Two overs to regret
This was a tale of two overs, the last of the Delhi Daredevils' innings and the fifth of the Kings XI Punjab's reply. Even with Virender Sehwag at the crease, Delhi managed only three runs off James Hopes to finish with a whimper, and Mahela Jayawardene and Luke Pomersbach ruthlessly targeted Sehwag's bowling to flay 22 in an over that completely transformed the game. If Delhi do miss out on the final four, those 12 balls will come back to haunt them.
The choice of Hopes could have been termed an inspired decision from Yuvraj Singh if not for the fact that he had been truly woeful in previous outings. He had just two wickets and the economy-rate was a profligate 10.5 an over. To trust such a man was as much a leap of faith as it was an admission that Punjab had no other options left. With the batsmen ready to swing at everything, the spin of Piyush Chawla and Yuvraj himself would have been too much of a risk.
As it was, Hopes once again resembled the bowler who did so well in Australian colours in India not so long ago. Both Tillakaratne Dilshan and Farveez Maharoof fell trying to slog him over the leg side, and he finished with a superb yorker as the 17 balls after a lengthy rain delay yielded just 24 runs to a Delhi side that had started in such rampant fashion. "I don't go by stats like you guys," Yuvraj said later. "I go by my instincts and James was the guy."
After the peerless Glenn McGrath started with a three-run over, with a drizzle and a dust storm as the backdrop, this was Delhi's match to lose, and despite a dashing eight-ball 23 from Yuvraj, Punjab needed 90 from 42 balls when Sehwag crucially decided not to bowl out McGrath.
His two overs had cost just 18, but the Punjab batsmen found Sehwag's offbreaks a different proposition. A delicate dab to third man and a reverse-sweep in the same direction got Jayawardene going, and when a miscued paddle made it to the boundary at fine leg, you sensed that the Gods were smiling on Punjab. That feeling was reinforced when Pomersbach slammed Sehwag over midwicket for a huge six.
"I thought it was better to bowl then rather than later," a subdued Sehwag said. "It was a crucial time in the match." He defended his decision to keep McGrath for later though. "We needed him in the slog overs," he said, ruing the fact that the rain prevented a denouement.
Jayawardene admitted the six balls from Sehwag had been decisive. "We were 15 to 20 runs behind at one stage, and we needed one big over," he said. "I felt Veeru was the best option to go after. Once we got that big over, we were only five or six behind."
With two home games to come, Punjab are now as good as through to the semi-finals, while Delhi's hopes hang by the most slender of threads. They need to win in Bangalore on Monday night, and then finish off with home victories against Kolkata and Mumbai to ensure that their fate isn't dependent on others. After a blistering start to the competition, the wheels have slowly come off. This loss, despite three stunning catches and clear superiority in the field, will hurt a lot more than most.