Abraham de Villiers scored the first hundred in the second edition of the Indian Premier League as Delhi Daredevils beat Chennai Super Kings by nine runs in Durban on Thursday in what was by far the best match of the tournament so far.
The victory was Delhi's second in two matches, while for Chennai it was the second defeat in three.
Chasing 190 -- after Delhi put up the highest total of the IPL thus far -- to achieve what seemed an improbable win, Chennai began in the best possible manner. Matthew Hayden, impressive so far in the tournament with scores of 44 and 65 in the first two matches, was his belligerent self, satrted with two successive boundaries in Dirk Nannes's opening over.
His aggression increased as the match progressed and it was perfectly-balanced by Parthiv Patel's caution. Saying Parthiv played cautiously doesn't mean he wasn't aggressive enough. He did have a couple of boundaries to his credit but was always supposed to play the sheet anchor's role and did that to perfection.
Chennai surpassed the 50-run mark in less than five overs and things seemed to be going their way when Pradeep Sangwan struck in his first over. The Delhi youngster enticed Parthiv (16/15) with a lolly and the latter responded by spooning a simple catch to De Villiers at covers.
Parthiv helped Hayden put on 57 for the opening wicket but, to put it straight, his innings had a tame end.
Hayden went from strength to strength though. Aavishkar Salvi, who some feel has an action similar to the legendary Glenn McGrath -- who sadly didn't turn out for Delhi on Thursday -- came in for some harsh treatment from Hayden.
The Australian hit him over midwicket for the maximum in his first over and when Salvi came in to bowl his second, Hayden was prepared to dispatch him with utter disdain. He smashed the first legal delivery -- the first Salvi ball was a wide that raced to the fence for a fiver -- over the long-on boundary, hit the fourth over short fine leg for the maximum and brought up his fifty with a boundary of the next ball.
For the record, that Salvi over, the seventh of the innings, cost Delhi 24 runs.
It was Hayden's fourth half century in the IPL and ensured he regained the Orange Cap (166 from three matches). It was his belligerence that put Chennai in the driver's seat early on in their chase, even if the target was still distant.
However, Sangwan, in his second over, gave Delhi the second breakthrough -- a wicket they would have traded for anything.
Yes, it was Hayden's; the Australian tried to pull a short delivery and only succeeded in spooning a simple catch to Nannes at long-on.
Hayden made 57 off 27 balls (5x4, 3x6) and his dismissal reduced Chennai to 90 for two after eight overs.
Nonetheless, Chennai went into the 'strategy break' with an advantage, their score of 106 for two better than Delhi's 90 for three at the same stage.
However, Delhi came back from the break rejuvenated.
Daniel Vettori, who is a vital cog in their scheme of things, struck with the third ball. And the wicket was a vital one, that of Chennai captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni (5/7).
The New Zealand captain, who bagged the man-of-the-match award for grabbing three wickets in Delhi's opening win over Punjab, bowled a quicker one and found the edge of Dhoni's blade (Karthik making no mistake behind the stumps).
Raina tried his best to sustain Chennai's early momentum, a six towards long off, off the bowling of Manoj Tiwary, being the best of the many good shots he played.
However, Sangwan returned to end his resistance, making Raina hit one to the long-on boundary, where de Villiers accepted the gift with gratitude.
Chennai were precariously placed at 139 for four (after 14.1 overs) after Raina's dismissal; precarious, not because they had lost sight of their target but because they lost vital wickets in the bargain.
Their woes increased when Andrew Flintoff (16/17) holed out to substitute David Warner at long-off, Ashish Nehra being the beneficiary.
The Englishman's dismissal left Chennai needing 34 of 24 (four overs), with Albie Morkel their best hope.
And when Karthik missed a chance to run him out in the 18th over, it seemed fortune was on Chennai's side.
They required 24 runs off the last two overs and Morkel was still in the middle.
Sehwag handed the ball to Vettori and the latter responded by dismissing S Badrinath (7/8), well-caught by Warner at long-off.
The match, which saw so many twists that could have provided the story for a Bollywood potboiler, saw yet another twist with the arrival of Manpreet Gony.
Gony smashed the first ball ball he faced beyond the midwicket boundary for the maximum, a hit that reduced Chennai's ask to just 15 runs.
But then he was dramatically run-out to the next ball, following a mid-field collision with Morkel.
And so Chennai needed 15 off the last over, to be bowled by Nannes.
Joginder Sharma got a couple each from the first two balls before being run-out. The next ball witnessed Lakshmipathy Balaji running himself out, bringing the sequence of run-outs to three off five balls.
And when Morkel managed a single off the penultimate ball it was all over.
De Villiers delights
Earlier, De Villiers's superb innings of 105 not out, during which he hit five fours and six sixes, enabled Delhi recover from the loss of openers Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag early and post the highest total of the tournament.
Lakshmipathy Balaji dealt Delhi an early blow with a rather innocuous delivery. Gambhir walked down a couple of steps before deciding not to play the ball. After a loud appeal from the Chennai Super Kings fielders umpire Simon Taufel pondered a moment and, noticing the batsman's body language -- he probably began walking back, raised his finger.
Gambhir's dismissal marked the onset of a match billed the best of the second edition of Indian Premier League -- and a prospective final.
Aficionados may have different opinions, maybe Gambhir knew he had edged it; maybe the ball brushed his gloves. But the fact was one of Delhi Daredevils' famed opening pair was back in the pavilion after the first ball.
And if you think there couldn't have been a better start to the match then you are jumping the gun.
The second over ensured a double bonanza. Virender Sehwag, having hit Manpreet Gony's first ball straight back to the fence, became more adventurous when the bowler was bowling his last delivery of the over. The result: he pulled a delivery that looked too full, top-edged it and Albie Morkel made no mistake at mid-on.
Delhi Daredevils 8 for 2 after the second over, and both their aggressive openers dismissed.
It couldn't have been a better start for Chennai, one would think. But could they build on it? Well, not exactly.
Delhi showed there's much more to their batting than just Gambhir and Sehwag. The resurrection of their innings started from the fourth over, with De Villiers smashing Gony over the midwicket boundary and Tillekeratne Dilshan following suit three balls later, this time the ball clearing the square leg fence.
Gony's second over yielded 15 and the one bowled by Morkel immediately after cost Chennai 17, with Dilshan hitting three successive boundaries.
Even the introduction of Andrew Flintoff brought no succour to captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
Dilshan thick-edged the Englishman's third ball over the slips for a boundary to help his team surpass the 50-run mark, and smashed the next ball over the square leg boundary for the maximum.
The De Villiers-Dilshan combine worked in tandem for Delhi (the 50-partnership coming of just 24 balls) and did something that was the need of the hour for their team -- consolidation.
Their aggressive intent, particularly Dilshan's, forced the Chennai captain to make as many as four successive bowling changes at one stage.
Dilshan soon reached his half-century with a late-cut off countryman Muttiah Muralitharan.
However, he departed immediately after hitting a Morkel full toss straight to Suresh Raina at extra cover. Delhi 76 for three after 8.3 overs.
Dilshan's 50 came off 27 balls and included seven hits to the fence and two over it.
In came Dinesh Karthik and he got into the act straightaway with a couple of smart boundaries.
Delhi went into the 'strategy break' comfortably placed at 90 for three (after 10 overs), giving Chennai some time to rethink their strategy.
To their credit, Chennai did come back stronger after the breather. The first four overs after the break did not yield a single boundary and a frustrated Karthik (18/16) hit a Balaji delivery to Flintoff at square leg, the Englishman managing to latch on to it.
Delhi were 114 for four after 14, and it was then that de Villiers decided to take matters in his hands. The result, a six to long-on off Flintoff and a four off Gony to complete his maiden half century in the competition.
There was more drama before the latter shot though. De Villiers had lofted Gony to long-on a couple of balls earlier but Morkel made a mess of a simple chance.
The South African batsman made his compatriot pay for the blemish in the very next over, smashing his first ball to the midwicket fence and repeating the shot in the second ball, this time getting the maximum.
De Villiers continued to demoralize the Chennai bowlers (and fielders), the penultimate over from Flintoff costing 22 runs -- 21 going to the South African.
In the process, he became the first player in the tournament to score a century. So much was his dominance that even though the fifth-wicket partnership yielded 74, Manoj Tiwary's contribution in it was just nine. He eventually ended up unbeaten on 105, off just 54 balls (5x4, 6x6).
And even though Balaji snapped up Tiwari (9) in the final over, De Villiers's lusty hitting ensured Delhi's final total read 189 for five, the highest of the tournament so far.
Going into the second innings, it looks like a lost cause for Chennai.