The pall of gloom cast by the giant shadow of the spot-fixing scandal that exploded earlier in the day was temporarily lifted by a popular, if nervy, home win at one of cricket's more scenic venues.
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The HPCA Stadium in Dharamsala was hardly packed to the rafters as it welcomed the Pepsi IPL back on a pleasant Thursday (May 16) night, but that seemed to matter little as a rejuvenated Kings XI Punjab kept their slender playoff hopes alive with a nervy seven-run win.
Up against Delhi Daredevils, one step off the foot of the table and playing for the most part like a team lying eighth out of nine, Punjab produced a splendid batting display with Adam Gilchrist and David Miller in the forefront, then choked Delhi early on with their assortment of pacers.
Asked to make first use of a surface with plenty of pace and bounce, Punjab rode on a frenetic start provided by Gilchrist, back in superb touch after his early-season travails, and an explosive late charge from Miller to post 171 for 4, highly competitive in a must-win game.
Sandeep Sharma, the young pacer, then conjured a double-wicket maiden in his first over, including the prized scalp of David Warner first ball, to send the crowd into raptures. Virender Sehwag, unusally batting at No. 5, threatened briefly but Mahela Jayawardene resembled an actor who had completely fluffed his lines for three-fourths of his innings and Delhi looked out for the count.
Enter Ben Rohrer, stage left, at No. 6 with 111 required for victory in 56 deliveries. Rohrer single-handedly threatened to spoil Punjab's party, smashing 49 off just 29 deliveries with four fours and three sixes, but when the otherwise profligate Piyush Chawla castled him with the first delivery of the final over with 22 required for victory, Dharamsala heaved a sigh of relief as a brave Delhi chase ended on 164 for 7.
That Punjab put down three chances, two relatively straightforward, and still made it to the finish line was illustrative of the gulf in desperation and hunger between the teams. Praveen Kumar provided them the early breakthrough by firing out Unmukt Chand, and when Sandeep sent Irfan Pathan, inexplicably promoted to No. 3, and Warner, back off successive deliveries, Delhi needed a miracle which wasn't forthcoming.
Delhi had unleashed an all-pace attack in deference to the conditions, but while their planning was immaculate, the execution was anything but. There was plenty of width on offer, allowing Gilchrist and Shaun Marsh in particular to free their arms and hit through the line, and Delhi didn't help their cause any when Umesh Yadav at third man put down a screamer as Gilchrist lashed a widish delivery from Morne Morkel flat but extremely hard.
Then eight out of 23 in the third over, Gilchrist simply got on the bike and sped away. The man who suffered most at his hands was Ashish Nehra, the left-arm paceman being smashed for three fours and two sixes in two overs as Punjab reached 53 without loss after the Power Play overs. For some strange reason, Marsh suddenly lost his timing and when Gilchrist was caught trying one big stroke too many after an opening stand of 60, the Punjab innings hit a roadblock.
Only 50 runs came between overs 7 and 15 as Delhi pulled things back brilliantly, but the lingering threat of Miller meant any euphoria had to be tempered. Delhi's worst fears came true when Miller tore into them in the last five overs, smashing sixes at will and putting on 47 in just 21 deliveries with the enterprising R Sathish. Two of his four sixes sailed out of the ground as Miller turned on the style; the last five overs yielded 68, which had a huge say in the final outcome.