In Capital Letters

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In Capital Letters

Sunday, 05 May 2019 | Harshit Bisht

In Capital Letters

With the perfect blend of youth and experience in the squad and result coming in its favour, reshaped Delhi look set to end the wait of more than a decade for its maiden IPL trophy. What makes it a serious contender for the title this time under the leadership of Shreyas Iyer, Harshit Bisht has a say about as he analyses the factors which worked in the Capitals’ favour

After failing to make single final appearance in the cash rich, high profile and glamorous Indian Premier League (IPL) even after being the regular participant in the tournament since its inception in 2008, Capital-based side Delhi Capitals (formerly Daredevils) made a string of changes this year (highlight of which was changing the name) before the start of this year’s tournament. They retained the core this time in hope that the retention of three of India’s brightest upcoming talents may lead to the change of fate for the side.

Till now the kind of performance the young Shreyas Iyer’s side has delivered, it looks like the change has really worked for the new looking Delhi Capitals (DC).

After 14 games, the side is at the second spot in the points table with nine wins and has not just only secured its first playoffs berth since 2012 but also became the first team to do so in this year’s league.

What’s special about this time was the fact that despite not getting enough home advantage from the Feroz Shah Kotla pitch, Delhi won matches and that too against the high profile fancy opponents like Mumbai Indians, Sunrisers Hyderabad and Kolkata Knight Riders, which have a perfect blend of an all-round balance in its ranks in their own backyard.

However securing a playoffs berth is just the first step in the path of success for any other team playing in the competition but for Delhi’s side that has finished at the bottom half of the table for half a dozen year (three times at the last spot in the past six years) this is certainly a moment to cheer for.

The side is always considered as an underachiever in this big cash-rich league primarily because of the fact that they failed to make use of the best possible resources available to them.

Many of the former players performed exceptionally well in the tournament after moving out of Delhi, time and again leaving Delhi with the guilt of not keeping enough faith in its squad’s abilities to perform and win tournaments for it.

For example, arguably one of the most successful skipper Gautam Gambhir, who won two IPL trophies with the Kolkata Knight Riders in his seven-year stay at the City of Joy was part of the Delhi side for four seasons (2008-10 and 2018) but the local Delhi lad who is often referred to as the master planner couldn’t help Delhi win the title.

And it’s not just about Gambhir or Sehwag, but even the two most consistent and impactful overseas players of the IPL over the years — David Warner and Andre Russell were also a part of Delhi’s side before relocating to Sunrisers Hyderabad and Kolkata Knight Riders, where they become the biggest match winner of their respective sides.

The leading run scorer of this year’s tournament and two time orange cap winner in the past, Warner (692 runs in 12 innings) started his IPL journey with Delhi in 2009 and stayed here till 2013. During his five-year stay, the New South Wales opener smashed 1456 runs in 56 innings at an average of 28.54 and with two hundreds and 10 fifties. While after relocating he managed 3271 runs in 71 innings an average of 55.44 with 2 centuries and 34 fifties. Also, he successfully lead Sunrisers to the winner’s trophy in 2016.

While, Warner stint was satisfactory with Delhi, Caribbean powerhouse Andre Russell failed to make much an impact during his stay. He featured in seven games for Delhi wherein four innings he could only manage 58 runs and only one wicket. But after moving to Eden, he managed 1318 runs in 46 innings with a strike rate over 185. He has also crowned the most valuable player of the 2015 edition.

And the way these two performed this season, making an impact in every game by their presence in the line-up, just imagine what Delhi could have done with these two in its ranks.

However the way, Delhi played this season with all young guys coming together and performing consistently well throughout has made an impact for Delhi. Especially skipper Shreyas Iyer, the way DC’s 12th skipper took the responsibility of leading from the front.

The 24-year old Mumbaikar is much disciplined with his shot selection and has kept his nerve calm in precious situations and time and again allowed his bat to make an impact more than his words.

In the batting front, where explosive wicket-keeper batsman Rishabh Pant and seasoned campaigner Shikhar Dhawan is catching the eyeballs because of the flamboyance, it is Iyer’s sensible cricket that has helped Delhi to cross the finishing line on many a times.

His three fifty-plus scores (67 vs Royal Challengers Bangalore in Bangalore, 52 at Kotla) and 58 not out vs Kings XI Punjab, along with 45 against Sunrisers, 43 in the tied game against Kolkata Knight Riders in Delhi, which was decided after super over finish came in winning the cause.

And to his support in the middle order, there is Dhoni’s Indian team deputy Rishabh Pant. Delhi’s leading run-getter in the last season (684 runs in 14 games), Pant started this season with a bang, thrashing World’s Number 1 bowler Jasprit Bumrah during his 27-ball, 78 run innings at Wankhede in the first game of this year’s edition.

And after the World Cup snub, he smashed 36-ball against Rajasthan Royals, which earned him praise from Indian former skipper and Delhi Capitals advisor Sourav Ganguly, who took to social media to praise the young batsman and wrote: “Rishabh Pant, you deserve this. You are wow.”

Also adding to the list of consistent performers for the Delhi side, Shikhar Dhawan is the most experienced player in the line-up. After being traded from Sunrisers to Delhi in return for Vijay Shankar, Shahbaz Nadeem, and Abhishek Sharma, Shikhar found his mojo back and became the leading run-scorer for Delhi in the tournament. The local Delhi boy is in the fourth place for Orange Cap race and has already scored 470 runs in 13 innings.

While, his opening partner Prithvi Shaw, who made sensational Test debut against West Indies in October 2018 by scoring 134 runs in his maiden innings in International cricket, has also played some vital knocks at the top.

But, apart his 99 against Kolkata Knight Riders at Kotla, he has not played any other impactful innings , but is complementing Shikhar well at the top by adding quick runs in the first power play to provide Delhi a solid start at the top of the order.

Delhi’s success this time is much because of the impact innings from the top four Indian batsmen and to complement them, the side has Kagiso Rabada in its rank, who after missing majority part of the last season due to injury, is back into business and is currently the leading wicket-taker in the tournament (25 wickets), miles ahead of his closest contender and countrymen Imran Tahir (21 wickets).

His excellent death bowling, perfect yorker, and wicket-taking ability makes him stand out of the rest. The South African also defended 11 runs against big-hitting Andre Russell during the Kolkata game in the seasons first super over. He sent Russell packing on his 147 km/h yorker, which Ganguly referred to as the “ball of the IPL.”

However, by the end of the tournament, Delhi suffered a massive setback when Cricket South Africa called back Kagiso Rabada as a precautionary step keeping in mind the ICC World Cup starting in less than a month time.

The pacer was suffering from a stiff back issue and was sidelined against Chennai game on May 1, which Delhi went on to lose by 80 runs — its biggest defeat of this year’s campaign.

Though the side will miss its ace pacer during the most important phase of the tournament, they still have enough players who can step up and deliver in the big game.

It is beyond any doubt that Delhi always had some great names in its ranks, be it from the Indian subcontinent — the players who are traditionally the best players against spin bowling or the fancy overseas players — ones more comfortable against the seam.

But what didn’t even happen in presence of seasoned campaigners like Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Zaheer Khan, Kevin Pietersen, Ab de Villiers, David Warner, and Dilshan was the result in Delhi’s favour. So what different happened with time. Is it because of the presence of Ricky Ponting and Sourav Ganguly in the dugout?

Certainly, the presence of two of the biggest leaders have a great impact but what not to forget is the combination with which Delhi played this time. The franchise backed its players to perform even after few disappointing innings. This was something which was missing in the last 11 years.

Unlike previous times, where they constantly used to tussle combinations for the favourable outcomes. This time, the top four- Prithvi Shaw, Shikhar Dhawan, Shreyas Iyer and Rishabh Pant played every game of this year’s campaign even though at times it felt like Delhi could have tried Colin Munro up the order in place of young Prithvi, who looked a slight off colour and hasn’t played any such impactful innings so far apart his 99 against Kolkata.

Or could have asked Rishabh Pant to adjust his game plan according to the team situation. Because at times the Delhi lad threw his wicket at crunch situation by playing irrelevant short which could have been avoided at that point.

But, neither of this happened and the coaches and captain gave full freedom to everyone in the squad, to express themselves as per they want and that blossomed confidence in the players which was clearly evident in the field through their body-language.

The team looks fresher this time and the players are giving their best to contribute in the game not only with the bat and ball, but also in the fielding.

The other significant change that is visible this time includes the team’s strong bench strength which provides the management to try out various combinations in games based upon the nature of the wicket. Often, it is seen that teams don’t try to alter winning combination even though it mismatched with the on-field conditions but DC has not hesitated with change and chopping.

In the slow track of Kotla, at times they played with three spinners — Amit Mishra, Axar Patel, and Sandeep Lamichhane while in high scoring venues of Mumbai and Kolkata, they believed in the pace battery of Kagiso Rabada, Ishant Sharma, Chris Morris, and Keemo Paul.

The kind of combinations with which Delhi played shows the amount of game-changing talent present in the dugout. And that’s whats the primary element of a successful team.

Over the years, Delhi tried to bring impactful players for a big price and tried to influence the result via them but every time it turned out to be a blunder. The franchise spent Rs 16 crores to land Yuvraj Singh in Delhi but the left-handed batting allrounder could only manage 248 runs in 14 games and just took one wicket. In 2018, they went with Glenn Maxwell for Rs 9 crores but the Aussie too failed badly and just managed 169 runs in 12 games.

The problem with Delhi was not just that their big picks failed to perform but also the management’s lack of trust in its key players. Constant changing and chopping of the squad and the change of the support staff always have a bad impact.

This time neither of this happened and the result of which is evident in the points table where Delhi became the first team to qualify for playoffs.

The belief in abilities is such high among the players that when Shikhar Dhawan was asked about what team is expecting from now, the Gabbar said: “We are very confident of winning the title and time and again we have proved that in this season that we are ready to do so. The belief is such high that we will not only play the final but will also win it and end the barren run of trophy-less tenure.”

Delhi started this year’s campaign with a convincing 37 runs win against Mumbai Indians at Wankhede in a high scoring affair. Rishabh Pant was the star performer in Mumbai, where the World Cup hopeful scored 27-ball unbeaten 78 (7 fours and 7 sixes) to help Delhi post-213-6 and then a combined bowling performance sent MI back to pavilion for 176 runs in 19.2 overs. This was the only game in the entire tournament when Mumbai was sent all packing.

But the brilliant start couldn’t last long as in the first home game at Feroz Shah Kotla, defending champion Chennai Super Kings beat Delhi by 6 wickets.

However the side quickly bounced back and halt Kolkata Knight Riders two-match winning run in the third game (second at home) after a tense super over finish. Prithvi Shaw missed a well-deserved maiden century by a run but it was Kagiso Rabada’s brilliant Yorkers in the one over decider that steal the limelight. The South African pacer defended 11 runs against Andre Russell and lead Delhi home.

The fourth game Delhi played at Mohali was the reality check for them where Sam Curran exposed loopholes in the batting line up as Capitals saw shocking collapse and lose seven wickets for just 8 runs in 167 runs chase and thus losing the game by 14 runs.

 

In the fifth game, Sunrisers keep the juggernaut rolling and won comfortably by five wickets after restricting the hosts for 129 for 8.

With three defeats in first five games, the ghost of yesteryears started to haunt Delhi, but before it could make an effect the team bounced back in an amazing fashion and won the next three games on the trot.

The first was against Virat Kohli’s led Royal Challengers Bangalore at M Chinnaswamy. Kagiso Rabada’s 21/4 first restrict RCB under 150 and then Shreyas Iyer’s first fifty of the season, 67 runs help DC win by four wickets.

Next stop was at Eden Gardens where Shikhar Dhawan’s 97 not out anchors seven-wicket triumph. In the third successive away game, Delhi faced Sunrisers and after posting 155 runs on the board, Delhi fought back against the likes of in-form David Warner and Jonny Bairstow and dismissed last eight opposition batsmen for just 15 runs to pull out result in its favour.

This was probably the game which changed the perception about Delhi going ahead this season. The comeback was just out of the box against Sunrisers.

However, coming back to Kotla, doesn’t worked for Delhi initially and they lost the third home game by 40 runs against Mumbai Indians.

But, they finally manage to break the Kotla code in the fifth and sixth game against KXIP and RCB respectively with Shreyas Iyer and Shikhar Dhawan leading from the front by scoring half-centuries in both the games. DC won by five-wickets against Punjab and 16 runs against Bangalore.

In between both these games, they played against Rajasthan Royals at Jaipur, where Rishabh Pant’s 36-ball 78* outshines Ajinkya Rahane’s second IPL hundred (105 not out) to help Delhi win by six-wickets.

But, in the penultimate game of the league phase, without the likes of Rabada and Ishant, Delhi first failed to understand the nature of Chennai’s wicket and failed to restrict MS Dhoni to take CSK close to 180 runs mark. The side suffered its heaviest defeat of the campaign at Chepauk by 80 runs where Imran Tahir and Ravindra Jadeja shared seven-wickets to sweep Delhi out for 99 runs.

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