It's one more, and the last, chance for Delhi Capitals, the top team in the league stage but now looking a little ragged, and the resurgent Kolkata Knight Riders to make a dash for the final. So this is it. Win, and take on Chennai Super Kings in the IPL 2021 final. Lose, and it's the long journey home.
They were down in seventh place when the IPL came to an abrupt halt back in May. Their captain was being pilloried. #SackMorgan was all over the place on social media. Their coach came out and made plain that they weren't playing the kind of cricket he wanted. That they were even being timid with their approach.
Knight Riders have not made the final since 2014. They're there now. It's been a polished effort. Top order knew the onus was on them to finish the chase and Iyer stepped up, scoring his third fifty of the season. His influence cannot be understated. Three-hundred-plus runs in nine matches by an uncapped player who suddenly became their batting leader.
But really, KKR's rise has been on the back of their bowling line-up. They have ruled Sharjah whose pitch has suited them to a T. They bowled Sunil Narine in the 19th over today and he looked unhittable. These slow and low conditions make them nigh on unbeatable. Finishing fourth might well have helped them considering they ended up playing their knockout matches on a ground where they can utterly dominate.
Delhi Capitals, meanwhile, topped the table at the end of the league stage. That gave them two shots at a place in the final. It came down to the last over in both those games. And that's credit to a bowling line-up that is right up there with the very best. Six wickets for seven runs in the last 24 deliveries of this game. It broke open from out of nowhere. KKR were 123 for 1 in the 16th over chasing 139. And they've only just sneaked home.
"I don't think there are any words to express how I am feeling," says an emotional Rishabh Pant at the presentation. He's wiping tears from his eyes. His voice is deep with disappointment. "As Delhi Capitals, we help each other, we learn from each other and hopefully next season we'll come back stronger". At the end of the interview, he goes off to the dugout and sits all alone. Ricky Ponting does well though. He immediately walks up to the heartbroken captain and pulls him up to his feet and brings him out of his own head. This world will seem a cruel place to Rishabh Pant tonight but it's not the end. After all, in just a few days' time, he has a whole World Cup to play for.
Ashwin strikes! Shakib gone! KKR still need six off three!
With the pressure piling on - he ate up a dot ball second ball of the over - Shakib goes for the scoop - the shot that won the last game against RCB. But this time he's plumb in front.
Capitals are - outta nowhere - ahead in this game. Five wickets and seven runs in the last 22 deliveries
Make that SIX WICKETS and seven runs in the last 23 deliveries. Ashwin takes out Narine! A down the track whack ends up in the hands of Axar Patel at long-off. Narine is awesome against spin. He would have backed himself to finish this off with one swing. He goes for it. But he doesn't connect right. That's because Ashwin isn't putting any pace on the ball. No pace on this slow, low Sharjah pitch means it's so hard to clear those invitingly tiny boundaries.
KKR need six off two now!
Is there a twist?
KKR have made only three runs in the last 12 balls. And there have been two wickets as well.
Fairly big ones. The set batter Gill. And the finisher Karthik.
Capitals now need 10 off 12 balls. R Ashwin and Anrich Nortje with overs remaining.
Nortje finishes off! And he finishes Eoin Morgan off too! Only three off the 19th over. AND A WICKET TOO! Ashwin has seven to defend. Six runs and four wickets off the last 19 balls
In Sharjah, that's not always straightforward.
Stoinis not a bowling option
KKR 76 for 0 in 10 overs; Iyer 44 off 33, GIll 27 off 27
He seems to have played this game as a specialist batter. Was he rushed back before he was ready?
That leaves Capitals with just five bowling options. And only one of them appears threatening. Anrich Nortje. He bowled the first over. Then disappeared. In his absence, the KKR openers have made merry.
And now that they're set, even Nortje isn't all that threatening. Iyer is racing to his half-century. Only two Capitals batters managed a strike-rate better than 100 in their innings. Iyer here is going at 137.
KKR are walking this, which is why at the end of the 11th over, Rishabh Pant calls all his players in for an impromptu huddle. Can Capitals turn this around? They've never ever defended a total below 150.
Knight Riders 51 for 0 in six overs; Iyer 31 off 20, Gill 17 off 16
Capitals would have wanted a lot from their spearhead. And for the most part he's delivered. He won the purple cap with them not so long ago.
This season, however, he's been very off-colour. Very hittable. He's conceded the most sixes by any bowler. And he gets tonked again. Venkatesh Iyer charging out and launching him over wide long-on.
Two balls later, the batter comes hard again, but this time it's a mis-hit, it comes right back to Rabada - a Rabada down on his luck, down on his gifts, down on his wickets - and now he downs a catch too. A toughish one in his followthrough.
Iyer has been a revelation for KKR. Came in for their UAE leg, when they were down in seventh place. Perhaps back then they thought what do we have to lose. Now, he has them eyeing the IPL trophy itself.
Runs in the powerplay are absolutely vital in Sharjah, whose pitches are too slow and too low to force the ball away once the field restrictions are gone. And KKR have put up 51 of them. Iyer responsible for 30, at a strike rate of 155. Brilliant batting. Potentially match-winning batting.
Iyer vs Pant
Knight Riders 21 for 0 in three overs; Gill 11 off 8, Iyer 10 off 10
There has always been a spotlight on Rishabh Pant and the way he bats. Some feel he is a bit too carefree. As recently as his last game, he's also under scrutiny for his captaincy.
At the change of innings today, it was Shreyas Iyer leading the team talk. Iyer was the one who hung around long enough to have a chance to go big at the end of the innings. In 2020, he led the Capitals to the final. Then he got injured and the captaincy changed hands.
How has Pant been as captain? How has he been as a batter? Will he still be captain next year? You imagine the answer to all those questions will be awesome if they win this game and awful if they lose it.
Capitals 135 for 5 in 20 overs; Iyer 30 off 27, Varun 2-26
Two of the last three overs went for 15 each. Shimron Hetmyer, who should have been out for 2 but was reprieved by a Chakravarthy no-ball, went bang bang against Lockie Ferguson. Then Shreyas Iyer did the trick against Shivam Mavi, a take down that included a six to end the innings on a high note.
Capitals have a decent total here. And they have a more than decent bowling attack. Axar Patel and R Ashwin are spinners well-practiced in the art of tying a batting line-up down. Anrich Nortje and Kagiso Rabada can be menaces in any conditions. More so if they hit the back of a length area - that 8m mark in line with the stumps.
That table says everything really. Look at the strike-rate. Bowl short and the batters can't hit. Bowl full and they can launch you to all parts. Runs on the board are always useful in a knockout match.
Va va va va Varuuuuunn
Capitals 92 for 4 in 16 overs; Iyer 10 off 13, Hetmyer 1 off 3
That's not a pun, btw. That's Dinesh Karthik behind the stumps encouraging his bowler in Tamil. "Avanukku theriyala nee yenna podra nu" screams the keeper which means "he doesn't know what you're bowling."
This is the reason India have gone so big on Varun Chakravarthy, picking him in their T20 World Cup squad even though he's barely played for them.
He may well be their first-choice spinner in that tournament now based on his performance in this UAE leg so far. Hasn't gone for more than 26 runs in his four overs across eight matches here.
On a more immediate note, he's dismissed Dhawan, and in the next over Ferguson knocks out Rishabh Pant. Capitals are looking a bit flaky here.
Only five fours and three sixes in an innings that's already in the 16th over. Ball-tracking data shows that KKR have consistently gone short tonight - the 8m mark - and the batter's strike rate to those deliveries has been only 33.
This isn't over for the Capitals just yet though. They have a good bowling attack. Really quick bowlers who, if they too can hit this short of a length, can trouble a KKR batting line-up that barring the openers hasn't always clicked. A total around 130-140 could be tough.
Capitals 83 for 2 in 14 overs; Dhawan 36 off 38, Iyer 8 off 11
... is in the middle of a great game. He's been hitting the middle of this pitch, as often as he can, going cross-seam as well.
On a pitch where the ball isn't coming on and where the bounce can't be trusted, Mavi is doing all he can to target the stumps and limit the batters into hitting straight down the ground.
They could take the risk of going for the cross-bat shot - like Stoinis did - and lose his stumps as the ball skids through.
Slow and low can be good for a fast bowler too. Mavi has 3-0-12-1. And the pressure he has created from his end results in a wicket at the other, Dhawan, under pressure to pull the trigger having faced 38 balls for only 36 runs, charges at Chakravarthy and mis-hits to point.
The middle overs
Capitals 70 for 1 in 11 overs; Dhawan 31 of 32, Stoinis 18 off 22
This is KKR's domain. Especially since the IPL moved to the UAE this year. Between overs 6 and 16, their economy rate is only 6.16. That's the best of all the teams competing in this tournament. Capitals (6.77) are close on their heels though.
Spin plays a huge part in this strangle. And in Sharjah all they have to do is target the stumps. The pitch is too slow. It offers no bounce. Those two factors combined take out a batters power game. They can't rely on cross-bat shots here. If they do that to a ball straight on the stumps, and if it keeps low, they run the risk of being bowled or lbw. Dhawan and Stoinis will have to pick the right ball to go big - and usually they'll be wide of the stumps allowing them to free the hands.
This is a knockout match and as such runs on the board will always be useful. Capitals, it appears, are aiming for something along the lines of 130-140 which is good. It's sensible. It's the average score in Sharjah and it's the kind of ground where aiming too high can leave you less than 100 all out.
Stoinis at No. 3
Delhi capitals 38 for 1 in six overs; Dhawan 17 off 19. Stoinis 3 off 5
Shreyas Iyer is a good player of spin. KKR are a team built on spin. It's a good match-up. But Capitals have gone a different way.
Stoinis comes out at the fall of Prithvi Shaw's wicket - lbw unable to read Varun Chakravarthy and the ball that comes in. He bats up the order in the BBL. That's where he's destructive, with the ball coming on.
But the ball really doesn't come on here. Unless you're bowling 148kph like Lockie Ferguson. (Even then he doesn't get any bounce)
So why Stoinis? Having been injured, he's coming out of the cold too. Could this be a ploy to tempt KKR into bowling their spinners out too early, leaving the likes of Shivam Mavi shouldering the burden of death bowling.
Narine in the powerplay
Capitals 32 for 0 in four overs; Shaw 18 off 11, Dhawan 14 off 13
And Dhawan launches him over square leg. Twice! This is KKR's biggest threat tonight. And he's up against the Capitals' biggest threat(s) tonight.
Those two sixes are the reason why Narine hates bowling when the field is up. The batter knew there was a 55m boundary he could target with a slog sweep. Even mis-hits can go that far.
Knight Riders went the entire game without conceding a six in the Eliminator against RCB. Here they've been walloped for three in the first four overs.
Spin to start
Capitals 1 for 0 in one over; Shaw 1 off 2, Dhawan 0 off 4
Knight Riders have at least 12 overs of it tonight and given they'll be bowled by Shakib Al Hasan, Sunil Narine and Varun Chakravarthy they'd be 12 quality overs too.
Sharjah is now in the back pocket of the spinners, so disrupting them will be very very hard. Still, if you're smart enough, and Prithvi Shaw's shown he is, there is a chance. The Capitals opener has never been dismissed by Narine or Chakravarthy and has been walloping both of them at a strike rate of 170 or more. He'll have already eyed up that one of the boundaries square of the wicket is only 55m or so.
Knight Riders will bowl
And it's the same team, so no Andre Russell. Their captain Eoin Morgan is also happy he can help his bowers avoid dew if it comes in later in the night. Big change for the Capitals: Marcus Stoinis is in and Tom Curran is out
So Pant and Ponting have got their batting cover back. That means this line-up can go hard all though. A slowdown in the middle overs against CSK might well have cost them their last game. None of that nonsense tonight.
Andre Russell's been battling an injury problem too. A player as good as he is can tip the balance of any game. But, given this one is being played in Sharjah, which is slow and low and turning, Kolkata Knight Riders may not miss him as much, especially considering his replacement - Shakib Al Hasan - is magnificently suited to these conditions.
This is it
Bowlers win you tournaments. Delhi Capitals and Kolkata Knight Riders have invested heavily on that fact. Their seasons have turned around on the back of incredible performances from people like Anrich Nortje, Avesh Khan, Sunil Narine and Varun Chakravarthy. But all of their good work will be for nothing if they don't win tonight.
Performing under pressure is the biggest indicator of a big-match player. And everyone wants to be a big-match player. That's what we dream of when we're out in the backyard. That's also what they dreamed of too. And here's their chance. Twenty-two men will step out on the field tonight. Eleven of them will go home (Or well go to a different bio-bubble). The other eleven of will go on.