The aura of invincibility that Delhi Daredevils had draped around themselves in the early stages of IPL 5 has diminished considerably, but the hallmark of a champion side is how it reacts in the face of adversity.
An inspired spell from Parvinder Awana converted what should have been a regulation run chase into a battle of attrition, but Virender Sehwag's men found their heroes in Mahela Jayawardene, Naman Ojha and Irfan Pathan as they became the first team this season to nail down a play-off berth with a five-wicket defeat of Kings XI Punjab. (Points Table)
Kings XI had every reason to question the wisdom of David Hussey's decision to bat first after being restricted to an anaemic 136 for eight, a total not expected to challenge a formidable Daredevils batting line-up. Sehwag and David Warner began aggressively enough, but once Praveen Kumar got rid of Warner, Awana grabbed centrestage in splendid fashion. (Also see: Match in pics)
The strapping paceman knocked over Sehwag with his first delivery, then accounted for Y Venugopala Rao and the out-of-sorts Ross Taylor in the space of three balls in his second over to reduce the Daredevils to 37 for four. Coming as Awana's burst did after superb displays from the Daredevils' two young pacemen, Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron, it made for a wonderful night for India's pace bowling future.
Daredevils were in a spot alright, but they were also fortunate to have the calming influence of Jayawardene. The Sri LankanÂ captain talked the excitable Ojha through a difficult early period, unfazed by the mounting run rate, then soaked in the entertainment as Ojha cut loose with a succession of excellent strokes. Kings XI, under pressure as they themselves chase a play-off berth, fumbled in the field but were handed a lifeline when Ojha tonked a long hop from Piyush Chawla down deep midwicket's throat.
Chawla's 16th over maiden with 34 required off 30 promised a tantalising climax, but Pathan brought the high-flying Awana crashing down to earth by smashing him for three fours in the 18th over, leaving Jayawardene to complete the formalities in the next over sent down by Azhar Mahmood. The Daredevils reached their target with six deliveries in the bag.
Kings XI - the only team apart from the Daredevils not to be bowled out in this competition - flirted with disaster after a promising start as Yadav and Aaron joined hands to cut a swathe through the middle order. Morne Morkel had a rare off day but that didn't matter much; indeed, were it not for Hussey, the stand-in captain, Kings XI would have managed far fewer.