Mesmeric Sehwag is the difference
Dinesh Karthik hit three consecutive sixes off Ajantha Mendis. Glenn McGrath returned to the bowling mark after 18 months and was his usual self as he suffocated the batsmen and continued to hit the top of off stump. Tillakaratne Dilshan showed his athletic prowess when he dived to pluck the catch of the tournament so far. Perversely, all these spectacles, though important in their own right, wouldn't have been possible if not for the mighty innings played by Virender Sehwag.
Though Gautam Gambhir won his second toss in a row and decided to bat there was an uncertainty in the air due to the importance of this game: Delhi Daredevils had to win after a seven-wicket loss to Victoria on Friday. They looked an unsettled lot especially in the batting department without AB de Villiers, who was a consistent and comforting presence in the top order during this year's IPL.
On the eve of the game, Gambhir had already put the onus on Sehwag - who previously only had one Twenty20 half-century in 2009 - and himself to keep Delhi alive in the Champions League. Shortly into the piece that onus rested entirely on Sehwag, because Ajantha Mendis trapped Gambhir plumb in front with a shooter. The pressure had been put on Delhi from the start, when Dilshan played out a tight opening maiden over from Chanaka Welegedara. Then there was the pitch. Though it was different to the one against Victoria, the bounce - as witnessed in the afternoon clash between New South Wales and Sussex - was not encouraging.
But when has any occasion really affected Sehwag? Conditions and opposition strategies to arrest his development have rarely mattered to him. The first runs for Delhi came from his open-faced bat as he sent an over-pitched delivery from Isuru Udana, the other left-arm opening bowler, crashing to the straight boundary. A couple overs later Udana was lofted past long-on and then superbly placed between point and third man.
Jehan Mubarak, the Wayamba captain, immediately tried to make some field adjustments to counter Sehwag's menace. He packed the off side with four men standing between point and mid-off, including a short extra cover. But Sehwag loves these sorts of traps and he hit exactly where Mubarak positioned his men. He began by flaying a length delivery from Welegedara straight towards Mubarak at short extra cover, who tried to pouch it valiantly but was only successful in deflecting it as the ball zipped over the ropes.
Then the shot of the match: Farveez Maharoof, who had replaced Welegedara, tried to bang it short but Sehwag comfortably moved across and delicately turned his wrists to guide the ball to the square-leg boundary. It was a shot that evoked memories of Mohammad Azharuddin in his prime.
Sehwag later said that he had to really watch the ball because it did not come straight on to the bat and that it gripped the surface when the spinners were on. In seven balls off Mendis, never once did he try to hit hard. Even if they had lost against Victoria, Delhi had the advantage of knowing the conditions and what they needed to do. All captains have agreed that the par score on this newly-laid pitch is in the 130-140 margins. Gambhir later said that the plan was for someone like Sehwag to stick around till the 15th over so that the middle order could take over in the last five overs.
Things went to plan and Gambhir later admitted he would've been happy with 130, duly giving credit to his senior player. "Veeru is an impact player. He plays his own game always. He doesn't bother about the tracks. And once again today he set the game for us," Gambhir said.
Earlier this week, when asked who his favourite athletes outside cricket were, Stuart Clark named Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, and Roger Federer. "It is very hard to look past athletes who make the game look so easy," he said. "We're all playing the game, but they were playing a different game."
Today Sehwag played that different game.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo