Pushed into batting first, Punjab Kings were cruising on a pitch that saw a run-fest between Kolkata Knight Riders and Rajasthan Royals play out on Monday. Mayank Agarwal, Punjab’s regular skipper, was making amends for missing out in the last match against Sunrisers Hyderabad by collecting four boundaries off Shardul Thakur in the first three overs.
At 33/0 in 3.3 overs, Punjab was well on their way to proving Simon Doull’s prediction of a score of 180-190 correct from the pre-match pitch report. But everything changed when Delhi Capitals’ skipper Rishabh Pant brought on Lalit Yadav’s off-spin, his sixth bowling option, in the fourth over.
During the mid-innings chat, Axar had said to the broadcasters that the over bowled by Lalit gave them signals that the pitch was sticky; the ball was stopping and gripping a bit, which meant that flamboyant stroke-play to make runs against the slower bowlers won’t be an easy task for Punjab’s aggressive style of batting.
“The wicket is a bit sticky and it’s holding up a bit, we figured that out in the powerplay itself when the spinner (Lalit) bowled the third over. He said that the ball was stopping a bit. When I bowled as well in the sixth over, the ball was gripping a bit.”
Before Axar came into the picture, Lalit provided the breakthrough for Delhi, breaking the 33-run opening stand as Shikhar Dhawan was strangled down the leg while trying to pull through the fine leg and Rishabh Pant grabbing an excellent catch.
Liam Livingstone, the lynchpin of Punjab’s batting, danced wildly down the pitch to loft straight down the ground against Axar. But the left-arm spinner had pulled his length back as Livingstone missed the ball completely. It spun away sharply from him and was stumped by Pant.
With Mustafizur Rahman and Khaleel Ahmed taking out Mayank Agarwal and Jonny Bairstow respectively, Delhi’s spinners were aided by the fact that the pacers were matching them toe-to-toe. Axar would take out another crucial wicket for Delhi as Jitesh Sharma shuffled across for a pre-mediated sweep but the ball hit him low on the pad, sneaking past the bat.
The third member of the spin show, Kuldeep Yadav, had been hit for some boundaries by Sharma. But after Sharma fell, Kuldeep was brought immediately for the final over, scalping the wickets of Kagiso Rabada and Nathan Ellis on successive deliveries.
While Rabada was cleaned through the gate with a googly, Ellis was undone by the tossed-up delivery coming from wide of the crease and drifted in nicely to go past the expansive drive to hit the stumps.
The spinners’ day out ended when Lalit forced Rahul Chahar to go for a slog-sweep on a flat delivery and the top edge was safely pouched by the deep backward square leg.
Axar finished with figures of 2/10 in four overs, with 13 dot balls at a miserly economy rate of 2.50. Kuldeep finished with figures of 2/24 in his four overs, with nine dot balls at an economy rate of six. Lalit bowled just the two overs but had figures of 2/11, with eight dot balls at an economy rate of 5.50.
“On a wicket like this, after one or two overs, I saw the ball was stopping a bit and I thought I should use more spin. I thought 150 would be a good enough score to stop them at,” was Rishabh Pant’s reasoning to bring spinners early in the game.
Clearly, Punjab had no answers to the questions posed by Delhi’s three spinners and sank spectacularly to end at 115. The meager total was not going to be enough on a day when Axar, Kuldeep, and Lalit made merry.