They were the IPL's nomads, they needed to win five games in a row to reach the semi-finals, and things looked heavily loaded against them. But Deccan Chargers, the defending champions, made it. On a slow pitch at Feroz Shah Kotla, Andrew Symonds' sparkling 54 gave Deccan a defendable total, which they protected with an inspired fielding performance led by Rohit Sharma and disciplined bowling. Paul Collingwood kept Delhi in the chase until the end but he lacked the firepower, and support, to pull off a victory.
It boiled down to Delhi needing 17 runs in the final over and Chaminda Vaas bowled exceptionally, mixing his slower ones with near-perfect yorkers. Deccan had earlier wobbled at the start before the Symonds show and slowed to a crawl post his fall to reach 145 for 7. It was a slow pitch, better than the previous tracks in Delhi though, and the chase was unlikely to be a stroll for the hosts. And it wasn't.
Rohit, who contributed only 11 the bat, took a couple of breathtaking catches to tilt the game Deccan's way. He flew low to his right at first slip, grabbing a one-hand catch to remove Virender Sehwag. In the seventh over, he flung himself to his left at short midwicket to get rid of Gautam Gambhir. Both his catches, however, were created by clever bowling. Vaas, who replaced Ryan Harris, had deceived Virender Sehwag with a slower off cutter and Pragyan Ojha had beaten Gambhir in flight, forcing him to drag the ball squarer than intended. Between those wickets, Tillakaratne Dilshan had fallen while trying to paddle scoop. The slower one from Harmeet Singh trapped him in front as he moved across.
The loss of three quick wickets had derailed the chase and, considering Paul Collingwood's recent struggles against spin, Delhi depended heavily on Dinesh Karthik. When Mithun Manhas was run out after a mix-up with Collingwood, Delhi needed 78 off 49 deliveries. Karthik entered the fray but didn't last long. The delivery from Ojha landed on middle and off stump and turned just enough to go past Karthik's bat and hit off. Collingwood hung around for a while and was even dropped couple of times by, of all the people, Rohit and Symonds but couldn't finish it off.
It was an inspired bowling performance from Deccan but if it wasn't for a superbly-crafted knock from Symonds, the bowlers would not have had much to defend. The story of their innings was summarised after the first time-out in the tenth over. Amit Mishra bowled with a slip and a silly point to the new batsman Mitchell Marsh, but when Symonds came on strike most fielders were back patrolling the boundary. Delhi were on the attack and knew only one man posed a threat. Marsh preserved his wicket and allowed Symonds to play a fine knock.
Symonds initially reserved his aggression for Amit Mishra. The legspinner troubled Symonds with his googlies, which he picked only off the pitch, but he would time and again counterattack with a muscled hit. He moved down the track to lift a legbreak over long off, followed it by biffing a googly into the same stand and slugged a flighted delivery from outside off over long-on. In between, he edged a legbreak between the keeper and first slip and just when Mishra was seemingly on the ascent, Symonds would break free. Symonds crashed Tillakaratne Dilshan's offbreaks for two sixes and even played a delicate late cut against Paul Collingwood to collect a boundary.
Deccan had reached 116 for 4 in the 15th over and things were set for a final assault when Symonds fell. Mishra had just switched to bowling from round the stumps to Symonds and had his man chipping straight to long off. Delhi applied the squeeze from then on, just as they had done in the first half of the game, but the total proved beyond their reach.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo