This is delicate business, the kind of old-school art that usually gets crushed under the boots of the trendy. While the IPL thrives on swaggering studs with jackhammer forehands that can pull and whack a cricket ball, it is easy to overlook the more subtle but no-less-significant batsmen who have the ability to score briskly while stabilising an innings. Such were the valuable contributions of Gautam Gambhir and Mithun Manhas under pressure that allowed the Delhi Daredevils to pull off what turned out to be a challenging chase of a not-too-stiff target.
On a surface not suited to the feverish approach of the Yuvrajs, Sehwags and Dilshans, Gambhir was forced to take the initiative once Delhi had lost early wickets. With the ball occasionally stopping, and the odd one staying low, it was evident that steady accumulation rather than hell-for-leather was the right way to go. Ravi Bopara had succeeded in much the same manner in the first innings, when some of his team-mates perished to frenetic shots.
By the time Gambhir took guard to face his third delivery, Delhi were 10 for 2 with Sehwag and Dilshan gone. Gambhir did very well to rein in his game, keeping the ball along the ground until the 19th over, and took control as Delhi began to get out of a hole. Crucially, there were plenty of scurried singles and hurried twos. There was the odd clip off the toes and the inside-out drive, but by and large Gambhir gathered his runs with straight-bat strokes that the pitch and situation demanded.
There were no slogs, the running was calculated, and the majority of runs came through the arc behind point with delicate placement; the late cut, nay dab, was Gambhir's preferred weapon of attack. In a format which fans throng to for audacious hits, and on a day in which Yusuf Pathan's amazing 37-ball 100 sent temperatures soaring in Mumbai, Gambhir's toned-down innings stood out like a beacon.
When Gambhir and Manhas - they go back a ways playing for their state in the various domestic competitions - punched gloves upon linking up in the middle, Delhi's chase was in some trouble at 79 for 4 in the 13th over. Delhi's middle order had been known for its fallibility over the past two seasons of the IPL and Gambhir and Manhas were left needing to get 64 runs in 46 balls.
The last time these two teams played each other at the PCA Stadium in Mohali, it was Punjab who won chasing with four wickets and three deliveries remaining. On that occasion Gambhir, with Delhi batting first, had become the visitors' third early casualty with a needless rush of blood to the head that resulted in a tame chip to Yuvraj Singh at mid-off. Then, Gambhir walked away shaking his bowed head. Tonight he ensured no such mistake.
Gambhir added 34 in 29 balls with Dinesh Karthik to keep the crowd anxious, and, combining with Manhas, then hit 61 from just 42 - including 15 runs off five balls from Ramesh Powar - to help Delhi home with one ball to spare. Karthik's 20 contained three boundaries, two gracefully executed and one brutally slogged, but an ambitious hoick left the game teasingly poised.
However, instead of letting the situation get to him, Manhas buckled down and played the sort of cool innings that low-key Indian domestic players the league over need to sit up and take notice of. His strokeplay was controlled, displaying risk-free batting until one miscue was dropped at long-on by Irfan Pathan. He replied by whacking two crucial boundaries, the second of which sealed the match off the penultimate delivery.
Manhas today played the kind of innings Delhi needed from their middle order in the past. In 2008, they lost four games on the trot as the middle order fumbled, and in 2009, when the tournament moved to South Africa and Gambhir and Sehwag failed to repeat their 2008 feats, Delhi were again let down by those who followed.
Delhi, after choking twice at the semi-final stage in the last two IPLs, are nearing the point where "if" precedes their aspirations, or a "might be" is attached to the suggestion that they can win the league. With more such contributions under pressure, and in the same cool and uncomplicated manner they scored their runs tonight, the likes of Gambhir and Manhas could prove guiding forces for a side more accustomed to velocity than Velcro.