Syed Mushtaq Ali: Uthappa and Vishnu combine to help Kerala down Delhi for third straight win
After chasing down a mammoth 212 with six balls to spare against a bowling attack led by Ishant Sharma, it is safe to say that Kerala are now firmly among the favourites to qualify from their group.
The wins over Puducherry and Mumbai in their first two matches were impressive but the match against heavyweights Delhi was also going to be the litmus test to know just what this team is really made of. After chasing down a mammoth 212 with six balls to spare against a bowling attack led by Ishant Sharma, it is safe to say that Kerala are now firmly among the favourites to qualify from their group.
Coming into the game, Delhi and Kerala were level on eight points but the six-wicket win has helped them jump to the top of the table with 12 points. They stay above Haryana who are also on 12 points thanks to better run-rate and their face-off on January 19 could be a virtual decider as to who qualifies from the group.
Kerala have also taken a liking to the Wankhede Stadium and it is their third successive win at the venue in this edition of the competition. And interestingly, all three of their victories have come after batting second. After their skipper Sanju Samson won the toss, Delhi were put to bat.
The capital side led by Shikhar Dhawan immediately started putting the Kerala bowlers under pressure. Dhawan was the primary aggressor as he smashed a 48-ball 77 and a late onslaught by Lalit Yadav (52*) helped them go past the two-hundred mark. Sreesanth picked up two wickets while conceding 46 runs.
Kerala suffered an early blow when their opener Mohammed Azharuddeen who had smashed an unbeaten 137 against Mumbai went for a golden duck. Azharuddeen nicked an Ishant delivery behind as Anuj Rawat took a stunning catch.
When Sanju Samson departed in the fourth over after making just 16, it looked like Kerala might struggle.
However, other players stood up and took responsibility as the veterans Robin Uthappa and Sachin Baby steadied their innings. The two stitched together a 41-run partnership but the target was still a challenging one and required someone to anchor till the end. Uthappa took up that role brilliantly and after Baby departed for 22, he forged a match winning 147-run stand with Vishnu Vinod. Despite the required rate climbing to almost 13 at one point, the two weren't over-awed and kept playing their shots.
The Kerala think-tank had decided to play Vishnu in the middle-order in this competition as a finisher. The 27-year-old has usually operated as a top-order batsman but the Pathanamthitta native showed that he can slot into this role admirably.
Uthappa departed after making 91 but had taken Kerala as close as ever to the finish line. Vishnu stayed unbeaten till the end and made 71. The highlight of his innings was the two reverse-sweeps against Pawan Negi with both clearing the ropes. Kerala will now take on Andhra in the next game full of confidence.
Brief scores: Delhi 212/4 in 20 ovs (Dhawan 77, Yadav 52 no, Sreesanth 2/46) lost to Kerala 218/4 in 19 ovs (Uthappa 91, Vishnu 71 no, Yadav 1/33)