Calm Rohit outdoes Jayawardene beauty
Rohit Sharma avoided a repeat of the choke against Rajasthan Royals, and Deccan Chargers bit another bullet on route to a fourth consecutive win, one that gave them an even chance in the semi-final race. Deccan's bowlers did plenty to lose this one, but a graceful yet lethal 68 off 38 balls from Rohit took them home. Apart from the falling wickets, Rohit had to make up for another ordinary finish by Deccan's bowlers: 76 runs off the last five overs, during which time Mahela Jayawardene scored 57 off 18.
Put in on a difficult pitch, Kings XI Punjab were 98 after 15 overs, Deccan reached 98 in 11. Deccan bowled tripe in the last five to reconfirm their reputation of being worst at the death, and their batsmen kept getting out regularly to bowling that was not extraordinary.
That they reached 98 in 11 overs was thanks to some clean golf-like swinging from T Suman and Rohit who swung the momentum Deccan's way. After Adam Gilchrist failed to last the Powerplay yet again, both Suman and Monish Mishra struggled against short deliveries on a tricky pitch.
It was a dry surface covered by grass from a good-length area at one end to just short of a length at the other. Anything pitched in the grassy area got extra bounce and seam movement. Punjab's inexperienced attack took advantage of that, but every time they pitched up Suman effortlessly lofted them out of the ground. When Suman did get out in the 14th over, with 55 required off 41, Deccan were favourites. Especially with Rohit, who had reached 40 off 22 without having moved a bone in a hurry.
In the next over, though, Andrew Symonds went to manufacture a cut against Juan Theron and was bowled. Two tight overs followed, and Deccan were in familiar territory: 29 runs from 18 balls, Rohit in the middle and the Rajasthan choke fresh in everyone's memory.
It was then that Yuvraj Singh bowled an over that would take the game this way or that. It took the game this way and that. Mitchell Marsh launched him for a six first ball, but holed out later in the over to leave Rohit needing to score 19 off the last two. That's when Rohit added grit to the grace, converting two one-and-a-halves into twos in the 19th over, then picking an Irfan Pathan slower one over wide long-on for four.
With seven required off seven, Rohit teased again, mis-hit another loft into the same area, Piyush Chawla ran across from long-on, didn't cut the angle, and had to dive both back and to the right. The valiant dive resulted in his getting a hand onto it, and a parried six. Game over.
While it might have been cathartic for Rohit to carry his team over the line, he shouldn't have been chasing so much. Deccan had won an important toss on a tricky pitch, they had the better bowlers, and they had even got off to a good start. Even Mitchell, a medium-pace bowler, managed to trouble the batsmen. Ryan Harris used the conditions best, removing Shaun Marsh for a duck with the extra bounce.
Mitchell and RP Singh, though, didn't manage to hit the right lengths consistently. Kumar Sangakkara and Jayawardene made full use of either balls too short or half-volleys. Even as Jayawardene struggled to get the timing right in the middle overs, Sangakkara kept playing the pretty strokes, moving to 52 off 36.
Rahul Sharma removed Sangakkara with the second ball he bowled, the next four overs went for just 12, but Jayawardene was about to shift a gear. In the 16th over Jayawardene, on 36 off 44 balls, smashed Rahul for a six and a four. In the 17th RP was short and wide, and went for five consecutive boundaries. In the 19th, even Harris bowled length and Jayawardene and Yuvraj took 18 runs off it, double of what he had gone for in the first three. Gilchrist bravely invited RP to bowl the last over. The bowler duly brought up his fifty by going for 14 runs.
Put together, Jayawardene, Sangakkara and Rohit made up for the fact that the night match rendered invisible the breathtaking hilly surroundings in Dharamsala. Uncultured shots were conspicuous by absence.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo