Pant, Khaleel and Mukesh seal Capitals’ first win despite Dhoni special

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Delhi Capitals 191 for 5 (Warner 52, Pant 51, Shaw 43, Pathirana 3-31) beat Chennai Super Kings 171 for 6 (Rahane 45, Dhoni 37*, Mitchell 34, Mukesh 3-21, Khaleel 2-21) by 20 runs

At approximately 11 on Sunday night, Visakhapatnam came alive. ‘Hosts’ Delhi Capitals were on their way to their first win, but the result suddenly seemed irrelevant.

MS Dhoni strode to the middle to bat for the first time since last year’s final and immediately sent the decibel levels soaring, walloping his first ball for four behind square leg and bludgeoning his third through extra-cover.

When he hit Khaleel Ahmed for an inside-out six in the next over, the crowd threatened to blow the roof off. Chennai Super Kings still needed 46 off 12; one run more than a side had ever made off the last two overs to win in the IPL.

Mukesh Kumar was tasked with bowling a clutch over. His figures until then read 2-0-16-3. One more good over would close the game out, more or less, and he delivered, bowling a series of wide yorkers that Dhoni and Ravindra Jadeja couldn’t get underneath.

The over went for 5, and Super Kings needed 41 off six. Impossible if extras didn’t come into it.

That was no reason for the crowd to stop. Dhoni was on strike. They wanted him to turn the clock back. And he did, walloping Anrich Nortje for two fours and two sixes. Dhoni finished 37 not out off 16, Super Kings fell short by 20 runs, but you couldn’t quite say if the fans in yellow were disappointed at the result or ecstatic at watching their hero do his thing.

After he scythed a full-toss for six to finish the game, the realisation dawned that the Capitals had picked up their first win of the season, a result set up by David Warner and Rishabh Pant with the bat, and finished off by Khaleel and Mukesh.

Shaw, Warner lay down the marker

Prithvi Shaw made 106 runs in eight innings in IPL 2023, at an average of 13.25. When he didn’t begin the season, you wondered if the Delhi Capitals were looking beyond him already.

Turns out they weren’t.

Coming in for local boy Ricky Bhui and slotting in at the top of the order, Shaw laid the foundation with a 93-run opening stand in 9.3 overs with David Warner.

All the trademark elements of a Shaw innings were on display: sumptuous driving, fierce cuts and delectable wristwork. Warner was more muscle, but he also had a tantalising effect with his leg-side strokeplay. When he brought up his half-century off just 32 balls, Capitals were flying.

Pathirana makes a splash

You didn’t know until last week if Matheesha Pathirana would feature in the tournament at all. But in taking a blinder at short third in the 10th over, leaping full-stretch and pulling off a one-handed stunner while airborne, he put to rest any concerns over his back. Warner saw his jaw-drop in disbelief at the athleticism, and had to drag himself off.

Pathirana was only warming up.

His second act was even more sensational, even though it’s something we’ve come to expect.

A ball after being dismissed for six in the 15th over, he splayed Mitchell Marsh’s middle stump with a pinpoint yorker. Two balls later, he had Tristan Stubbs with another toe-crusher. Capitals were fast ceding momentum, and by the end of that over had slipped to 134 for 4.

Pant comes to the party

The early part of Pant’s innings seemed like a struggle. He kept losing his shape when balls were dug into the pitch on a length. At 23 off 23, the frustration seemed all too evident. But he backed himself to emerge from the rut, and when he did, it was breathtaking.

He took down Mustafizur Rahman first and Pathirana next, peppering the long-on boundary with his strong bottom hand and the shovel he’s known for. When he sliced Pathirana in the same over to the point boundary, he’d brought up a 31-ball half-century. A 19th over that went for 17 helped give Capitals momentum to finish on 191 for 5.

Khaleel’s stunning spell


The left-arm quick left Super Kings in a rut right at the top. Ruturaj Gaikwad was taken out by late seam movement back in. Rachin Ravindra holed out to mid-on, frustrated by his inability to put bat on ball. Khaleel’s first 12 balls brought three runs.

Daryl Mitchell and Ajinkya Rahane treaded cautiously, seemingly to try and bat deep. Occasionally, they played shots that delighted the purist. Like a flicked six by Rahane off Rasikh Salam. The pair revived the innings with a 68-run stand, but the asking rate had swelled to 11.70 with 10 overs remaining.

Capitals didn’t have Kuldeep Yadav due to a niggle. Axar Patel had a job to do. And he broke the partnership by having Mitchell caught and bowled. He could have had Impact Sub Shivam Dube third ball as he tried to hack one over cow corner, but the bottom edge was put down by Pant.

Mukesh leaves his imprint

Tasked to bowl the tough overs, Mukesh picked up two in his first over, the 14th, to leave Super Kings gasping. He felled Rahane with a slower one that he hit to long-on, and Sameer Rizvi with a superb seam-up delivery that he nicked to short third.

With Super Kings needing 79 off 30, Anrich Nortje bowled a gun third over full of wide yorkers to deny the batters. The over went for just seven and all the pressure that had crept up consumed Shivam Dube as he picked out long-off in the 17th over to give Mukesh his third wicket.

The game seemed done. And then Dhoni walked out, sending everyone into throwback mode even though the game had gone beyond Super Kings’ reach.

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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