The next time someone argues, at extreme length, that T20 cricket is a contest between batsman and opposing batsman, designed to see who can hit the ball harder, further, you can provide the clinching counter-argument in just three words: Delhi versus Hyderabad.
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Had I, before this tournament began, been asked to name one team as overarching favorite for the title, I'd have picked the Hyderabad outfit: a batting lineup of Adam Gilchrist, Andrew Symonds, Shahid Afridi and Rohit Sharma, with the likes of VVS Laxman and Scott Styris as back-up, seemed the closest approximation to a T20 dream team.
To watch that side reduced to 6/82 before Rohit played a fine hand to save Hyderabad its blushes was an education.
Delhi kept it simple, and it began with the toss.
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When, in bizarre fashion, the match referee failed to figure out which side of the coin was head, and accepted Laxman's verdict, Delhi skipper Virender Sehwag came up with a classic: 'It doesn't matter whether you bat first or second, the thing is to bat well,' Sehwag said-- a whole cricket text book distilled to its ineluctable essence.
And then two bowlers, facing the most power-packed batting lineup on a wicket conducive to stroke play, produced an animated textbook: millimetric adjustments in line, just the right length to consistently hit top of off, just enough movement to reduce a batsman's comfort level; that prescription, served up time and again, was all it took.
Glenn McGrath and Mohammad Asif are the antithesis of fast bowlers-- neither of them believe in pace as a virtue. A year ago, in an interview with Anand Vasu, then of Cricinfo, Asif eloquently explained his craft:
What are the basics a fast bowler needs to remember irrespective of the pitches he is bowling on and the batsmen he is bowling to?
There are three are four different types of fast bowlers. Some depend on swing, some on seam, and some on raw pace. I am the kind of bowler who depends on seam and swing. I try to bowl within the stumps. If the batsman is beaten or deceived, the ball should go on to hit the stumps.
My line and length is such that the ball should not go over the height of the bails. Some bowlers just like to see the keeper gathering the ball over his head. That looks good, but it's not much use.....
When the ball leaves your hand, do you have a clear idea of what it's going to do - how much and which way it will swing or seam?
With the new ball, you have a fair idea of control. When you're bowling an inswinger, it should start at a line so that it ends up on the stumps when it's done swinging. It shouldn't be outside the stumps or down leg. With the outswinger it's the same. The ball should end in such a way that an edge lands in the hands of the slip fielder.
That virtue was best exemplified in the dismissal of VVS Laxman. The last ball of the fourth over was, like pretty much everything Asif served up, on impeccable length, and on off stump line; as it got to the batsman, it deviated an inch and a half to beat the edge.
The first ball of Asif's next over hit the exact same spot-- and this time, it deviated an inch and a half the other way, again beating the edge and this time going through to hit just below the top of off.
Bowlers, glory be, have a role to play in this game, and when it is a master practitioner at work, it is a magnificent spectacle.
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McGrath [who has to his credit two of the only three maidens bowled in the course of seven IPL games thus far] and Asif cornered the attention and the glory, but Maharoof, Vijaykumar Yomahesh, and Rajat Bhatia were equally impressive in their adherence to the basics; clearly, as a bowling unit, Delhi also seems to be benefiting from the presence of Dennis Lillee as bowling consultant [his understudy, T A Shekhar of the MRF Foundation, did duty yesterday]
Rohit impressed with his calm amidst the chaos, but no one batsman was going to do the job against a bowling outfit like this, backed by a committed, if unspectacular, fielding side.
And then, there was the chase-- if you can call a T20 innings where a target of 143 is reached with seven overs and nine wickets to spare a 'chase'.
Unlike other franchises, which appear to operate on the theory that the key to the prize is to rope in big hitting players from foreign lands, Delhi seems to have staked its title hopes on home-grown talent-- and for the second time in two games, the combination of Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag and Shikar Dhawan made chasing seem ludicrously simple.
In Delhi's first game it was Gambhir who provided the propellant; this time it was Sehwag-- and his display was typical of the man. Some cultured taps for singles and twos [14 singles, two twos] sufficed until he thought the target was within reach.
'Within reach', for him, has a different meaning-- where most batsmen define that as a boundary hit away, for Sehwag it is more like 30, 40 runs away; once he got there, it took one spectacular 4-6-4-6-4-6 sequence off Andrew Symonds to get the job done.
And that brings up one final point: In a post the other day, I had pointed at a whole slew of commentators who argued that the IPL has not managed to create tribal loyalties; for all the ad campaigns, these commentators said, locals hadn't really bought in to their respective teams.
Last night must have prompted them to think again: if not parochialism of the kind club cricket needs as life blood, what then explains the fact that Sehwag took Andrew Symonds, no less, to the cleaners-- and a capacity crowd greeted the fireworks with deafening silence?