Teams usually work out rough targets for different intervals during a Twenty20 innings. A loss in momentum could easily rattle batsmen especially inexperienced and uncapped Indian players. In the last match on Monday against Kolkata Knight Riders, Shreyas Iyer had thrown away a good start when he made 31 before going for the wrong shot, a slog sweep against Piyush Chawla, only to get bowled. Iyer earned the wrath of his long-term coach Praveen Amre, who also is the assistant coach at Delhi Daredevils.
After five overs Daredevils were 43 for the loss of Mayank Agarwal, who was caught on the third ball of the match but Iyer and Daredevils captain JP Duminy did not let the early wicket bog them down as they made use of the field restrictions wisely.
For the final over of the Powerplay, Rohit Sharma, Mumbai Indians' captain, threw the ball to Lasith Malinga. The Sri Lankan ace gave just two runs in the over which featured three perfect yorkers. It was the beginning of a very critical phase in Daredevils innings, which would turn out to be the turning point of the match.
For the next four overs, Mumbai's bowlers tightened the noose, offering not many easy runs. Harbhajan Singh delivered two of those four bowling in line with the wickets without allowing the batsman to free their arms. Hardik Pandya and Kieron Pollard, too, made sure they did not send down loose deliveries to offer Iyer and Duminy the release shot. At the half way stage Daredevils were 65 for 1.
On Wednesday afternoon Amre, despite the finger injury which bothered Iyer even today, asked the youngster to maintain his focus and retain his shape while playing his strokes. Just like today, Iyer was frequently wincing in pain from the jarring sensation his right index finger felt after hitting the ball hard. Amre's advice was to somehow find a solution.
Today Iyer was more composed and calm in his execution and smarter in choosing the right stroke to play. It helped that at the other end, Duminy was batting with confidence and authority. Easily picking the gaps, Duminy hammered massive sixes to multiply the scoring rate quickly and in no time Mumbai lost the advantage they had held with 10 overs to go.
Duminy's biggest victory was to make sure Iyer did not get distracted. Despite the dot balls and a few occasions when Iyer flayed wildly against the rapid pace of Mitchell McClenaghan, Duminy asked the youngster to keep his head down and wait for the bad ball. And there were many to come. By the time an exhausted Iyer attempted an erroneous stroke to get bowled once again, the pair had added 89 runs in 40 deliveries and both batsmen had notched their second fifties of the season.
The biggest victory for Daredevils though was that they did not lose wickets despite slowing down for a five-over phase. To understand the importance of Iyer and Duminy's alliance, you just have to look at the vulnerability that was on display during Mumbai's innings. Despite getting an equally good start, Mumbai could not consolidate. Unmukt Chand only had to assume the role Iyer had performed so successfully by playing around his captain, but the Delhiite paid the price for being too eager too fast. Kieron Pollard brought the crowd to its feet with one huge hit but walked off almost immediately, having lobbed a straightforward catch.
Mumbai would have come in to the match with the intention of finishing with a victory to celebrate their icon Sachin Tendulkar's birthday, which is Friday. But the Daredevils pricked that party balloon well before Mumbai could start thinking of the celebrations. If there was to be any solace, the house DJ prompted the full house to sing 'Happy Birthday' to India's greatest cricketer.
Mumbai's Achilles heel has been the failure of their batsmen barring Rohit, who has been shuffled in the batting order to plug holes. Except the holes keep widening all the time.
For the moment at least, the Daredevils are well covered. On the eve of the match, Duminy was stumped by a journalist who wanted to know if the owners were happy with the Daredevils captain as they only had two victories from the first five matches. Duminy said there was no reason to complain. He was not wrong after all.