It's getting hard to keep track of who's on top of the IPL table. For the third day in a row, there was a new leader, now with the Delhi Daredevils occupying first place after strolling past a luckless Kolkata Knight Riders in Durban. To make victory even sweeter, one of their key batsmen, Gautam Gambhir, was back among the runs after an indifferent start to the tournament.
After Morne van Wyk made the most of his chance at the top of the order to push Kolkata towards a middling total, they fielded like millionaires, granting the Delhi batsmen innumerable chances to simplify the chase.
Gambhir, in particular, was virtually coaxed back to form. He was grassed a couple of times, that too by two of the better fielders in the side, on 22 by Brendon McCullum and on 65 by Moises Henriques, a run-out opportunity was wasted on 35, and he was given plenty of free runs as well. Even the umpire gave him a let-off by not picking a nick to the wicketkeeper when on 45.
An early exchange with Ishant Sharma showed how Delhi were helped along to victory. The first over had Ishant exchanging wry grins with his Ranji team-mate Gambhir after tying him down to an outside-edged four. The smiles were gone after some woeful fielding in his next over: Ashok Dinda made a mess at fine-leg, Sourav Ganguly gave away a couple of extra runs after a less-than-athletic effort at mid-off the next ball, and another Dinda fumble allowed the batsmen to return for two. Ishant lost his cool, and his line in the next delivery, presenting Gambhir a leg-side gift, which was glanced for four. Seventeen came off the over, and Delhi proved hard to rein in after that.
David Warner again showed his ability to clear the boundary, a Hayden-esque down-the-pitch pull off Dinda was the stand-out stroke in his blazing cameo. A couple of lofted drives for four off consecutive deliveries emphasised his ominous form but Ajit Agarkar beat Warner for pace two balls later, and had him holing out to Moises Henriques.
There was little relief for Kolkata, though, as Tillakaratne Dilshan demonstrated his form with a couple of cracking cover drives off Agarkar. Gambhir and Dilshan settled on a recipe of risk-free singles with a sprinkling of boundaries to keep Delhi on course. The missed chances already had the Kolkata camp frustrated, and the sight of several boundaries just beating a diving fielder added to their woes. It was only towards the end that the batsmen opened out, to finish the job with an over to spare.
Such a one-sided game didn't seem on the cards after van Wyk glued the fragile Kolkata top order to take them near 150. Their opening troubles seemed set to continue when McCullum struggled to get bat on ball in the first over. But in the first delivery of the third over, McCullum's bolt-down-the-track scythe finally connected and sent the ball rocketing over deep point. A controlled on-drive for four followed next delivery, and a swat sailed past the midwicket boundary three balls later fetched 21 runs off the over.
By the time McCullum clobbered Pradeep Sangwan over midwicket for a flat six, Kolkata were 48 for 0 after five overs, and the two batsmen were sharing a joke in the middle, not a common sight in Kolkata's campaign so far.
It was Sangwan who was laughing a couple of overs later, when he had McCullum slapping the ball straight to fine leg. The in-form Brad Hodge joined van Wyk, but Sangwan and Mishra kept the brakes on. Kolkata could only score in singles for the first five overs after the Powerplays, and the run-rate had flatlined to 6.45.
It was an uncharacteristic fielding error at long-on from AB de Villiers that helped release the pressure for Kolkata. The next delivery was cut away for four more by van Wyk, who caressed three more boundaries in the over that followed from Sangwan. Right through the innings, van Wyk showed his ability to finesse his way to the runs, rarely attempting one of the most favoured strokes in Twenty20: the mow over midwicket.
Just as the runs started to flow, Hodge was dismissed, slowing Kolkata down again. They were at 111 for 2 after 16, when Henriques and van Wyk opened out to lash 28 off the next two. Kolkata needed a couple more like that to finish off, but Nannes and the outstanding Ashish Nehra kept it full and straight to not let them get into fifth gear.
Kolkata finished with a total that was disappointing, with wickets still in hand, but it was nowhere as disheartening as the shoddiness in the field that was to follow.