<
>

New haircut, vintage Shami

The Chinnaswamy Stadium geared up for an ensemble-driven blockbuster on Sunday night. Chants of "R-C-B, R-C-B!" were deafening an hour before the start of the hosts' second match of the season.

The chants grew louder when Chris Gayle, Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers and Shane Watson turned up for practice. Delhi Daredevils coach Rahul Dravid, hoping for a happy homecoming, also drew a big cheer.

At the pitch adjacent to the playing surface stood the comeback man Mohammed Shami with a new, flashy hairstyle. He listened intently to his captain Zaheer Khan, nodded, and delivered a short ball with extra bounce. It thudded into the gloves of Quinton de Kock. Zaheer had another chat with Shami and patted the fast bowler on his back. That turned out to be a regular scene throughout the first innings.

After opting to bowl, Zaheer explained that Daredevils had picked Shami to exploit Royal Challengers Bangalore's middle order, which does not have as much cream as the top. Shami, playing his first IPL match since May 2014 and his fifth competitive match since the 2015 World Cup, was far from his best, but changed the game by giving Daredevils the momentum de Kock needed to run away with the chase.

At 16 overs, when Shami came back for his third spell, Royal Challengers were cruising at 164 for 2 with Kohli in a rarefied zone on 75 off 43 balls. By then, Watson was also set - on 27 off 17 balls - and the pair had the crowd grooving to their shots. Zaheer had been put away for two sixes and two fours in the previous over . The pressure was on Shami and to remind him the raucous crowd went: "We want sixer, we want sixer!"

Shami duped Watson with a slower ball, but the batsman managed to find a six via a mis-hit. The crowd wanted more. Shami, however, muted them with a chest-high short ball, which tucked Watson up for room. He only managed to pop a catch off the gloves to short fine leg. Shami was pumped and let out a roar.

Three balls later, Shami showed off his improved fitness and ran out Sarfaraz Khan off his own bowling. Shami nimbly moved to his left in his follow through, picked the ball up with his left hand, spun around and fired, all in one motion to nail the stumps and catch Sarfaraz a foot short despite a dive. Shami's confidence was back.

The crucial blow, though, came in his next over when Shami speared a full ball that Kohli could not get underneath and shovelled to long-on. Shami and Daredevils were on to something and he followed it with rising short balls that gave Kedar Jadhav and David Wiese no leeway to free their arms. He gave away only 14 runs from his last two overs and finished with 4-0-34-2.

Morris' hit-the-deck bustle complemented Shami and helped Daredevils drag Royal Challengers back to 191, which de Kock later termed a "par score." At the post-match presentation, Zaheer said that his last over - the 16th which went for 21 and preceded Shami's final spell - had made Daredevils re-assess their bowling plans.

"My bad over helped me figure out what will work," Zaheer said. "Just told [Shami and Morris] bowl back of a length … Tournament like IPL, momentum helps, these kinds of games matter. We ticked a box and now we have three to four days off."

That Shami hit back after a nervous start should come as a boost for Daredevils and Shami himself. His second ball was a loosener down leg, which was helped on its way. His third was a decent length ball, which was manoeuvred to the cover boundary by Kohli's supple wrists. His sixth was a rank full toss, which was gleefully swatted into the stands beyond midwicket by de Villiers. In the tenth over, Shami lumbered to his right from long-on and fumbled, allowing two instead of one.

Shami looked like he was shaken. It helped that he had Zaheer, who had the experience of mentoring several bowling groups, kept chatting with Shami and shielded him from pressure like an older brother would protect his younger one. The innings ended with a smiling Shami high-fiving Zaheer. The night ended with de Kock's sparkling century sealing Daredevils' first win over Royal Challengers since 2010.