Negi's puzzling promotion saps Daredevils' momentum
Delhi Daredevils, asked to bat by Royal Challengers Bangalore in clash for a playoff spot in Raipur, were 80 for 3 after 11 overs. It wasn't a bad platform, especially on a pitch with some inconsistent bounce, but the last three overs had produced only 18 runs. Quinton de Kock, batting on 45, had bedded in for the long haul and he had for company Sam Billings, who had thus far faced only five balls. The roles appeared clear - de Kock would ration his risks while Billings would try to ramp up the scoring. It was sound logic - Chris Morris, who had recovered from a niggle, and Carlos Brathwaite were lying in wait.
Yet, after Billings was undone by Chris Gayle's one-handed diving screamer off Chris Jordan, Pawan Negi came out to bat, ahead of Morris and Brathwaite. Negi, the costliest player in the Daredevils side, came into the game with 51 runs from five innings at a strike-rate in the early 100s which would drop to 96.61 by the time his innings ended. He hadn't batted or bowled in the game against Sunrisers Hyderabad on Friday, and before that had last played a game over a fortnight ago.
With de Kock at the other end, the promotion flew in the face of the left-right combination that many teams have been so meticulously trying to achieve. The only plausible explanation for Negi's elevation would be the presence of a legspinner and a left-arm spinner in Yuzvendra Chahal and Iqbal Abdulla. Negi's first three balls off Jordan were dots, and the third delivery was an upper cut that was fluffed by S Aravind at third man. In retrospect, it was a dropped catch that unwittingly hurt Daredevils.
Meanwhile, Virat Kohli countered the left-left gambit with a smart ploy of his own. He called upon Chris Gayle to bowl his offbreaks from one end, and had Aravind bowling a good mix of short balls, yorkers and slower deliveries from the other. While Negi was struggling to strike the ball with any force, Daredevils had to drastically scale down their projections from a possible 170-plus score to 140.
Gayle's first over to Negi was all about him following the batsman, who was backing away almost every delivery, with flat and fast darts. Gayle began the 15th over with a similar plan, and Negi, stifled to a point of no return, jumped out and swatted a catch to long-off. Carlos Brathwaite came in next and squirted his second ball to backward point. Gayle was doing a clumsy little tap dance, Royal Challengers might have metaphorically been doing the same too.
Only 15 came in the 3.2 overs Negi was there at the crease, and he played out 12 balls with only 6 runs to show for. After Brathwaite's dismissal, things went further downhill. De Kock perished for 60 in the 17th over even as replays indicated Chahal may have overstepped. Morris had to not just firefight but also pick up the scoring rate and despite his unbeaten 27 off 18 balls, Daredevils managed only 63 runs in their last 10 overs for a below-par total of 138.
While there was help from the pitch, Royal Challengers did well with clever bowling changes - Kohli alternated between pace and spin between overs 11 and 20 - and smart field placements. Even in the early part of the innings, Royal Challengers sealed off de Kock's strong zone - the area behind square on the off side - with fielders at short third man, a backward point and a gully.
De Kock acknowledged Royal Challengers' smarts and conceded the spinners had muzzled them into submission. "I think they put a lot of pressure on us; their spinners there in the middle," he said. "There were some good bowling changes. It was hard to build partnerships. From there, we were losing wickets at the wrong time.
"We lost wickets at the wrong time. We also had a couple of soft dismissals. I lost my wicket at the wrong time. We were under the pump. It could've gone either way though. If we had got 20 more runs, could've got 160, but we lost key wickets at the wrong time. They had good game plans in the death and it was hard to finish off. We didn't have enough batsmen for that. Unfortunately, we lost wickets at the wrong time."
Chahal, who took 3 for 32, said he was looking to force the batsmen to hit down the ground with the long boundaries. "The ground is big and the wicket was a bit two-paced so we planned that when me and Iqqi [Iqbal Abdulla] were bowling we shouldn't be giving the batsmen any room," he said. "From the other end too, Chris [Gayle] came on to bowl and picked up those wickets in two overs. Run-scoring became hard for them because every time they tried to score they lost wickets. Otherwise, I think 150-160 was a good score on this pitch."
Arun Venugopal is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo. @scarletrun