The second games of this season and the last have taught us one thing – never, ever, give up! It was Tewatia last year, and this year it was the Protea pairing of David Miller & Chris Morris. South Africans have something about them. They are always friendly, always smiling under pressure, and barely get affected by tough situations. What makes them face any situation is that they are born tough. It took two special knocks, first from Miller, followed by Morris to power Rajasthan Royals home to get us the first two points of the 2021 Vivo Indian Premier League (IPL) season.

The chase was in tatters at 42/5, when Miller seized the opportunity and played some picturesque strokes. He had got just one game last season, and was run out without facing a ball – a diamond duck. He stayed calm at the crease and played proper cricket shots to get us back into the game. Once Miller departed, Morris took control and finished the game with some crunching blows. That was Miller & Morris the batsmen of old that had left us in awe all these years in the IPL & for South Africa. It would be a sin to not give credit to the bowlers, who put together a skillful performance in the first innings to restrict Delhi Capitals to 147/8.

Sanju Samson couldn’t pocket the coin after his first toss as an IPL captain the other night, but he might have been tempted to do it again. Earlier in the evening, our skipper won the toss, and without any hesitation, decided to bowl. We had two changes in our line-up – David Miller for Ben Stokes & Jaydev Unadkat for Shreyas Gopal. The Capitals too made a couple of changes. Pacer Kagiso Rabada came in for  Shimron Hetmyer, while debutant Lalit Yadav replaced Amit Mishra.  The expectation from what looked like a pitch with some grass was that the Capitals would put up a formidable total. Samson though was ready for another steep chase. “I am okay if our bowlers go for runs. We’re here to score them.”

Rajasthan Royals set the cat among the pigeons in the DC camp when Jaydev Unadkat announced himself in IPL 2021 with some swagger. A smart slower one got Prithvi Shaw to get a leading edge that sat into Miller’s palms at backward point. Dhawan’s cheeky movement across to ramp the ball was met with a flying Samson, who pouched the ball to his right athletically. The Capitals  were reduced to 16/2.

Former Royals skipper, Ajinkya Rahane seemed to be timing the ball well along with Rishabh Pant. However, it was another Unadkat slower-one that foxed the advancing local lad, who lobbed a simple catch back to the bowler. Unadkat, who was touted as a death bowler all these years, had three wickets to his name in the Powerplay. DC could manage only a run-a-ball 36/3 off the first 6.

The flow of wickets didn’t stop, as Mustafizur joined the party. His sharp wristwork during release made him appear like a left-arm Muralitharan in action with a longer run-up. One of those whippy cutters deceived Stoinis who looked like a rabbit caught in the lights. His early dab lobbed away from cover, but Buttler made quick ground to snatch the ball.

After Stoinis’ departure, a partnership ensued between Pant and Lalit Yadav. The former punished anything loose, while the latter constantly rotated strike. The DC skipper was severe on Tewatia’s first over, taking 20 off it. The over included four 4s and two braces, as Tewatia couldn’t hit the perfect length, bowling on the shortish side.

Riyan Parag, who had been ecstatic on the field earlier, came on to bowl his second over and brought out the slingy, near under-arm deliveries. Another spark of brilliance on the field by Parag led to Pant’s run-out. Pant dropped the ball towards the leg-side and decided to run. Parag rushed to the ball, turned in the blink of an eye and shot a throw at the stumps, finding Pant a foot or so short. This turned out to be the turning point in the innings, as Rajasthan Royals seized back the momentum after Pant’s 50.

Lalit Yadav’s resistance ended when he looked to go aerial. He mistimed his shot and Tewatia ran backwards to ensure the catch was taken safely. Woakes and Curran didn’t take too many risks as our pacers bowled tight lines in the death overs. Fizz was hit for two boundaries in the 19th, but managed to dismiss Curran, while Ashwin was run out looking to return for a second run. Sakariya bowled a sensational final over, although it went for 10 runs. DC managed to reach 147/8 in their 10 overs.

Rajasthan Royals’ bowling performance was so meticulous that the Capitals batsmen couldn’t hit a single six. Unadkat finished with outstanding figures of 3/15; three of his overs were in the Powerplay.

The Royals didn’t have it any easy in their batting Powerplay. Chris Woakes got the ball to move around and the first couple of overs were pretty quiet. Manan Vohra broke free with two back-to-back boundaries, but went for one too many looking to play a pick-up off Woakes. Rabada completed a good catch at the mid-on region.

Buttler followed to the pavilion in the same over, after he got an inside edge onto one that tailed in from his fellow Englishman. Pant dived full stretch to his left to take a fine catch. Our skipper picked up a pleasing-to-watch boundary off Rabada’s first ball through mid-wicket. It seemed like he was continuing from where he left off. Perhaps, Sanju felt the same and chased a length delivery outside off, only to send the ball into Dhawan’s hands at first slip. With Miller & Dube brought together at the crease sooner than they would’ve expected, the Royals managed to notch up just 26 in the Powerplay.

While Miller seemed to be playing with a calm head, Dube edged a loose punch to Dhawan, who took yet another catch, this time at a wide slip. Riyan Parag’s stay at the crease was short too. He was done in by an Avesh Khan slower delivery, which he tried to drive early. The ball went high up and it was once again, Dhawan, who settled under it at cover. While the Capitals lost four before they reached 50, we lost 5.

Miller gave the run-rate a boost when he picked up two consecutive boundaries off Khan, one with a gorgeous pull and the other through cover. The asking rate went over 10 in the 11th over, as the score read 56/5, with Miller on 32. Tewatia appeared to be taking his time to settle in and get used to the pace of the pitch.

Miller’s composure at the innings, even when he played attacking strokes, was very evident. He went after Stoinis by smacking three consecutive fours off him to kick-start the 13th over. The first one was a belligerent pull shot through square leg. The next, a drilled drive past mid-off to the Royals dug-out. The third one, lofted tactfully to the mid-wicket fence. Rajasthan Royals got that one big over they were looking for – 15 came off it. The equation at this juncture read 75 off 42 balls.

Tewatia hit his straps in the 14th over when he decided to take on Curran. He hit a boundary down the ground, lofting a length slower-one over the mid-off fielder. When he got back on strike for the final ball of the over, he got down on his knee and pulled out one of his inventive swat-sweeps to a ball outside off, piercing square leg and short fine leg. The Royals got 12 runs off the over, bringing the equation down to 63 off 36 balls.

One of the best bowlers in the DC line-up, Rabada returned to bowl the 15th over. Tewatia tried to muscle a short one to the mid-wicket fence, but ended up being late on the shot. The ball gently lobbed towards Yadav at mid-wicket. The 48-run stand came to an end, but with Miller still there, the game was far from over.The Rabada over yielded just 5 runs.

Miller got to his 10th IPL half-century at the start of the 16th over. He seemed to be playing on a completely different surface than what the other batsmen were playing on. Miller finally sent the first six of the match into the stands, in the 36th over of the game – quite an unheard story at the Wankhede. He didn’t stop there. The next delivery from Avesh was sent even further over the square leg fence. The Royals’ score went past 100 after the second six. Harsha Bhogle on air couldn’t control his excitement, and said, “The sound off the bat was music to the ears.” Miller looked for a third consecutive six, but this one didn’t go long enough and ended up being caught near the straight boundary. Miller had to depart for a spectacular 43-ball 62.

If there was any hope left for Rajasthan Royals to pull off a heist, they were all rested on Chris Morris and his experience. We needed 43 off 24 balls and had to keep looking for big hits with not many balls and wickets left. Jaydev Unadkat, who had a great day with the ball, hit a magnificent pull shot off Woakes. The ball comfortably sailed over the square leg fence to inject some more hope in the Royals camp. 9 runs came off the 17th over. We needed 35 off the final 3 overs.

Unadkat had a run-out scare on the first delivery of the 18th. He was keen on returning for a second, but Morris denied it. Unadkat had to rush back and he dived. Luckily for him, Pant couldn’t gather the ball in time. The Curran over didn’t prove to be too fruitful for the Royals as just 7 runs came off it. In two overs, we needed 27.

Morris, who hadn’t been timing the ball too well, finally got one off the screws. He got a juicy one in the slot from Rabada and smoked it way beyond mid-wicket. That was a much-needed six. Morris went on to miss the next two balls as he looked to swing hard and connect once again. He then got a thick outside edge on another swing. The ball was kept in by Avesh Khan near the third man fence, and just two were added to the total.

Morris then played an audacious shot that left many jaws hitting the floor. Rabada angled one into the hips and Morris dispatched the ball rows back over fine leg. He then picked up a single off the final ball to retain strike for the final over. Rabada’s last over was just what we wanted, stealing 15 off it and leaving us 12 in 6 balls.

The first ball of the last over was a yorker that was smashed to deep cover. Morris & Unadkat completed a brace without any difficulty. He then got a friendly slower one, short in length, but Morrish waited and watched the ball right on to his bat. He pulled it and sent it pacing into the stands at square leg. It came down to 4 off 4 and the game swung in Rajasthan Royals’ favour.

Morris looked to finish the game with a thunderous drive, but hit it like a rocket, straight to Dhawan. One thing was sure, Morris had found his timing along with the power. We were feeling calm, and knew that he could do it. It took just one more ball and Curran granted him a juicy full toss. Morris easily tonked it over the square leg fence to finish the game in style and give the Royals their first win of the season.

Having points on the table early on in the season is always a great feeling. This is exactly what we needed after the heartbreak in the first game. Barring the top order, everything else fell in place for us – fielding, bowling, middle-order firing and finishing the game. Miller covered up for Ben Stokes’ absence, and how! Coming into the season in form, he looked to be middling everything he hit. Morris kept believing right till the end, and once he found his timing, there was no stopping him. Jaydev Unadkat deserves a ton of appreciation, not only for what he did with the ball, but also his unbeaten 11 with the bat – and that six! This is just the start; we have 12 more games to play and a lot of hard work to put in. We face Chennai Super Kings on 19th April at this very venue.