Stand-in-captain Mayank Agarwal’s unbeaten 99 gave Punjab Kings some hope at the halfway stage. However, his seventh half-century for the franchise went in vain after yet another excellent knock from Shikhar Dhawan — a sparkling 47-ball 69 — that helped Delhi ace the 167-run chase with 14 deliveries to spare and climb to the top of the points table.

Dhawan anchors Delhi’s chase

After a thunderous match-winning essay — a 49-ball 92 — against Punjab Kings a fortnight ago, Dhawan had provided a peek into his mindset and the changes he has brought about in his game. “It was a conscious effort from my side to improve my strike rate. Started taking more risks. Not afraid of changes, always open towards it. Not scared of getting out as well. Have worked on a few shots. My slog shot has improved a lot. It was there earlier as well, but now I play it more freely. I’m more relaxed now,” the left-hander had said.

Two weeks later, against the same opponents, Dhawan anchored another perfectly-timed run-chase for Delhi Capitals with a sumptuous knock. Prithvi Shaw’s pyrotechnics may have propelled them to 63/0 in the Powerplay. But with 56 needed off seven overs, it was Dhawan’s aggressive approach that gave the scoreboard the required impetus. The opener targeted leg-spinner Ravi Bishnoi in particular, pummelling him for two sixes and a boundary over the mid-wicket fence.

Stand-in captain bails Punjab out of trouble

With 161 runs from six games, Agarwal had been subdued in IPL 2021 so far. Coming into Sunday’s match, the additional responsibility of leading Punjab Kings in the absence of regular skipper KL Rahul, out with acute appendicitis, would have only amplified the pressure. The start was far from ideal, with opener Prabhsimran Singh and Chris Gayle departing inside the Powerplay. It was a monumental struggle for Dawid Malan on his IPL debut, as the No.4 batsman failed to rotate strike and penetrate the infield, as the top-ranked T20I batsman does for England. This robbed the stand-in-captain of the strike. Nevertheless, the duo stitched a 52-run third-wicket alliance. Malan’s exit to Axar Patel for 26, and Deepak Hooda’s run-out two deliveries later, pegged Punjab back. At 90/4 in 14 overs, a score of 150 seemed a distant dream.

But at the opportune moment, Agarwal stepped up. Having meandered to a 32-ball 37 till then, he decided to take charge. The 30-year-old kick-started his assault with a fearsome pull off Kagiso Rabada, and followed it up with a boundary and a six against Ishant Sharma in the subsequent over. Agarwal brought up his half-century off 37 deliveries. In the interim, he survived a reprieve, dropped by Lalit Yadav at backward point. The opener continued in his merry ways, drilling three fours and a six in the final over against Avesh Khan to finish unbeaten on a 58-ball 99, his belligerent stroke-play vaulting Punjab to 166/6. Delhi’s pacers were guilty of pitching it in the slot, which allowed Agarwal to stay low and loft the ball into the stands with ease.