Delhi Capitals 228 for 4 (Iyer 88*, Shaw 66, Pant 38, Russell 2-29) beat Kolkata Knight Riders 210 for 8 (Rana 58, Morgan 44, Tripathi 36, Nortje 3-33) by 18 runs
For the third time in as many matches in Sharjah this season, both teams hit the 200 mark. The Delhi Capitals posted the highest total of the tournament so far, courtesy their hugely impressive trio of young Indian batsmen: Prithvi Shaw, Shreyas Iyer and Rishabh Pant. The total didn't seem entirely safe at the innings break, considering the hitting might of the Kolkata Knight Riders. And even when it did look safe, with the Knight Riders needing 135 from 61 balls with their most dangerous hitter, Andre Russell, back in the dressing room, it wasn't.
Oh no, by no means was it safe. It came down to 78 from 24 balls - with only four wickets in hand - but as has been the case so often this season, especially on this ground, there's always a downpour of sixes to come. From somewhere.
Eoin Morgan and Rahul Tripathi walloped 47 runs from overs 17 and 18, and suddenly the chase was blown wide open. But luck and the skill of Anrich Nortje swung the game back the Capitals' way. Only five runs came off the 19th over, which also brought the wicket of Morgan, leaving the Knight Riders far too much to do in the 20th, even though they knew it would be bowled by one of the Capitals' weaker bowlers. Needing 26 off six balls from Marcus Stoinis, they simply didn't have enough batting left in the tank.
Strategies for six-hitting
Both teams made selections that reflected the unique challenge of playing in Sharjah. The Knight Riders left out the flighty wristspinner Kuldeep Yadav and played Tripathi to give themselves depth and more leeway to go hard with the bat. The Capitals brought back R Ashwin, who had recovered after dislocating his shoulder in their season-opener, and left out the left-arm spinner Axar Patel - with three left-handers in the Knight Riders top six - and also subbed out Ishant Sharma, a powerplay specialist with the ball, for Harshal Patel, a slower-ball merchant who can hit the long ball.
Quick off the blocks
Sent in, the Capitals raced to 57 in their Powerplay, losing only Shikhar Dhawan for 26 off 16. It was already evident that the bowlers in this game were simply around for damage limitation, with almost no margin for error: Shaw hung back to pull and cut marginally short balls through and over the infield, and Dhawan plonked forward and slog-swept Sunil Narine for back-to-back sixes. The wicket came in the sixth over, Dhawan miscuing a sweep off the mystery spinner Varun Chakravarthy.
Iyer, Pant join in the fun
The contours of this game were evident when Andre Russell bowled the seventh and ninth overs of the Capitals innings as if he were bowling the 18th and 20th: pitching right up in the blockhole or hitting the deck with shorter lengths, offering nothing in between. Only seven runs came off those two overs, a minor miracle.
In between and thereafter, the Capitals batsmen found the boundaries with unerring frequency. Rather than slow down post-powerplay, Shaw and Iyer accelerated, putting on 73 at 10.68 per over - Shaw and Dhawan had added 56 at 9.60 - and some of their hitting - notably a chipped six from Shaw over extra-cover off Shivam Mavi, and a flicked six over midwicket from Iyer off Kamlesh Nagarkoti - was effortless to the point of being dispiriting to any bowler who might have been watching.
The exit of Shaw in the 13th over brought Pant to the crease, and he took eight balls to get his eye in before hitting Shivam Mavi for three fours in the 16th over, the pick of them a slap over extra-cover off a short ball slanting away from his hitting arc. That opened the floodgates: from that over on, the Capitals made 77 in 30 balls.
This period showcased the best of Pant's incredible hand-eye coordination, and also Iyer's ability to move around the crease and play with the bowler's lines and angles - such as when Pat Cummins sent down two marginally off-target yorkers in the 17th over and saw them tickled past short fine leg and flayed between mid-off and extra-cover - and to hit sixes at will off spinners. Chakravarthy went for 20 in the 19th over, and conceded 30 off 9 balls to Iyer overall.
Russell, carted all over by Pant in the 18th, finished the innings with a tight 20th, giving up just seven runs despite new man Shimron Hetmyer hitting his third ball for a six. It left the Knight Riders 229 to get, but the Capitals wouldn't have been able to say if they had enough.
Sunil Narine has failed to get going so far this season, and today brought another early dismissal - he swung and missed at Nortje in the second over, having exposed all three stumps. With Tripathi in the side, and much of his earlier success in the IPL having arrived at the top of the order, there was a feeling that he might open with either Narine or Shubman Gill demoted, but that didn't happen. Either way, with the target what it was, it was in the Knight Riders' best interests to have Narine open and hopefully come off.
The Knight Riders were there or thereabouts through the rest of the powerplay, finding the boundary often - Nitish Rana slog-swept Ashwin for a pair of sixes in the third over, and Gill used the open spaces in the outfield to pick up a four and a six off Nortje in the fourth without quite finding his timing - but not quite often enough to prevent the required rate from climbing steeply. At the six-over mark, they were 59 for 1 - two runs better off than the Capitals at the same stage, but with a lot more catching up left to do.
When Amit Mishra, looping his legbreaks tantalisingly but always somehow landing it just short of the batsmen's hitting arc, conceded just two runs in his first seven balls and dismissed Gill, the Knight Riders needed 157 from 71 balls. For the second time in two matches, they sent Andre Russell in far earlier than usual.
In the Knight Riders' previous game, the move to promote Russell worked in an indirect sort of way, forcing the Rajasthan Royals to bring back Jofra Archer early to try and get him out, and leaving less of Archer for their other superstar hitter Morgan to face.
Here again, Russell's entry brought the opposition's best fast bowler back into the attack for the 10th over, and a gladiatorial contest ensued between him and Kagiso Rabada. Dot, slower ball flat-batted for four, dot, straight six. Russell could have seen out the rest of the over, but he swung hard at a short ball and top-edged a catch to third man. Rabada had won the contest, and seemingly the match too.
The next three overs only brought two boundaries and a pair of back-to-back wickets courtesy Harshal Patel's variations. Then Nortje removed Pat Cummins in the 14th over, leaving the Knight Riders 107 to get off 39 balls. This was over, surely.
Morgan can be uncertain against the short ball, but that almost works in his favour sometimes, because he always gets a quick, short one first up. He was in perfect position to pull his first ball, from Nortje, for six, and he was away.
But the Knight Riders were nowhere near close to their target, and Harshal's slower ball - a genuine weapon with its dipping trajectory and significant deviation off the deck - allowed them only six runs from the 15th over. But there was a bit of luck to come - a not-quite-middled slog from Morgan off Rabada in the 16th over burst through the leaping fielder's hands at deep midwicket and over the boundary for six. And the damage done by Rana to Ashwin's figures and Mishra's ring finger - he hurt it in a failed attempt to take a caught and bowled in the seventh over - left the Capitals using their sixth bowler, Stoinis, in the 17th over.
Tripathi lined up Stoinis' medium pace and clattered him for three sixes and a four in five balls, clearing his front leg, spotting variations of pace quickly and ensuring he didn't lose his shape, and striking cleanly through the line of the ball. Suddenly, the Knight Riders were back in it, almost. And then Rabada, amazingly, went for 6, 6, 6 off the first three balls of the 18th - Morgan muscling a slower ball and a full-toss over the leg-side boundary to follow a fortuitous top-edged hook. Tripathi then drove the last ball of the over past the bowler and away from mid-off's reach, and the Knight Riders only needed 31 off the last 12 balls.
It was still a challenging task in absolute terms, and Morgan and Tripathi weren't able to get Nortje away, partly because he didn't miss his lengths by that much of a margin even when he did miss them, and partly because their luck ran out. Rather than clearing the deep fielder as he had done on earlier occasions without really being in control, Morgan pulled Nortje straight to the man off the third ball. The rest of the over brought only five runs.
Tripathi sliced Stoinis over point at the start of the final over to bring the equation down to 22 off 5, but the next ball proved unhittable, a dipping yorker that sneaked under his flailing bat. And that was that.