Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo
BAN v SL (1)
ENG v NZ (1)
SLCD-XI in ENG (1)
Vitality Blast (8)
4-Day Championship (3)
T20 Challenge (1)
SL-W in PAK (1)
At its heart, Twenty20 is an unfair sport. Not that every other sport is the epitome of fairness but happenstance plays a smaller part in contests that are drawn out longer. Even its rules are unfair. In a sport won by runs or wickets, T20 considers some runs - boundaries, and in particular sixes - to be more equal than others to break ties.
Here you protect a spinner - a bowler who is likely to be India's trump card at the World Cup - because he has gone for 33 in two overs. You bring him back only as an afterthought, when the contest is all but over, and he ends bringing about a tie with a timely long hop.
Captains do tend to protect Kuldeep Yadav a little and use him once a wicket has fallen, so he can be at his attacking best against a new batsman. Here, even after a wicket, Kolkata Knight Riders went to a part-timer.
When Kuldeep finally came on to bowl, Delhi Capitals needed 18 off 18 with eight wickets in hand and a batsman batting on 96. This was a time when Kuldeep and Knight Riders had nothing to lose. So he could take a risk. He went to a rarely used tactic: round the wicket to a left-hand batsman. It worked; a good over brought another, and Knight Riders rolled the dice again in the 20th. Dinesh Karthik is an unassuming captain, and he didn't lay any claim to it being a tactical masterstroke. He said Kuldeep knows better is expected of him when it is his job to bring the difference.
This chain of events is important to understand Delhi's plan when Kagiso Rabada began to run in for the first ball of the Super Over. Twice on the evening they had had all their planning and execution fail, first to Andre Russell's brilliance and now to this almost unwitting turnaround for Knight Riders. Now they were in a sudden-death situation where Knight Riders were clear favourites. They had lost the advantage of chasing, they were not the side with the bigger hitters, and they couldn't afford another tie because Knight Riders would then win on sixes count (sum of boundaries for both sides was same).
And then they scored only 10. It was then that Rabada played the bigger gambit, and went to a plan that requires utter conviction in one's skill and courage: six yorkers.
Rabada was in his shorts and chilling in the change room with Shikhar Dhawan around the time Kuldeep came back during Delhi's chase. They then decided they were going to watch from the dugout and support the guys. After the match was tied, he and Chris Morris were sent upstairs to change into their kit. Rabada thought it was going to be between him and Morris, with Sandeep Lamichhane being the wildcard.
With 10 to defend - in fact, only nine because Knight Riders were going to win with 10 - Delhi's think tank went to Rabada. "And I said, cool, better think of something quickly," said Rabada.
"I thought, 'Big boundary, hmm, what do we bowl here?' We could bowl bouncers. We could bowl slower balls. But it's risky. It's gamble balls. I wasn't really feeling [like] them on the day. On another day, I could have felt [like bowling] them. But today I felt [like bowling] the yorker."
On another day, he did feel like bowling short of a length in a similar situation. India needed 11 in the last over in Kanpur in 2015-16. Rabada had MS Dhoni to bowl to, and he bashed the hard length. He had seen that bring results for Prasidh Krishna here too, but he went by his instinct. Not that he had all the conviction this time despite the plan in place. "I was thinking at the start of my run-up, 'Do I go length?' Because Andre Russell is going to hit anything that is full. So I still second-guessed myself, which is not a very good thing. You don't want to run in with two things in your mind."
By going with his feel, which was six yorkers, Rabada turned this into a 1990s and 2000s ODI. That's when death bowling was all yorkers. And batsmen after Lance Klusener began to set themselves up for the missed yorker. His theory was if a bowler nails four yorkers, that's fantastic by any standards. And the other two, "I ain't missing them."
Rabada called length or slower balls "gamble ball", but six yorkers is highly risky too. The only difference is, here the risk depends on your execution because you have given yourself a smaller margin of error. Rabada was willing - not without some second-guessing - to take that risk. Except the batsmen didn't know it. They were still playing it like the final over of a 2019 T20 game and not like a 1999 ODI. The yorkers thus retained that element of surprise.
Even when Morris tried the yorker in the actual match, he tried it as a bluff: his fine leg was up in the circle, which you want back and fine if yorker is your Plan A. Batsmen today have to be prepared for a whole array of deliveries. Rabada, though, had his fine leg back and fine for the ramp, and was going six yorkers at the stumps. No mucking around, no slower ball, no wide yorker, just run in and try to take out the base of those stumps.
It was in this state of mind - when he had reason to feel this was just such an unfair setting - that Rabada ran in, knowing he had no option to make an error. He nailed the first yorker, but Russell dug it out well enough, and substitute Rahul Tewatia failed to pick it in the deep on the leg side, running the wrong way, and possibly conceding two extra runs. Earlier in the day, Rabada had reason to apologise to Tewatia. Russell had hit a high ball, it was an easy catch for Tewatia running in from the deep, but a pumped-up Rabada ran back and collided into Tewatia. Rabada raised his hand then, Tewatia now.
Rabada explained beautifully what he must have felt there. Asked how difficult it is to nail yorkers, he agreed it was the most difficult ball to get right, but "when you are nailing them, it just seems to happen automatically. You don't even have to think about them."
And Rabada was nailing them. So he was going to go back to it next ball. One thing does work in the bowler's favour in the Super Over, though. A lot of big hitting that you see is because a batsman's wicket is of much less consequence than it used to be. It is not the same in the Super Over. Yes, you have the three best batsmen nominated for it, but it is also like being eight down. You don't have that freedom. And Rabada was using the yorker as a wicket-taking option now.
What followed was execution of the highest quality: yorker after yorker. The second ball jammed Russell. He tried to create room for the third, but Rabada found the root of the middle stump, thus opening up the possibility of bowling out Knight Riders. Now batsmen couldn't take that much risk. Rabada kept nailing them. Off the fifth ball, Karthik took a risk, got inside the line and paddled the ball fine, but Hanuma Vihari, who might be holding himself responsible for bringing about this Super Over, put in an excellent diving save. The anticipation and game awareness, which TV can't show, was spot on.
Those two misses never arrived. On a night that it seemed like they were destined to win, Knight Riders were denied by the brave planning and the sensational skills of the most complete fast bowler going around today. Now you could relate cause and effect. Now the game felt a little less unfair.