A game-changing spell from left-arm spinner Pawan Negi followed by a fifth consecutive half-century from Virender Sehwag overwhelmed Rajasthan Royals in Jaipur and helped Delhi Daredevils strengthen their hold on the No. 1 position. The six-wicket victory, achieved with 28 balls to spare, was Daredevils’ fourth consecutive win this season and gave them 16 points after ten games, while Kolkata Knight Riders are second with 13 after ten. One more win in six remaining games will assure Daredevils a place in the playoffs.
The previous game between these sides, two days ago at the Kotla, had been decided by a one-run margin, with Daredevils stealing victory from a dire situation. Royals looked like stretching Daredevils today as well, until Negi began to spin through the top order. After replacing Ajit Agarkar in Daredevils’ XI, Negi began his spell when Royals were 56 for 0 in six overs. By the time he finished they had slumped to 95 for 5 after 13, and were eventually restricted to 141.
Negi was brought into the attack after the fielding restrictions were lifted and went for only six in his first over. In his next, after bowling two dot balls, he induced in Ajinkya Rahane the need to attempt the unorthodox, a reverse swat that landed in Virender Sehwag’s hands at point. Until then Rahane had helped Royals score at about ten an over with mostly conventional yet extremely potent strokes. Rajasthan were 71 for 1.
Shane Watson, playing his first game this season in place of the injured Kevon Cooper, did not take long to unfurl a trademark heave against the other left-arm spinner, Shahbaz Nadeem, depositing the ball over deep midwicket. When he exhibited similar intent against Negi, he missed and lost off stump. In his final over, Negi had Brad Hodge caught cutting to point and Ashok Menaria holing out to long-on to finish with 4 for 18. Before that brace of wickets another in-form Royals batsman, Owais Shah, had been caught behind, top-edging a pull off Umesh Yadav. Royals had lost 5 for 24.
Through all this, Rahul Dravid stood firm. He had contributed a fair share to the early momentum, then watched the advantage fritter away, and took it upon himself to bat through the innings. In the 17th over, he drove Morne Morkel inside out to bring up a half-century off 35 balls. In the penultimate over, though, Dravid’s slog across the line resulted in the ball going off the inside edge on to his leg and then on to hit the off stump.
Royals’ hopes of defending 141 surged when Mahela Jayawardene was lbw without scoring in the first over. They were short lived, though, as Sehwag launched a withering assault. He hit five of his first six balls for four and after 17 deliveries that count was up to nine. When the fielding restrictions were over, Daredevils had raced to 61 for 1 and their momentum did not abate.
In the eighth over, Sehwag used his bat like a ramp to launch Pankaj Singh over the third-man boundary. The shot made him the only batsman with five consecutive Twenty20 half-centuries, this one taking only 20 deliveries. With Sehwag ripping apart Royals, Pietersen was overshadowed in his final innings this season during a partnership of 96 for the second wicket. Daredevils will miss Pietersen’s consistency at No. 3, but with Sehwag in some of the best form the format has known, Daredevils’ place in the playoffs is virtually sealed.