Rajasthan Royals April 30, 2012

Wait till Delhi’s cookie crumbles

They’ll conquer all in the league games, then do a belly flop in the knockouts

At the risk of spoiling their top-of-the-table party, I should remind Delhi fans that the men in blue and red are deceitful blighters and they’ve been here before. They own the group matches, spank every franchise in sight and then saunter into the knockout stages as casually as David Gower wandering along the counter at the breakfast bar trying to decide between waffles and pancakes.

And then it all goes wrong. With a final on the horizon, Irfan will trip over his shoelaces and dislocate his nose, the nutritionist will mix up Morne’s rocket-fuel smoothie with Mahela’s jasmine-and-green-tea sedative drink, and Viru will decide that at long last the moment has come to unveil his left-handed alter-ego, Vincent. Delhi’s exit from the knockout stages is usually swift and unseemly.

So they aren’t fooling anyone with their seven wins. The latest, against Rajasthan, was a bit of a knuckle-whitener, the archetypal IPL game, introduced by the perfect IPL host, or at least he would be if this were 1979. I can see Ramiz Raja in an episode of Magnum PI, sitting on a Hawaiian beach, open-shirted, wearing a gold medallion and sipping from a coconut with a straw. Or is that just me?

At any rate, you feel in safe hands with Ramiz leading the toss ceremony, He doesn’t shout like Ravi, he doesn’t clown like Danny; he just gets the job done in a suave manner: the compere you can trust, the Pakistani Ron Burgundy. And to complete the laidback feel of the intro, he was accompanied by a man in a cowboy hat, something that has sadly gone out of the game since Allen Stanford got caught.

Everyone had come to see Viru and KP, but the rubber-limbed switch-hitter was a bit of a let-down. He carved a brutal four through the off side but was soon on his way after edging to slip with an ugly woody sound, like a man splicing logs for firewood. And there was only a hint of Viru’s genius in the rough-edged fifty he muscled, like Rembrandt knocking up a quick self-portrait to pay a grocery bill.

It was Rajasthan who possessed the star of the show. There are plenty of run-stuffed biffers and six-happy sloggers in the IPL but does franchiseland boast a more stylish bat wielder than Rahane? Surely, before Suresh and Rohit are given another spin on the selection carousel, Ajinkya deserves his moment? He very nearly almost won this game, and he would have done too, but for Morne’s yorkers.

The yorker is, sadly, out of fashion. These days it’s all slow balls, double-slow balls and super-slo-mo balls, but in those final overs nothing quite beats a screaming, in-dipping, worm-flattener that smashes toes, splinters bats and unplugs timber. Morne delivers his from such a height that they arrive on terra firma like a thunderbolt hurled by Zeus and are just as difficult to score off.

But yorkers, like thunderbolts, can be a tricky weapon to handle. They can go off in your hand. Amit Singh tried to unleash some of his own in Delhi’s last over but got badly burned. Unlike the Morkelyorker, the Amityorker does not smack into the turf with the impact of a scud missile. It floats, it drifts, it hangs delicately in the air for a moment, until it is smashed out of the sky and over the boundary.

With an over to go, the Double Rs needed a dozen. Rahane suffered a bat malfunction and several nasty splinters as his blade was shattered by Yadav, and then Owais could only squirt a single. Ten needed off three. But Rahul Dravid’s Test successor wasn’t done yet. He hit an impossible six over point and then a clever two into a gap on the on side. One for the tie, but Owais, sadly, runs like a tortoise with corns and Delhi, just, racked up another win. They’ll still finish fourth, mind.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England