Badly begun is only half done
It was a dismissal that summed up Bangalore's shambolic displays in this competition. Misbah-ul-Haq, who finally revealed why so many consider him a maestro of the Twenty20 format, smacked one hard to long-off and set off. For an instant, it looked as though it might be four, but Shoaib Malik, on as a substitute for Gautam Gambhir, made good ground to stop the ball with his forearm.
It was the last ball of the 16th over and given that the scoreboard was hardly moving, Cameron White had hared across for the first and turned quickly for the second. Misbah, perhaps used to more leisurely rhythms, didn't respond, and Malik's throw to the bowler was passed on to Dinesh Karthik behind the stumps. White, who now has a paltry 57 runs in the IPL, was yards out.
Unlike in Test cricket, where you can have a poor session, or a one-day game, where you can be whacked in the Powerplays before staging a comeback, Twenty20 is an unforgiving format. A couple of bad overs and the game slides out of reach. Given the rain in the air and the cool conditions, Rahul Dravid would have been justified in expecting something special from his quick bowlers when they emerged to defend 154. Instead, Dale Steyn apart, they dished up the sort of rubbish that Geoffrey Boycott would have fancied his mum to hit.
For Delhi, Glenn McGrath and Farveez Maharoof had been almost immaculate, conceding 28 from eight overs and taking four wickets along the way. The contrast with Zaheer Khan and Praveen Kumar couldn't have been more stark. Bangalore's duo, both internationals, went for a whopping 70 from five overs, with Bharat Chipli's brilliant catch at point gifting Praveen a wicket.
Bowling half-volleys and long hops to Sehwag isn't clever at the best of times. To do so when your team had half a chance thanks to Misbah's late flails was beyond the pale. Sehwag tried to defend his mates, saying: "The wicket was flat, good to bat on, and Gautam and I played really really well", but in reality, the pitch was nowhere near as inert as some of Bangalore's big-name players were.
Dravid was diplomatic as always, though he admitted that conceding 91 from the first seven overs wasn't the best way to defend a modest target. "Given the conditions, I thought it was a good, fighting total," he said. "Their top two are the guys in form and if we could have cracked one, or even both of them, open, we might have had a chance. But yes, we could have bowled a little better."
The consolation prize, and that's all that Bangalore will win this season, came in the shape of a tidy spell from Anil Kumble and a superb allround display from Sreevats Goswami. With just one wicket in his previous six outings, the $500,000 investment on Kumble was looking rather generous, but on Monday night the old tricks and temperament scripted a nice turnaround.
Tillakaratne Dilshan was smartly stumped by Goswami off a big legbreak and Dinesh Karthik then miscued one to cover for White to take a fine catch. Had a contentious caught-and-bowled appeal against Shikhar Dhawan been upheld, Kumble's figures would have been 4-0-18-3. As it was, the spells from him and Steyn weren't quite enough to camouflage the inadequacies of others.
Goswami, who has spent the last few weeks training alongside Mark Boucher, was as relaxed behind the stumps as he was in front of it. Bangalore's batting displays in this competition have been dire to put it mildly, and it was no surprise that his 39-ball half-century elicited huge cheers from a sizeable crowd. He ran the singles and twos with purpose and also pulled the ball with immense power for a little man.
"He got an opportunity after quite a long wait," said Dravid. "He's got something about him. He showed some pluck and some fight out there." Cautious against the accurate Maharoof, he chose his moments well, picking off Pradeep Sangwan, his Under-19 team-mate and Rajat Bhatia with aplomb.
Ultimately though, even Goswami had to cede centrestage to the real heroes, Delhi's dynamic bowling duo. "Both of them [McGrath and Maharoof] hardly gave anything," said a smug Sehwag later. "They know where to bowl and how to bowl."
For the moment, few batsmen have any answers. Bring on Ganguly, Tendulkar and Jayasuriya.