Kolkata Knight Riders players celebrate the wicket of Delhi Daredevils Mahela Jayawardene during the first Qualifier between Delhi Daredevils and Kolkata Knight Riders at Subrata Roy Sahara Stadium in Pune. HT/Vijayanand Gupta
Slow bowlers, especially spinners, were feared to be in danger in the early days of the Twenty20 phenomenon. However, as the format evolved, the spinners were considered a bigger threat to the batsmen - both in terms of restricting the scoring as well as taking wickets when needed.
Thus it came as a surprise when the Delhi Daredevils entered Tuesday's Indian Premier League qualifier against Kolkata Knight Riders with one spinner. It seemed, instead of tweaking their strategy based on conditions at the Subrata Roy Sahara Stadium, which has emerged as a spinners' paradise in the latter half of the tournament, the Daredevils stuck with their tried and tested plan of fielding four quickies, including all-rounder Irfan Pathan.
Gautam Gambhir's KKR, who were more used to the conditions as they had played here just three nights ago, preferred to include four spinners, including Yusuf Pathan. And that effectively turned out to be the difference. Riding on an impressive show by their spin trio, the Knight Riders stormed to their maiden IPL final with an 18-run victory.
The Delhi Daredevils, who first wilted under Yusuf Pathan and Laxmi Ratan Shukla's late onslaught and then failed to keep up with the asking rate after David Warner and Virender Sehwag fell in the first four overs of the chase, will now face the winner of Wednesday's eliminator in a virtual semifinal, to be played on Friday.
When their strategy of not drifting away from the set plan didn't work - with Pathan and Shukla clobbering the pacemen for 56 runs off the last four overs to help KKR put on a more than respectable total of 162 for four - the Daredevils tried to tweak their batting order in order to achieve the target.
However, with Ross Taylor walking in to bat with 43 runs required off 19 balls - 12 of those to be bowled by the unorthodox spinner Sunil Narine, undoubtedly the find of the tournament - there was little the Kiwi could do as the Daredevils ended their innings without a late charge.
The most impressive aspect of the second innings was not just the way the spinners Narine, Iqbal Abdulla and Shakib Al Hasan bowled. In fact, it was the manner in which skipper Gautam Gambhir handled the trio along with experienced pacemen Jacques Kallis and Lakshmipathy Balaji.
With Warner and Sehwag perishing after getting off to a quick start, Gambhir held Narine back as much as he could.
As a result, he had the luxury of letting his best bowler bowl two of the last three overs.
While Sehwag chose inexperienced Varun Aaron to bowl the last over, which eventually yielded 21 runs to help KKR cross the 160-mark, the KKR captain got it right with Narine having to defend 26 runs off the final over. And that eventually turned out to be a cakewalk since Jacques Kallis had got rid of the threat of Taylor in the penultimate over.