If 2019 has been a season of resurgence for fingerspin in the IPL, it's largely been led by bowlers with a lot of experience - Harbhajan Singh, R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammad Nabi. On Sunday, a much younger fingerspinner unveiled a new variation to stay in the contest against a rampant hitter.
Abhishek Sharma is an 18-year-old allrounder who announced himself last year with an unbeaten 46 off 19 balls on T20 debut, playing for the erstwhile Delhi Daredevils against Royal Challengers Bangalore.
This season, he was one of three players who went from Delhi to Sunrisers Hyderabad to pave the way for Shikhar Dhawan to move in the other direction. His Sunrisers Hyderabad debut came on Sunday, against his old team.
When Kane Williamson introduced Abhishek in the ninth over of Delhi Capitals' innings, he was up against the left-handed Colin Munro, who was batting on 32 off 20 balls. Captains are often reluctant to bowl left-arm orthodox spinners at left-hand batsmen, but it soon became apparent why Williamson wasn't.
While it was left-arm orthodox that Abhishek bowled to the right-handed Shreyas Iyer, he primarily bowled a different kind of delivery to Munro. It wasn't full-on wristspin with the ball leaving the hand with overspin, but a delivery akin to the seam bowler's legcutter, with the wrist snapping backwards, and the fingers ripping down the side of the ball, to apply a significant amount of backspin.
Abhishek delivered this ball from left-arm over, and it straightened away from the left-hander off the pitch. Munro jumped down the track to the fifth ball of Abhishek's over and launched it for a big six over long-on, but the bowler came up with a fine reply. He tossed up the next ball slower and a lot wider outside off stump, and Munro, reaching out for a booming cover drive, wasn't close enough to the pitch of the ball to play it safely. The ball spun away sharply, brushed the outside edge of his angled bat, and settled in the gloves of Jonny Bairstow, who had moved quickly and decisively behind the stumps to make a difficult catch look simple.
Why did Capitals take so long to bring on Mishra?
Before today, Jonny Bairstow had fallen to legspin five times in six innings this season, and the other time to Mujeeb Ur Rahman's mystery spin. Capitals had a legspinner in their ranks, in Amit Mishra, but Shreyas Iyer didn't bring him on until the 11th over of Sunrisers' chase. Bairstow had fallen in the previous over for a 31-ball 41, after putting on 72 for the first wicket with David Warner.
Given that Sunrisers weren't chasing a massive target, and given their middle-order worries right through the season, it was important for Capitals to try and separate their in-form openers early. Bringing Mishra on earlier might have helped them achieve this.
Another middle-order meltdown
And yet, and yet. When Bairstow departed, Sunrisers needed 84 off 61 balls, with nine wickets in hand. Most chasing teams are still very much favourites in that situation, and ESPNcricinfo's Forecaster tool gave Sunrisers a 61.96% chance of winning. But Sunrisers have been exaggeratedly dependent on their openers this season, and when Kane Williamson followed Bairstow to the dressing room for 3 off 8 balls, Capitals could sense an opening, with the equation now reading 78 off 50 balls.
Most spectators at the ground would have expected Vijay Shankar to walk in at this stage; he's been in pretty good form this season, and has shown the game and temperament to adapt to a situation such as this one. Sunrisers, however, sent in Ricky Bhui, who was playing the second IPL match of his career.
On a slightly two-paced pitch, Bhui simply couldn't force the pace. To be fair to him, neither could Warner, who was on 32 off 32 when Williamson fell. Mishra gave away only four runs in the 13th over and five in the 15th, using a mixture of loopy googlies and flat offbreaks at over 100kph to tie Warner down. At the other end Chris Morris and Keemo Paul bowled slower, back-of-a-length cutters into the pitch, giving away just 15 between them in the 14th and 16th.
By the time Bhui fell for 7 off 12, the match had swung Capitals' way. And there was no coming back for Sunrisers when Kagiso Rabada dismissed Warner and Shankar off successive balls in the next over, both batsmen miscuing big heaves off hard-to-hit short balls. All told, Sunrisers lost 8 for 15 in their last 23 balls.