After a season of personal toil, Ajinkya Rahane finally turned up when it mattered most as he guided Delhi Capitals into the IPL playoffs with a win over Royal Challengers Bangalore.
The India batsman has been in and out of the Delhi XI since his off-season transfer from Rajasthan Royals.
When he had played, he had struggled, with three single-figure scores in five innings, and a top score of just 26.
But his half century underpinned their run-chase in Abu Dhabi in their final league match against Bangalore, which was as good as a must-win game.
Having been set 153 to win from their 20 overs, Rahane first shared in a stand worth 88 with Shikhar Dhawan (54) for the second wicket for Delhi.
Although Dhawan went with victory still not assured, Rahane stuck around, making a 60 as they won by six wickets.
“Ricky [Ponting, Delhi’s coach] said I would be batting at No 3, and I was happy as it is a good number to bat,” Rahane said.
“Luckily we bowled really well, and credit goes to our bowlers. In the end, it was all about that partnership with Shikhar, and I really enjoyed being in the middle.”
The win secured Delhi a place in Thursday’s first qualifier against Mumbai Indians.
The winners of that will advance straight to the final, while the losers will still get a second chance, against the winners of the eliminator match between the third and fourth ranked sides in the table.
Bangalore themselves will be involved in that fixture, but their opposition is yet to be decided.
If Sunrisers Hyderabad beat Mumbai in the last game of the league phase on Tuesday night, they will leapfrog Kolkata Knight Riders, who currently occupy fourth place.
“We have two games to reach the final,” Virat Kohli, the Bangalore captain, said.
“We have a shot, we have an opportunity, and I’m sure all the guys are very excited about what lies ahead of us.”
Anrich Nortje led the effort with the ball for Delhi with another high-velocity, and high-class, spell of fast bowling.
Not that the South African would have felt entirely at ease throughout the Bangalore innings. Specifically, once he had dropped Kohli.
Bangalore’s captain had reached 13, with his side on 59 -1 at the time, when he tried to hoist Axar Patel’s left-arm spin over long-on for six.
The connection was skewed, though, and provided a chance to Nortje, running in from the boundary rope, but he grassed it.
Kohli lasered the next ball he faced to the cover boundary. When he then took Axar down the ground for a straight six, the portents looked ominous for Nortje and his side.
He was able to exhale, though, when Kohli was expertly caught by a retreating Marcus Stoinis off the Ravichandran Ashwin – the first time the spinner has ever taken the wicket of his India captain in IPL.
Nortje responded well to that pick-me-up. He fired out Devdutt Padikkal, who top scored for Bangalore with 50, and then Chris Morris two balls later.
Although AB de Villiers sparkled for 35 from 21 balls, his South African compatriots of Nortje and Kagiso Rabada blunted Bangalore.
Between them, the duo took five for 63 from eight overs, as Bangalore made it to 152-7, and Rabada was happy with their work, given the struggles of the previous games.
“I’m satisfied with what we did as a bowling unit,” Rabada said between innings.
“We have had four games where we have lost it a little bit as a team. We have done the hard work up until now.
“We came out with a good intent. You try to bowl in good areas, follow the analysis you have done, and trust in your strengths and what has worked for you in the past.
“The by-product, we are not in control of. Today, we just did what we have wanted to do from the beginning of the tournament, and have the same mindset.”