After a series of games at properly sized grounds, the action tonight shifted again to the cauldron of Sharjah- a ground which is essentially equivalent to a large indoor cricket facility, in terms of dimensions. On paper, it was a clash between the second team in the league table- Delhi Capitals and the second last team- Rajasthan Royals. It might have looked at the outset to be an uneven competition, but RR is the kings of Sharjah. DC has played exceedingly well against KKR at this venue and the sandy turf of Sharjah awaited a mouth-watering clash between the two North Indian states.

Smith won the toss and decided to bat first. I found it pretty intriguing as in both their victories at Sharjah, RR had racked up a huge score in the first inning and then demolished their opposition under scoreboard pressure. Especially considering the strong batting line up of Delhi, I must say Smith showed quite a bit of courage to send the Capitals in to bat first.

Prithvi Shaw

DC came out to bat with the same plan they had against RCB. Prithvi Shaw’s role from the last match had been to attack all-out in the powerplay and he did exactly the same today as well. Dhawan was supposed to anchor the inning from the other end. However, the issue that came up today, was that unlike the RCB match, Shaw got dismissed in the powerplay. Dhawan, who was supposed to anchor the inning for the team, fell cheaply as well. Finally, a freakish moment of genius from Yashasvi Jaiswal resulted in Iyer’s runout to leave DC crippled at the end of the powerplay.

 Smith, as most great captains do, learned from his mistake in the last match and opened with his best bowler tonight- Jofra Archer. Dhawan and Shaw both looked uncomfortable against the extra pace of Archer and the slam-bang version of cricket that DC is so used to playing in the powerplay got thwarted due to some excellent bowling by Jofra. A 3-wicket powerplay made sure that DC was left to play the catchup game in the middle overs- the outright advantage of bowling your lead bowler upfront.

The responsibility to consolidate the DC inning in the middle overs was entrusted on Pant and Stoinis. Stoinis is looking in sublime form this IPL, as his feet are moving briskly against spin from the start-something that has rarely happened in his career. Pant, on the other hand, is showing no signs of improvement in temperament, in spite of the abundance of opportunities he is getting. Tonight, his runout was a gift of a wicket to RR. At a point in the game, where Pant should have looked to build a solid base to capitalize in the slog overs, he wandered out of his crease not looking at Stoinis, resulting in an easy run-out in the process.

Marcus Stoinis of Delhi Capitals

A good solid inning of 39 from Stoinis got cut off untimely, by a Tewatia leg break that jumped up from good length and took Stoinis’ top edge to point. Tewatia’s bowling figures looked fabulous tonight, as he bowled with control and accuracy to trouble the batsmen. The most striking feature of Tewatai’s spell was that he never looked to flight the ball, but zipped it through with pace, much like Rashid Khan. I wonder whether this will be Tewtia’s strategy going forward.

Hetmeyer and Axar provided the finishing flourish for DC to take the score above 180. Hetmeyer was particularly brutal against Tye and Kartik Tyagi scoring a whirlwind 45 off 24 deliveries. I was honestly surprised by the selection of Tye in the playing 11. A couple of years ago, Tye used to be a champion T20 bowler with a repertoire of yorkers, short balls, knuckleballs, and cutters up his sleeve. But over the last 2 years, he has lost yards of pace. Earlier his yorkers were hitting the batsmen at 145 kmph and the slower balls were foxing the batsmen at 110 kmph. However, now his faster deliveries have dropped to 130 kmph resulting in the ineffectiveness of his slower deliveries.

RR came out to bat with the young Jaiswal and the explosive Butler, at the fore. Butler tried bludgeoning every ball from the word go. However, this was not the same belter of a Sharjah pitch- that has hosted all the matches till now. Today the game was being played on an adjacent hard pitch, which was assisting hit-the-deck kind of pace bowling. Spinners were also extracting bounce from this new pitch, making the battle between bat and ball far more competitive.

Yashasvi Jaiswal of Rajasthan Royals and Steve Smith captain of Rajasthan Royals

Butler’s angry hack across the line, to a delivery of Ashwin, found a flying Dhawan at square leg. RR was thus rocked early. Smith looked a lot calmer in the crease tonight, looking to time the balls into gaps to cream singles. Smith and Jaiswal consolidated the RR inning and looked like building the foundation for an excellent run-chase.

The fact that Jaiswal got stuck in the middle meant that Smith needed to play the high-risk shots from the other end. He mistimed one of his signature flicks off Nortje to be magnificently caught by Hetmeyer at deep square leg. The dismissal of Smith marked the beginning of disarray for RR. There is something with Sanju Samson that happens each IPL after the first few matches. He impresses big time in the first couple of matches and then threads a series of low scores to ultimately fizzle out mid-season. This has been his typical performance trajectory for the last 3-4 seasons now and this year, it is looking no different.

Marcus Stoinis of Delhi Capitals celebrates the wicket

Tonight, Samson miscued a heave off Stoinis towards long-on only to be caught at deep midwicket. Stonis, for me, was the standout performer for DC in this match. He scored runs with the bat, and scalped 2 important wickets in the form of Samson and Jaiswal with the ball, to seal off the match for his team. Ashwin looked at his potent best today after quite a long time, as he used his variations well to take full advantage of the pitch. The scalping of Butler from his 3rd delivery of the spell may have egged him on for the entire match (Ashwin –Bulter, and Mankading had rocked IPL last season).

Tonight Ashwin picked up Lomror in addition to Butler, to end with stunning figures of 2 for 20 from his 4 overs. Rabada came in the slog overs and wrapped up the tail to complete a comprehensive win for DC by 46 runs. The highest scorer for RR was Tewatia with 38. The majority of those runs came after the match was already lost.

DC and MI are looking much ahead of the rest of the teams this IPL. Nortje and Rabada are bowling well at the death. They have Keemo Paul waiting in the dressing room, in case Nortje loses form. However, worries galore more for RR after this match. Stokes will be joining the team from the next match and he has to create some magic to pull the men in pink out of the pit, they have slid into. Well knowing Stokes, you can expect the same from him.