In spite of having gone down to Kings XI Punjab in their previous game, Gujarat Lions would still have been confident when they faced Delhi Daredevils at Rajkot on Tuesday. After all, they were still table-toppers, and their all-round game seemed in good shape. But, Delhi have shown sharp improvements in recent times, and it all came together perfectly at Rajkot, as they handed the Lions their second defeat in a row, and jumped up in the points table, behind Lions. Suresh Raina's men remain on top in spite of recent upsets, but they aren't looking as invincible as they were towards the beginning of the season.
This IPL has been disappointingly predictable, with teams winning the toss, bowling first, and chasing down the score on most occasions. While it is one thing having a plan in place, implementing it is totally another one. This is where Delhi were so good against Lions at Rajkot. They jolted the hosts early, claiming three big wickets at the start itself, and from thereon they did not allow Lions to blossom. Zaheer Khan has found his range in recent games, and he again starred with the big wicket of Brendon McCullum. There were impressive efforts from the rest as well, with Shahbaz Nadeem, Amit Mishra, Chris Morris and Mohammad Shami all chipping in nicely.
In many ways, the match was decided in the first four overs itself, when Lions lost their top three cheaply. McCullum, Dwayne Smith and Aaron Finch have been central to Lions' success in the tournament, but they all were back in the hunt by the fourth over. What the early wickets allowed Delhi to do was build further pressure on the middle and lower order, who knew they had to stick around to compile a decent score to defend. But, it throughout seemed like a losing battle, as the batsmen could not take a lot of risks in the middle overs.
After the early jolts, the Lions began consolidating courtesy Suresh Raina and Dinesh Karthik. But, the dismissal of the Lions skipper just as he was getting into his groove was another turning point in the match. Karthik continued to bat well in the company of Ravindra Jadeja, who finally got among the runs. But, it was more a case of accumulation rather than all out attack. In the end, in spite of their best efforts, Lions could not reach 150, which definitely gave Delhi the upper hand.
Having bowled with vigour, it was crucial that Delhi batted with resolve. They did exactly the same as Rishabh Pant went on an all-out attack, and Quinton de Kock eased his way to another good knock in the chase. Delhi will be extremely pleased with the kind of innings Pant came up with, and the continually good form of de Kock. They should look to continue building on the gains. As for Lions, they need to do some sole-searching after a couple of bad performances.
--By A Cricket Analyst