Rahul Dravid belives that with experience consistency will come in Rishabh Pant's game and expects him to become an important Indian player in the future. © BCCI

Rahul Dravid believes that experience will bring consistency in Rishabh Pant’s game and expects him to become an important player for India in the future. © BCCI

When Delhi Daredevils hosted Royal Challengers Bangalore on Sunday (May 14) in the last league match of IPL 2017, both teams were comfortably out of the playoff race, seeking instead to have a good finale. In the end, it was Bangalore who managed their third win of the season, getting the better of Delhi by 10 runs.

Having won the toss, Bangalore put up 161 for 6, courtesy Virat Kohli’s 58, his fourth half-century this season. Delhi were on track with Rishabh Pant (45) and Shreyas Iyer (32) having added 46 for the third wicket when Harshal Patel (3 for 43 in 4 overs), playing his first match this season, struck with successive deliveries to get rid of Iyer and Marlon Samuels, the latter bowled, to reduce Delhi to 87 for 4 in 12 overs.

“The wicket was holding a bit and we had discussed that Marlon likes to hold back on the back foot, so I just floated one fuller to him,” said Harshal, later named the man of the match, throwing light on the Samuels dismissal. “I had thought he would hit it to midwicket but he missed it altogether.”

Despite losing wickets at the other end, Pant continued to keep Delhi in the hunt. It was Harshal again, in his final over, who delivered the decisive strike by defeating his aggressive intent and smashing off-stump. “You always have to get a player like Rishabh out, you cannot bowl dot balls and get away with it because he can hit two or three sixes in an over and finish the game,” said Harshal. “So, that was the whole point of bowling a lot of slower balls to get him out. I didn’t think about the six (that he hit), I was just looking to get him out.”

Rahul Dravid, Delhi’s mentor, was understandably disappointed by his team’s poor showing in the tournament, and felt losing close games had been his team’s undoing. “Obviously, we are very disappointed by the season gone by. At the start, we had expectations of qualifying (for playoffs) but that didn’t happen,” said the former India captain. “There were many games in the middle period of the tournament which were quite close but we couldn’t win those and obviously that puts pressure on you if you don’t win those close games.”

© BCCI

“There were many games in the middle period of the tournament which were quite close but we couldn’t win those and obviously that puts pressure on you if you don’t win those close games.” © BCCI

Pant was the shining light in a rather gloomy Delhi season. He scored 366 runs in 14 innings at a strike-rate of 165.61. Having also established himself as a big hitter, the left-hand batsman smashed 24 sixes, only behind Glenn Maxwell and David Warner.

“Rishabh has played very well in this tournament,” Dravid acknowledged. “All of our young players have played well in this year’s tournament but consistency is one thing they’ll have to learn going forward. I can surely say that the ability and talent is there, everyone has shown it. Rishabh has shown it in this tournament by playing some very good innings,.

“It was a difficult time for Rishabh at the start of the tournament. His father had passed away, so that shows the mental strength of the player to come back from that and perform consistently the way he did. There is the expectation that he will go on and be an important player for India.”

Given their strong batting line-up, no one had expected Bangalore to finish at the bottom of the table. Harshal remarked, “There are a lot of factors that affect the team’s performance. To begin with, we had lots of injuries and many important players who couldn’t play at the start of the tournament. For the first three or four games, we started with a relatively weak XI. It’s important to get the combination right from the beginning, otherwise you are playing the catch-up game and it gets really difficult then to get back in form.”

The focus now shifts on to the playoffs with Mumbai Indians playing Rising Pune Supergiant in Qualifier 1 and Kolkata Knight Riders and Sunrisers Hyderabad locking horns in the Eliminator. Dravid refused to play the favourite-picking game. “Look, it’s a tough one because once you get through to the playoffs, the teams that have finished first and second have two chances to get into the finals,” he pointed out. “Once you get into the finals, all it requires is one good innings or one great spell or piece of brilliance to win you this tournament. All the four teams have those kinds of players who can do that.”