A dramatic final-over hat-trick by Amit Mishra, when Deccan Chargers needed only 15 runs off six balls, clinched a tense 12-run victory for the Delhi Daredevils and ended their four-match losing streak. Half-centuries from Gautam Gambhir and Shikhar Dhawan set Deccan a formidable target of 195 but Mishra's timely strikes in his two spells broke Deccan's growing momentum during the chase.
Desperate to break their run of losses, Delhi recovered splendidly after losing Virender Sehwag in the first over through a 133-run stand for the second wicket between Gambhir and Dhawan. They kept wickets in hand, which allowed Delhi to score 128 runs off the final 11 overs of the innings. Deccan, on the other hand, kept losing wickets at frequent intervals which, despite their consistently high run-rate, crippled them towards the end of their chase. Their top six batsmen all got into double figures but no one went past 40. Had someone played a long innings, the result would have been different because even though wickets fell at crucial junctures, Deccan got extremely close.
After six failures in the middle order, Deccan finally promoted Shahid Afridi to open the innings. The move paid off and Afridi made use of the fielding restrictions to go after Glenn McGrath and Mohammad Asif. Deccan rocketed to 44 after the first four overs but during that blitz they lost Adam Gilchrist, who drove McGrath fiercely towards mid-off, where Tillakaratne Dilshan held a low catch while diving forward.
The out-of-form Herschelle Gibbs joined Afridi and the pair plundered 34 runs off consecutive overs from Asif and McGrath through scoops over extra cover and pulls over deep square leg with tremendous bat-speed and power. Deccan galloped to 71 for 1 by the end of the Powerplays but the tide was about to turn.
Sehwag gave the seventh over to legspinner Amit Mishra and he had immediate success as Afridi sliced his first ball to AB de Villiers at point. He struck again in his second over, foxing Gibbs with a googly and hitting middle stump.
The big-hitters dismissed, Delhi began to regain control while Rohit Sharma and Scott Styris settled down. The asking-rate had climbed beyond 11 an over but Sharma redressed the balance somewhat by taking 19 off an over from Rajat Bhatia, with two sixes - over long-on and square leg - and a dead-straight four.
However, Sehwag made another timely bowling change, Farveez Maharoof returning in the 13th over and bowling Sharma as he moved across his stumps to attempt a paddle sweep. The period that followed swung the game in Delhi's favour as Styris failed to impose himself on the chase. He didn't score a boundary off his first 23 balls and then holed out on 29, leaving the responsibility of the final surge to Venugopal Rao.
Deccan needed 41 off the final 15 balls and Rao clouted Maharoof for sixes over the straight and midwicket boundary and a four over extra cover to bring the equation down to 25 off the last two overs. He was dismissed in the penultimate over, skying McGrath to Shoaib Malik at long- on but Ravi Teja gave Deccan hope by slicing a full toss over backward point for six.
Sehwag gave the final over to Mishra with Deccan needing 15 and once again he struck with his first ball: Teja's flat hit found Malik on the long-off boundary, effectively ending Deccan's challenge. Pragyan Ojha and RP Singh charged Mishra off the next two deliveries and both were dismissed, giving Mishra his hat-trick, the second of the IPL.
Mishra's calm under pressure ensured the calculated assault from Gambhir and Dhawan earlier in the innings was not in vain. They lost Sehwag in the first over, slashing a short and wide ball to third man, and it wasn't until the fourth over, when Gambhir pulled RP for consecutive sixes over midwicket that the innings finally gained momentum.
Gambhir went past 400 runs in the tournament during his 79 and he and Dhawan accelerated between overs 10 and 14 - a period during which Delhi scored 64. Dhawan came into his own once the support bowlers - Sarvesh Kumar and Styris - operated, punishing anything full on the pads. He even reverse-swept Rao for four, and hit Afridi out of the attack with consecutive boundaries in an over that went for 18.
Delhi missed powerful finishers in previous matches but today the Sri Lankans - Farveez Maharoof and Dilshan - found the boundary several times to take them close to 200. That proved crucial in the end and Delhi could take heart from the fact that the architects of the victory were largely the local players and not the overseas recruits.
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a staff writer at Cricinfo