There was a grimace on Ricky Ponting’s face as he scratched his chin. Sourav Ganguly, seated behind him, pursed his lips and shook his head. Mohammed Shami had just taken his fourth wicket inside the powerplay. Delhi Capitals were tottering at 23 for 5.
Shami’s precision had made the outcome utterly predictable, like if you froze this footage on a quiz show years later to ask what happened next, everyone’s buzzer would have gone off immediately.
Because you just knew what was coming. Just like Ponting did as a pundit on air a few years ago, when he was dissecting Prithvi Shaw’s weakness against the incoming delivery only for Mitchell Starc to rock up and drive a wedge through the gate.
Capitals are looking at Aman Khan to rescue them now. There’s Axar Patel too, perhaps their best batter of the season so far. With every stroke, he’s showing the team management why it was a mistake to hold him back in a high-scoring game they’d just lost against Sunrisers Hyderabad three nights ago.
In a high-stakes game such as this, there’s pressure every ball. There’s no running away from it. These are Axar’s words from earlier this year. In a way, it summed up his approach. You have to embrace it. In the middle of a boxing ring, there’s no place to hide. You’re facing your opponents, your own challenges and scoreboard pressure with the season slipping away. There’s no place to run.
Axar’s calming influence works its magic in allowing Aman to play himself in. The expectation is to simply bat out the overs and not gift the game up on a platter. Sometimes those are the situations where players tell you they have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Aman certainly had a lot to gain.
Watch – Aman Khan pulls for six over fine leg
Mohit Sharma pitched it short, and the DC batter capitalised
“I wasn’t actually going to play tonight,” he later said at the press conference. Mitchell Marsh’s sickness gave him what seemed like one last chance. He hadn’t ‘played a single impactful knock in the bunch of opportunities he’d had earlier.
Aman plays a lot of club cricket in Mumbai, a world of struggle that teaches you how to fight for survival, how to carve a niche in an environment where there are hundreds waiting to grab onto what you let slip. At 26, Aman isn’t all that young. An IPL performance here could give his career the kind of leg room you wouldn’t otherwise get in Mumbai.
“I wasn’t low on confidence, but in the previous game in Hyderabad, I went in at a similar situation and threw my wicket away,” he said. “I was really disappointed with myself. I thought if I get another opportunity like that, I should grab it.”
He shows smarts, in pinching runs and getting Axar on strike, and is the mellower of the two in their half-century stand but knows he’ll have to take off soon enough. How, though? There’s Rashid Khan to contend with.
So, Aman decides to target the other end and gets stuck into Mohit Sharma first. He holds his shape, picks his spot and waits for Mohit’s into-the-pitch slower deliveries that he wallops. The six off Mohit also brings up a half-century off 41 balls, his first-ever in T20 cricket. Then with the confidence of the landmark behind him, he rocks back to pull Rashid into the stands. By now, Ponting is slapping his thighs. Collective smiles are seen in the Capitals camp. There’s a ray of hope, if not a lot of it. It’s over to the bowlers now to defend 130.
Ponting’s famous duel with Ishant Sharma made him a Test bowler all those years ago. Now at the twilight of his career, Ishant is still trying to prove his T20 skills. He’s only an afterthought at the auction but his inputs and experience “can’t be sold in the bazaar” as his former colleague Irfan Pathan noted.
Khaleel Ahmed hits his rhythm straight away and nips out Wriddhiman Saha after a succession of away-going deliveries. Sunil Gavaskar, in the commentary box, can’t believe how an opener can go out chasing a delivery as wide as that. ‘Leave the ball, leave the ball’ he yelps only for Saha to do the exact opposite. Soon after, Shubman Gill crashes one straight to cover and the Titans are two down.
Now for the ripper of a magic ball that has Dale Steyn reaching out to his phone. “The best knuckleball I’ve ever seen” he tweets as Ishant takes out Vijay Shankar. There aren’t too many wearing blue in the stands, but the small pocket of Capitals supporters are finally smiling for the first time possibly.
Hardik Pandya stands like a rock. Not flustered by the asking rate or his inability to time the ball or pick up boundaries. He belongs to MS Dhoni’s school of taking the game deep. But in trying to do so, he has allowed Capitals a window of opportunity.
Now it’s up to Ishant and Anrich Nortje to deliver the finish. But when Rahul Tewatia goes 6,6,6 in the penultimate over, you wonder if Capitals have been sucker punched. Suddenly, Warner looks like he is directing traffic at a busy intersection: fielders are moved around, mini conferences are had with bowlers, instructions are flying in from the dugout. It’s all happening.
Then Ishant rocks up again with 12 needed off six. He sets a field for the full ball, and bowls two wide yorkers that can’t be put away. The field remains unchanged. Tewatia fully expects him to bowl full and wide again, perhaps, but Ishant bangs it into a length to cramp Tewatia, which he said later revealed was part of his plan to “double bluff” the batter. The catch is taken at cover. Titans need nine off two. You think it’s done until you see Rashid walking out.
But Ishant backs his best ball and goes wide-yorker again. Rashid reaches out to scythe it through cover as a diving Rilee Rossouw intercepts the ball. Now it’s a one-ball battle. Ishant lets it fly. It’s a full toss. Luckily, it isn’t a no ball. The slice bobbles behind point. A boundary is averted, and a match is sensationally pulled out of the bag.
Ishant is all smiles. Ponting can’t contain his childlike excitement. He nearly squishes Sarfaraz Khan. Ganguly has his arms aloft. Shane Watson furiously claps. The Capitals have just pulled off a heist, and they’re just about alive.