with the ball, he did not look penetrative. With 2 quality spinners at his disposal in the form of Venkatraghavan and Bishen Singh Bedi, Ajit Wadekar could have afforded to drop Chandra for the third and final test. The great captain, as Wadekar was, he backed his champion leg-spinner to perform in the final test match. Chandrasekhar repaid his captain’s faith by ripping apart the English middle order with figures of 6-38 in the 2nd inning of the third test match resulting in India’s first test series victory against England.

I see similar virtue in Captain KL. Irrespective of how his team has performed in the tournament, he has backed Maxwell. In fact, he has handed over the ball to Glen Maxwell in the past few matches to enhance his game confidence. Maxwell has bowled well and has functioned as a good off-spin option for KL in the last few matches, but today he finally came good as an allrounder for his team. Strangling Rishabh Pant and finally scalping his wicket after conceding just 30 from his 4 overs is something that any 6th bowler would be proud of. In addition to his bowling exploits, Glen came out to bat and scored an important 32 off 24 deliveries to take KXIP to the brink of victory.

KXIP’s inning began with mindlessness once again.  KL Rahul was dismissed by what I would say a tired shot from the right-hander. Mayank Agarwal got run out courtesy of a terrible misunderstanding with Nicholas Pooran and Gayle was dismissed by his forever archenemy Ravi Ashwin. KXIP was reduced to 56-3 in the powerplay.

With 3 wickets down and KXIP staring at elimination from the playoffs, two freaky geniuses, who have often been accused of irresponsible batting, joined hands. The mature partnership of 69 from 39 deliveries between Maxwell and Pooran which rebuilt the chase and brought KXIP to the doors of victory, speaks so much about how a captain’s trust can change you as a player. Pooran is another player that KL Rahul has stuck to despite his hit-and-miss kind of game and he p[aid rich dividends tonight. From a position of disadvantage, he counterattacked DC bowling despatching Deshpande Stoinis and Axar with contempt over square leg and long-on.

While Pooran raced to a magnificent 53 off 28 deliveries Maxwell played the role of a senior partner and just rotated the strike. Having run out of o[ptions, Iyer brought on his premier fast bowler into the attack earlier than he wanted to, Rabada doesn’t know how to disappoint his captain. He accounted for Pooran and Maxwell off 2 successive overs to show a gleam of hope for DC.  

However, the underrated Deepak Hooda and Jimmy Neesham ensured that there were no hiccups in the Punjab chase and they romped to victory with 1 over to spare. With 8 points from 10matches. KXIP are now positioned 5th in the table. With 3 wins from the last 3 matches, they are looking like a resurgent side. Will this momentum take KXIP to the playoffs? We will wait to find that out soon.