Who is T Natarajan, and what was so special about his performance today?
Natarajan is a left-arm quick who first came to the attention of IPL scouts when he bowled six yorkers back-to-back in a Super Over against Abhinav Mukund and Washington Sundar. Kings XI Punjab signed him for INR 3 crore during the 2017 IPL auction, and he played six matches for them that season. He was expensive, though, returning an economy rate of 9.07 across six games.
That performance drove down his price at the 2018 auction, where the Sunrisers snapped him up for INR 40 lakh. It's understood that Muttiah Muralitharan, the Sunrisers bowling coach who has also worked in the TNPL, played an influential role in Sunrisers bidding for Natarajan.
He didn't feature in a single game in his first two seasons with the franchise, but he's since added an extra yard of pace, which he showed while helping Tamil Nadu reach the final of the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 tournament. He was Tamil Nadu's designated death bowler through the entire white-ball domestic season, and those performances may have helped him break into the Sunrisers first XI.
On Tuesday night, he showed exactly why he was there: to bowl yorker after yorker and keep nailing them. In his third and fourth overs - the 14th and 18th of the Capitals' innings - he bowled ten balls that could either be described as pinpoint yorkers - with a hint of shape into the left-hander as well - or balls too full to get under easily, or low full-tosses hitting the toe-end of the bat. The last of them got him the wicket of Marcus Stoinis, lbw playing across the line.
The long boundaries and the two-paced pitch definitely increased Natarajan's margin for error - it will be interesting to watch how he holds up when the Sunrisers play in Sharjah - but it said a lot about his skills that he could hit the blockhole with such precision against some of the biggest hitters in the game, that too with a bit of dew about.
Why did the Sunrisers pick Kane Williamson over Mohammad Nabi?
For a number of seasons now, the same weakness has dogged the Sunrisers: a top-heavy batting line-up with a lack of experience and power through the middle order. This weakness had contributed significantly to their losing their first two games of the season, against Royal Challengers Bangalore and the Kolkata Knight Riders.
Bringing Williamson in was the obvious way to strengthen the middle order, but in doing so, the Sunrisers took a big gamble because they were leaving out the offspin-bowling allrounder Nabi, who is one of the world's leading bowlers against left-hand batsmen. This against a side with four left-handers - Shikhar Dhawan, Rishabh Pant, Shimron Hetmyer and Axar Patel - in their top seven.
The move worked brilliantly on the day, with Williamson not just adding solidity to the Sunrisers batting effort but also urgency and inventiveness while scoring a vital 41 off 26 balls. The Sunrisers also rose to the challenge of having only five bowlers, with Sharma doing well to finish with an economy rate of 8.50 despite bowling the bulk of his overs to two left-hand batsmen. Whether this combination will work in other matches, in more batting-friendly conditions, and against other teams, remains to be seen.
Why did Axar Patel only bowl two overs?
Axar was one of the heroes of Delhi Capitals' win over Chennai Super Kings in their previous match, taking 1 for 18 in his four overs, of which he bowled two inside the powerplay. Against the Sunrisers, however, Axar didn't bowl at all inside the first ten overs, and only two overs thereafter. Why?
In one word, match-ups. The Capitals used Axar with the new ball against the Super Kings because of his excellent head-to-head record against Shane Watson, whom he ended up dismissing for the sixth time in nine meetings.
Tonight, the Capitals were wary of using Axar when David Warner was at the crease. This is their head-to-head in T20s: 51 balls across eight innings, 84 runs, two dismissals. Warner was at the crease until the 10th over of the Sunrisers innings, and the Capitals brought Axar on in the 11th, as soon as the opener was safely out of the way.
Why didn't the Sunrisers promote Rashid Khan?
When the Sunrisers lost Jonny Bairstow with 13 balls remaining, they sent in the debutant Abdul Samad. Did they miss a trick by not promoting Rashid Khan, who's shown himself - in the limited batting opportunities he gets around the world - to be a natural ball-striker?
There's definitely an argument that the Sunrisers can trust Rashid's ability a little more - he has a first-ten-balls strike rate of 143 in the last three years.
But Samad comes to the IPL with quite a reputation for hitting too. He hit 36 sixes during last year's Ranji Trophy, more than anyone else in the competition. It's a first-class tournament, yes, but that number still tells a tale, and off the fourth ball he faced tonight, Samad proved he can do it against the quickest bowlers in the business too, going deep in his crease to get under a full ball from Anrich Nortje and smoke him over the long-on boundary.
Were the Capitals too conservative in their chase?
The Capitals went at less than a run a ball through their powerplay, despite just losing one wicket, and by the time they reached the halfway point of their chase, their required rate was nearly 11. Were they too conservative at the start?
Yes, and no. Like most teams, they must have backed themselves to chase two runs a ball if they had wickets in hand, so there was a bit of early caution. But this was a two-paced pitch, there was some seam movement early on too, and the Sunrisers bowled well and used the long boundaries to their advantage, so - much like Bairstow during the Sunrisers innings - the slow scoring wasn't entirely intentional. Where Shikhar Dhawan did the Bairstow role to an extent, the Capitals didn't have a Warner or a Williamson on the day to get them close to the target with wickets in hand.
Should Warner have used Sharma's four overs in one spell?
Without Nabi, the Sunrisers had a depleted bowling attack, and Abhishek Sharma - who had bowled two overs each in his first two matches of the season - had to take on a much bigger workload. The left-arm spinner did commendably to concede just 19 in his first three overs despite predominantly bowling to two left-handers. He did this by going wide of the crease, landing on a length just short of sweepable, and forcing the batsmen to hit him into the leg side where most of the boundary-riders were - the long boundaries gave him the cushion to bowl to such a plan.
But was a fourth over on the trot asking for too much, especially against hitters of the calibre of Rishabh Pant and Shimron Hetmyer? Warner gambled, and the move nearly came off, with the first four balls bringing three singles and a dropped caught-and-bowled, Pant hitting it too hard for it to be anything more than a half-chance. The last two balls, however, disappeared for sixes, leaving the Capitals still in the game with 85 to get off 42 balls.
Why did Warner hold back Khan's last over?
While Sharma bowled four on the trot, Warner pulled Rashid out of the attack after his third, waiting until the 17th over to bring him back.
From the start of the 14th over - when Rashid went out of the attack - to the end of the 16th, the Capitals scored 36 off 18 balls, remaining in touch with their required rate. Another over from Rashid then, you could argue, could have shut them out of the game.
Warner, though, may have wanted to ensure that he had one over from his legspinner left in order to break up a string of overs from his quicks. He may have also gambled on getting at least one of Pant or Hetmyer out before bringing Rashid back against Stoinis, who isn't the most confident starter against spin.
In the event, it worked, with Hetmyer holing out off Bhuvneshwar Kumar in the 16th over and Rashid returning for the 17th with Stoinis on strike.
Should Pant have played out Rashid's final over?
At the start of that over, the Capitals needed 49 from 24. In a similar situation in the CPL recently, while playing for the Trinbago Knight Riders against the Barbados Tridents, Kieron Pollard had played out Rashid's final over, leaving himself 66 to get off the last 24 balls and somehow pulling it off.
Three singles came off the first three balls of Rashid's over tonight, before Pant took the legspinner on and picked out deep square leg with a miscued sweep. Should he have held back?
It was a difficult choice either way for Pant, given the situation, and given how well the Sunrisers' fast bowlers were also bowling. And he certainly had reason to back himself against Rashid. Before today, Pant had a career T20 strike rate of 155.73 against legspin and an average of 65.66. Against Rashid specifically, he had scored 56 runs off 37 balls while only being dismissed once.
With inputs from Deivarayan Muthu