Riding some momentum the Rajasthan Royals came to Bloemfontein to face the side they beat in the second week of the tournament to start an amazing turnaround. As it turned out, there was no positive carryover effect in a 14-run loss to the Delhi Daredevils. In a pressure game they needed to win, Rajasthan let the early momentum slip with two drops and a missed run-out chance, lost three early wickets during a stiff chase and will rue allowing Delhi score heavily at the end of their innings.
They now need to beat the Kolkata Knight Riders soundly in their final league game. If they don't manage that the race for a semi-final spot shifts to net run-rates, and hoping some of the other teams slip up.
In a match when the ball jagged and spun past the bat more often than it hit the middle - largely down to a sporting pitch that assisted pace and spin - two crucial hands allowed Delhi to recover from the loss of their openers. Munaf Patel appeared to have it figured from the first over, keeping it straight and on a length to get rid of the dangerous duo of Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag in his second but returned to bowl a horror 19th over after Rajasthan's support cast disappointed. From 15 for 2 a resourceful 87-run stand between AB de Villiers, who read the conditions excellently, and Tillakaratne Dilshan buttressed Delhi to a competitive total. And therein lay the difference between a reasonable total and a winning one.
Delhi's innings gradually changed character when Rajasthan's second-choice bowlers came on. The pitch was slow and Shane Warne set attacking fields for the first ten overs, so all that was needed was for de Villiers and Dilshan to perforate the field consistently. The loose offerings weren't spared - Siddharth Trivedi strangely dropped it short and wide when the pitch was demanding of a fuller length - and both batsmen slapped fours off his only over.
As Warne brought Johan Botha and himself on for spin, de Villiers and Dilshan resorted to common-sense cricket. Balls were knocked in the gaps, the cross-batted shots were shunned and the score ticked over mainly with singles and doubles. Both employed the late dabs effectively and their ability to scamper between the wickets hurt Rajasthan. It wasn't smooth sailing, though, as Warne got plenty of turn from a slow track and Botha mixed flight and speed in a tidy spell.
de Villiers, not one for subtlety, bided his time and played himself in - much as the game's situation demanded despite this being a Twenty20. Leading the partnership going into the ten-over break, he turned a tad more urgent after it, reaching out to edge Warne for three and taking Ravindra Jadeja and Abhishek Raut for first-ball fours off the back foot.
Dilshan, always more comfortable against spin, continued to cut and flick after being dropped on 16 off Botha. Botha had his revenge in the 17th over, locating the fuller length which Munaf had so brilliantly tapped, but the damage had been done.
de Villiers' aptitude for regular rescue jobs came in handy while Dinesh Karthik walked into the hot seat and immediately connected. de Villiers prospered from a drop at mid-on when 57, a thick outside edge two runs later, and a poor collection from the wicketkeeper, and starred in the most expensive over of the innings - the 19th. That 25-run over aided an excellent 48-run stand in 20 balls. Impressively - and importantly for Delhi's middle order going into the semis - de Villiers batted through to the end too.
Warne was quite disappointed at losing the toss and would've been peeved at allowing Delhi 20 too many. Where Rajasthan's butterfingered catchers reprieved Delhi's anchormen, Delhi's boundary patrollers held crucial early catches. In the second over Graeme Smith was well held on the second attempt by a juggling Aavishkar Salvi at third man, and in the next Dirk Nannes jumped up to hold Rob Quiney's pull at fine leg. After six overs Rajasthan were 24 for 2, their second lowest effort after the Powerplay. That became 24 for 3 when Naman Ojha slapped Salvi to extra cover.
Botha, promoted up the order, held up one end but never looked threatening. Rajasthan needed 91 from the last ten overs. Jadeja took two fours in the 11th over but Salvi drew an edge first ball of the 13th. Salvi only gave two singles in that over, capping a good return match in which he was accurate and economical.
That brought Yusuf Pathan - hero of that earlier win over Delhi - to the crease. There was to be no reprise, Yusuf getting a leading edge to Karthik. Game set and match. Botha went for 37 and three fell in Amit Mishra's last over like plastic ducks in a shooting gallery. Munaf's free hitting in the last three overs was of purely academic interest.
The result ensures Delhi a place in the semi-finals and leaves Rajasthan near the brink.