Wickets fell in each of the first three overs of Delhi Daredevils innings, but David Warner batted on some other island to score the second century of this year's IPL, his first in Twenty20s. On a track that assisted spinners, Delhi bowled smartly to never be threatened in the defence, winning comfortably and moving back to the top four.
Neither did the Kolkata Knight Riders attack elicit respect from Warner, nor did the situation result in apprehension: he just cleared the front leg and hit his way to 107 off 69. The support required amid early wickets came from half-centurion Paul Collingwood, whose innings came straight out of the Paul Collingwood school of batting - practically without a back lift. Out of their 128-run stand in 16.2 overs, Warner scored 74 off 54.
David Hussey, bowling so round-arm he looked like Lasith Malinga bowling off a two-step run-up, and Murali Kartik were Kolkata's best bowlers, going for just 50 in their eight overs. They lost Angelo Mathews, who had conceded 11 in two overs, when he had his upper lip opened up while pulling off a diving save at the long-on boundary. The other 10 overs, though, featured a lot of loose bowling, and duly went for 116 runs.
On a slow, turning pitch, Warner's technique was simple: clear the front leg, don't commit to any shot, and decide based on what kind of delivery it is. Throughout his innings, right from his first boundary slashed over point in the second over to his last six hit over long-off in the last over, he displayed this wonderful ability to hit to any part of the field from the same position. Between those two shots, he hit eight other fours and four other sixes. Anything full headed towards cow corner and midwicket, width had wide mid-off and point peppered. He also got a few generous long hops on the pads.
A returning Charl Langeveldt saw the flames right up, and the returning Ishant Sharma was charred in his first over. Still both of them managed a wicket each, and it was a desirable start to have Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Dinesh Karthik back in three overs. However, they had another think coming.
Warner's four fours and a six off 12 balls had taken Delhi to 38 in those three overs already. Langeveldt came back in the fifth over, and was smashed for a four and a six. Hussey bowled a tight over to end the Powerplay, but at 62 for 3 Delhi could afford to consolidate. By the time Ajit Agarkar was introduced in the 12th over, Warner had paced his way to 66 off 42, Collingwood to 19 off 18, and Delhi were 97.
Agarkar provided Delhi the next thrust: Warner smacked the loose deliveries, and Collingwood manufactured a boundary by walking down the track and flicking him over midwicket. Between the 14th over and the 17th, even as Warner moved closer to his century, the spinners allowed only 17 runs.
In the 18th over came drama, when Kartik claimed a tough return catch. A disappointed Warner walked back on 96, but the third umpire, who didn't find the catch clean, had him back. Kartik still finished off well, but in the next over Collingwood took over the hitting, lofting Gayle for two sixes, just clearing the rope.
After letting Warner stroll to his century, Collingwood went for his third low six in the last two overs when Hussey produced the rare bright moment for Kolkata - a play that involved parrying the ball over the boundary, getting it back into play, and then diving back in to complete one of the most awesome catches ever. Good hands, sharp brain, an athletic body, all came together.
Yet 28 came in the last two, and Kolkata needed an extraordinary start on a difficult pitch. Something quite opposite happened: Sourav Ganguly was like a rabbit caught in headlights against Dirk Nannes, Manoj Tiwary was done in by an Andrew McDonald offcutter that stayed low, and Mandeep Singh was owned by Amit Mishra. When David Hussey survived a plumb lbw first ball and Chris Gayle was dropped off Mishra the next ball, Kolkata were 34 for 3 in 5.2 overs.
Neither of the beneficiaries could hurt Delhi, and as the required rate rose both of them holed out, leaving Umesh Yadav to make a mark with quick and full bowling for two wickets. Mishra was the pick of the bowlers, mixing the googlies and sliders well, and should have had Hussey and Gayle added to his figures of 1 for 18.
The difficulty with which Kolkata struggled to 137 underlined the value of Warner's knock, which took the pitch and the match state out of the equation.